Today I feel blessed. Not in that joking, Instagram hashtag, emoji praise-hands way, but truly, deeply blessed. We arrived in Madurai by sleeper bus, which meant we were all sleep-deprived and cranky, but already I feel more at home here. Madurai is much smaller than Bangalore, and to me it feels more familiar, slightly more rural and open, and without as much noise like the city. The SITA center, which is our home base in Madurai, is such a welcoming and home-y space. It’s always filled with home-cooked food for us, a welcome change from the hotel food we’ve been eating. Also, it feels like we’ve become more cohesive as a group, and we’re growing closer each day.

We visited the Meenakshi Amman Temple today, sacred to the Hindu goddess Meenakshi, and as it happened, today was an auspicious day. The planet Jupiter is passing into a new zodiac zone, which only happens once in twelve years, so the temple was filled with worshippers. The women wore vivid and elegant saris, and colored their foreheads with bright red and yellow powder (turmeric apparently) and tied yellow cord around their necks as a renewal of their wedding vows. Dr. Vee, a retired religious studies and art history professor who accompanied us, told us that Meenakshi is the mot powerful and sacred wife, so brides often visit her temples and pray to her. We were asked to remove our shoes, and as I walked among the rows of candles and incense smoking, I felt awed and a little dazed. Yet at the same time, my friend Ayan was barred from going in the temple at all. Ayan is Muslim and wears a headscarf, and the attendants told her she must remove it as it would be offensive to some of the Hindu worshippers. This might have been understandable if only Hindus were allowed in, but the temple allowed Christians and “non Hindus,” as it blatantly stated, and we think this was an instance of Islamophobia on the part of the attendant, not an actual rule of the temple. Nonetheless, I felt shaken and a little guilty for enjoying myself at the temple, and this incident really opened my eyes to the growing Islamophobia around the world, which I hadn’t seen in a context outside of the US. It also made me think about my privilege as a member of a religion that doesn’t always present itself in such a visible way, or subject me to singling out or prejudice because of my appearance.

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