Tirupati (Hair-Cutting Temple Complex)


At Tirupati (The Hair-Cutting Temple Complex)

At the big temple – the one where the Westerner is allowed to beat
the line through extra payment–there are rooms
of rupees, tied stacks of currency fluttering
in the currents of standing fans–
as if money could overheat–while priests, strong-handed,
push the sweating pilgrims through.

Outside, she keeps
to the shade, angling for impossible
discretion, as she records, through metallic lens, rows and rows
of unwound braid–hair is for sale
in the dusty green stalls–still waved
from lifetimes of plaiting, fraying loose, and black
and black–though some
are greyed–each tail an unspooled wish
posited at the barbers’ temple (one she is not allowed to
enter, even for a fee)–

Though she feels awkward holding hands with her
camera, as before her on
the dry blown strand, fresh-rounded heads as smooth
as those of travelers from another planet, trudge
in familial groups, hiking up on hips, brown
babes, also shaved-headed but wearing now
smocked caps, kohl-drawn eyes transfixed by her
blonde aloneness.

She takes the pilgrims’ bus–the only
one–back down the mountain knots.  A woman
is sick–the driver stops–
they wait – driver, conductor, the woman’s friend companionably chatting,
then passing to the woman, as she bends over
a weedy gap, the driver’s rough

As the bus shudders to lurch, the friend helps the
sick woman bump back into their squeezed space, then holds
her pale buck-toothed head, which
shaved, shows oddly triangular below
its bristle.

But the friend–
the Westerner realizes suddenly–has the most beautiful
face she has ever seen–smile broad
as a movie star, cheekbones taut
as a ballet dancer, eyes the dark velvet
of a twilit doe.

Her hair falls gently about
the sick woman’s face, which is notched–the
woman dozes almost immediately–at the friend’s sari’ed
clavicle.  The friend keeps it there, still, through the
swerves of twisted brush, parched green, as the
Westerner watches, wondering at
the making of wishes and the unraveling
of fates.

This is genuinely a draft for the “Form for All” prompt on dVerse Poets Pub, hosted by Victoria C. Slotto who challenges to write an “imagist” poem. I am so sorry about the length. It is a poem about an experience visiting Tirupati many years ago. It is a temple complex, pilgrimage site, in South India, where people go and have their heads shaved offering their hair as a sort of sacrifice. At least some of the hair is then sold at the temple complex in an outdoor market.

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32 Comments on “Tirupati (Hair-Cutting Temple Complex)”

  1. k. this is beautiful ~ and so fitting for the prompt

  2. David King Says:

    Thanks for this, a real joy to read. Intriguing start, I wasn’t sure whether to take the title at face value, or was it an allusion? Which of course, didn’t matter, for the poem had its own life and resolved everything that needed to be. I then read it again, just for its beauty.

  3. brian miller Says:

    what an interesting glimpse into her life…i take it you were the her holding hands with your camera along the way…really like the woman on the bus in the end as well and acknowledging her face…great closing line as well k…

  4. nico Says:

    This is very good–as you might guess, I’m fond of storytelling poems, and you did it beautifully. The final two lines are perfect!

  5. Mary Says:

    What a fascinating story…so rich with details that give me a sense of place. And a view of an experience not had by most westerners. I never heard of this custom…..or that place. Story well told, a camera view, perfect!

  6. Fascinating story K, I like the cultural images of the pilgrimage as seen through the tourist’s eyes ~

  7. Dick Jones Says:

    A rich and vivid travelogue in verse. Beautiful.

  8. janehewey Says:

    really beautiful. your second stanza is so strong it could stand alone.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      You know I’m afraid to look at this poem this morning. Poem? I worked quite late on it, and posted, and now I feel like it was kind of a mess and didn’t say anything I meant – though it was interesting to see how the power of recollection works. It would undoubtedly be better much shorter, and the second stanza is the meat of it.

  9. claudia Says:

    what a wonderful bit of history k – and you made it so personal, describing the women on the bus…really cool what she did and i felt like i was right sitting next to them

  10. Karin, this amazes me. I could write an essay on the many images you share with us. I like how you write in the third person, as a witness. The sense of place is so clear and the mood, characterization–it all comes together so well. If this is a draft, I can’t wait to see the end result.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Ha – thanks, Victoria. Well, I might try to make more distilled. I had quite a different version and then realized I really was not remember it correctly – so changed it – although the “fictionalized” version was probably more poetic, or more tied up – but I went with the more messy real one. But thanks so much. A very interesting prompt, and loved your poem, which illustrated it so perfectly. k.

      • Distilling is good but I’m not sure it needs a lot. I write a lot of fictionalized poetry myself…for example, I am not (and never have been) a runner!

      • ManicDdaily Says:

        Ha! Yes. Though your poem knew about the chase! Well, I actually do go out pretending to run, but you know what, I think anyone watching would call me an inter-loper! k .

  11. kkkkaty Says:

    Enlightening poem..I like ‘each tail an unspooled wish’..;)

  12. hedgewitch1 Says:

    Quite panoramic, really, and very detailed. I do get what you mean in that it is far less focused than what you usually present, k, but that was sort of the idea with this prompt, wasn’t it, to write in a series of images? That’s exactly what this feels like–a slideshow from one picture to the next, both in space and in time. I was impressed with how well you went from pure scene-description to capturing the personalities of the ‘Westerner’ and the women on the bus–a natural flow that I found the most interesting part. Anyway, I enjoyed it very much.

    • hedgewitch1 Says:

      btw, it’s me, Joy. I have an old wordpress ID that keeps popping up lately if I don’t change it.

      • ManicDdaily Says:

        Yes, I figured it was you! Thanks. I just didn’t have the energy to really decide what the aim to the poem is. I have something in mind, but I got caught up in details, that are interesting enough – believe me I left out a lot! – but that probably muddle the poem. So I’ll think about it sometime.

  13. Zouxzoux Says:

    A beautifully interesting story. Especially serendipitous as I am at this moment watching “Concert for George” (Harrison) on DVD and loving the Indian music.

  14. jasmine calyx Says:

    Really amazing work, Karin. I’m blown away by you. Your line breaks make me especially happy.

    “Outside, she keeps
    to the shade, angling for impossible”

    “Though she feels awkward holding hands with her” (two women)

    “her pale buck-toothed head, which” (witch)

    “through the
    swerves of twisted brush”

    “wondering at
    the making of wishes and the unraveling
    of fates”

    So much of the story is between the lines. Excellent writing.

  15. zongrik Says:

    i like this line –

    Though she feels awkward holding hands with her
    camera, as before her on

  16. I enjoyed your story, it was fascinating and I could see it unfolding before my eyes…thank you for sharing your journey. 🙂

  17. cloudfactor5 Says:

    My favorite part of the slideshow was “But the friend–
    the Westerner realizes suddenly–has the most beautiful
    face she has ever seen–smile broad
    as a movie star, cheekbones taut
    as a ballet dancer, eyes the dark velvet
    of a twilit doe.”
    and wrapping it up (with sari) and a great ending!!
    I enjoyed your witness perspective!!

  18. Deborah Says:

    great perspective and perception ~ u remind me of Ellen Hinsey. You’re excellent !

  19. Kelvin S.M. Says:

    …very interesting read Karin…a great experience it must be…and no…i don’t think i’m brave enough to surrender my hair like what people in that place did…i couldn’t imagine myself walking outdoors with a skinny head…aww…smiles…

  20. kaykuala Says:

    It would seem so fulfilling to sacrifice one’s hair to meet a vow or as a form of supporting a donation drive. It takes courage to do so! A great verse in keeping with the prompt. Nicely K!


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