Rain, Rice, Gods and Gems

Shiva Temple

For the first two weeks in February, I joined my family in a trip to India. Though I was born here in the U.S., we used to go back to visit family in India pretty regularly when I was a kid. But then I got older, was always busy, and before I knew it, it had been 25 years since I’d visited. It was well past time to remedy that oversight, and perhaps the single thing that drew me back the most was the idea of visiting the village where my father was born and raised.

During our brief visit there, my father and his brothers took me on a walk through the rice paddies that surround their village. Our family owns all of the paddies from their house until the nearby river. Along the way, I stopped to quickly take this shot of the Shiva temple that the village uses for worship.

I still have vague memories of accompanying my grandfather once or twice on his near-daily walks to this temple when I was a kid. His walks to the temple continued until he was well into his 80s and perhaps his 90s.

The green in the foreground is unretouched, the actual vibrant color of a newly-planted second crop of basmati rice. Historically, this region of western Orissa was plagued by recurring droughts. A single rice crop was a blessing, just enough to provide sustenance in an area where a family of four often earns the equivalent of less than $500 a year.

But in recent years, a combination of government-planned irrigation projects and the serendipitous discovery of some precious gemstones in the region funded a pump system that enables a second annual crop. This second crop meant many villagers could go from just putting food in their mouths to actually making a little bit of money. Nearly every home in the village was made of mud when I lived there as a child, but on this visit nearly every home had been rebuilt with brick, with some even sprouting second stories. The village school had been rebuild and classes extended all the way to high school instead of ending at the fourth grade.

The style of temple shown here is very typical of the architecture of village temples in our state; We saw similar mandirs in honor of Shiva, Rama, a few Krishna temples, and other various deities in the many villages we drove by during our trip. I didn’t actually go in this temple, but I spend some time walking in the nearby rice paddies that are still being planted and harvested in my name.