The name of this town comes from two words – naga (snake) and kovil (temple). Understandably, the main temple of town is dedicated to the Snake God. It is quite unfortunate that I arrive into Nagercoil at midday. The temple is probably closed. It is likely to open only in the evening. But I have no plan or patience to wait out the hours. I would rather head to Kanyakumari for sunset and spend the night there.
The fact is that ever since leaving Alleppey a few days earlier, I have been suffering from a bout of fever. The backwaters around Alleppey may be special for their tourist appeal but they are also dangerous. Mosquitoes are plenty. I am beginning to suspect that my fever upon leaving Alleppey is more than just coincidence. I should see a doctor if things get worse.
I pick a place for lunch. One thing fantastic about Tamil Nadu is the food. For just Rs. 38, I am served royally. Rice, papad, sambar, rasam, buttermilk and a fascinating range of vegetables are served on a broad banana leaf. The waiters are attentive and service is quick. I enjoy every morsel of my lunch and come out contented.
The temple is closed but I manage to peep into the inner courtyard. I see surfaces gilded in gold but little else of the architecture. I suspect this is a newer building standing where a much older one might have stood. Sadhus and other free riders who generally hang around temple premises are taking their afternoon siestas. They will get into action when the doors open and devotees come in their numbers. A small tank lies placidly in the hot sun. Its embankments are decorated with coiled serpents raising their broad hoods. They all face the tank as if in prayer. Nearby are two bodhi trees and a need tree providing shade to a shrine and a host of coiled serpents in stone. Some of these serpents are seen shading lingas. The trees themselves are holy and deserving objects of worship.
A man comes around with a packet of milk in one hand and some turmeric in the other. He goes around pouring out some milk and sprinkling turmeric on each snake. There are so many of them here. It takes him a good twenty minutes to do the entire round. He does it out of habit. It is simply a ritual that needs doing. Does he really feel earnestly every offering, I wonder.