Chennai Journal
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Roberta and I went to Kanchipuram, which is nearby Chennai and known as a temple town as well as the center for silk fabric making. We didn't get to the silk making places because it started to rain and we had to get back to Chennai for the evening. But we visited a fabulous 7th century temple called Kailasanatha. The temple is mostly in honor of the Hindu god Siva and Parvati (his wife) and there are numerous stone wall carvings in their images. It is one of the few temples that allows non-Hindus into the inner sanctum.

Some of the interior painting, which was covered over and then laboriously removed, remains, and gives an indication of how stunning the temple must have been in its heyday.

After we went to temple, we visited a place called the Sankara Mutt, which is where Sankaracharya (seer) of Kanchi presides. Roberta was very interested in this because right after she arrived, she had a laser procedure done on her eyes at Sankara Nethralaya, a world famous eye hospital.

According to the story, S.S. Badrinath, an opthamologist who had been educated and worked in the U.S. but had returned to Chennai, was asked to operate on the Sankaracharya, a holy man residing in Kanchi. Religious strictures prevented the Sankaracharya from traveling to Chennai--he could only walk or be carried-- so the physician had to operate and treat him in Kanchi. This interaction resulted in the founding of Sankara Nethralaya. Badrinath, privately frustrated by conditions in Chennai, was on the verge of returning to the U.S. But his exposure to the holy man led him on a very different path---to bring his knowledge of state- of- the -art eye treatment back to India--and to serve the poor. Today, Sankara Nethralaya is not only a premier institute, but fully 40% of its patients are non-paying.

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