October 24, 2010 connie

Madurai

Madurai is a city that bombards the senses with an unending stream of unfamiliar sights, sounds, tastes, and smells.  Tamil people are extremely proud of their linguistic and historical heritage, which continues to flourish in Madurai.  Centuries-old temples and palaces built by Tamil kings dominate the landscape.  Literary works produced by a Tamil poets’ academy are among the oldest existing manuscripts in the world and remain vibrant objects of research and debate.  Tamil people continue to teach and practice traditional music, dance, sport, and art forms.  Our faculty structure SITA courses to help students explore the city, its people, and its unique and sophisticated forms of architecture, ritual, culture, literature, and arts.  Living in Madurai immerses SITA students in the fascinating complexity of South Indian society.

The City
An ancient temple city and center of traditional culture, Madurai is a city of more than 1 million people in Tamil Nadu, India’s southernmost state.  Once capital of an ancient kingdom, Madurai was built around Meenakshi Amman Temple, whose intricately decorated gates tower over the city.  This temple plays an integral part in Madurai life, and attracts Hindu pilgrims from all over India.  The temple buzzes with activity from dawn to dark as local worshippers and pilgrims vie for space with musicians, temple elephants, and processions of various deities.  In the heart of the city, people, bicycles, auto rickshaws, meandering cows, and shops fill the tangled lanes encircling Meenakshi Amman Temple.  The city is filled with thousands of neighborhood Hindu shrines, Muslim mosques blaring calls to prayer from loudspeakers mounted high above the streets, and Christian churches.  Celebrations for a local deity, weddings, major religious and secular festivals constantly call for neighborhood, and even city-wide, celebration.  Madurai is a growing city that feels like a village.  Women regularly wear saris.  Men are likely to gather at the local chai stall to discuss current affairs. Cows roam the streets.  People will talk with you, ask you questions, invite you to their family weddings and feasts!

What is Unique about South India?
Everything!  Many things about Madurai seem unfamiliar to most SITA students, even if they have encountered Indian culture in the US.  Images of India in North American media, news, popular culture, and restaurants often reflects North Indian culture.  The South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh are in many ways distinct from the rest of India.  Their state languages are unrelated to languages of the north, including Hindi.  The food is totally different from the Indian food most Americans have experienced in restaurants.  Temple architecture, dress style, climate, major crops, rituals, film, dance, and aesthetic culture are all distinct in the south.  Every day will bring new experiences, questions, surprises, and challenges.  It is a place you can’t quite imagine until you live within it.  The South India Term Abroad program – courses, faculty, staff, host families, and extracurricular activities – will enable you to immerse yourself in Madurai life through travel and field visits, guest lectures, expressive culture lessons, an internship, directed field research, Tamil language classes, and courses in literature, socio-political issues, environmental issues, and religion.

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