Tuesday, 29 August 2017

The Smile of Murugan - Michael Wood

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
An armchair journey to the temples of South India.

The timing couldn't have been better. I picked up this book after a visit to a small town in Tamil Nadu. This book took me down the south visiting all the major temples lined with an entertaining and enlightening narrative .

In India temple visiting is not only for religious purposes, it is a form of tourism, a weekend getaway. Having been on temple visits and it is amazing how religion and tourism come together to make for a great experience.


Wood is friends with a religious family in the deep south India. He visits them and is privy to the happenings in the family. As per an astrologer's prediction, Wood will come back to make a pilgrimage. The prophecy comes true and Wood finds himself making a journey to some famous temples, while learning about the gods and goddesses .

What works:
  • The narrative is so smooth and Wood has an engaging style. The concept is not something a random reader can easily relate to, but Wood makes the information accessible and interesting.
  • There is a wealth of information on how people live in small towns. It has universal resonance to it. It is fascinating how he tracks the life of this family and through them provides an insight into how small town people live, their perspective and a changing landscape of life in big city.
What doesn't:
  • Since the subject matter is all about temples, the information tends to get a bit much and sags a bit in the middle. 
By mixing his own story with that of the family, Wood really weaves an interesting travelogue. Despite the fact that it is dated (it was written in the 90s) there is a relevance to it. After all the temples have been there for centuries and twenty years later, water problem in Madras is still as acute as stated in the book.

If you like reading about India, this book provides an engaging insight. Recommended.

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