Riding along the Thirupathur highways on a tuk-tuk, mountains are visible in the distance along with fields filled with palm trees and cows. This is the southeastern side of India. And a small village by the name of Vettuvanam is situated right off the highway about three hours from one of the biggest cities in South India, Chennai.
Walking down the main road you pass street vendors selling muttai dosai (a fermented crepe made from rice batter), biriyani, rice and vegetables, and lots of rice and chicken. A short distance away you come across the reason for many of this village’s visitors: the Hindu Vettuvanam Sri Ellaiamman Temple, which is famous for it a fabled past.
This village draws locals from neighboring villages far and wide in hopes of receiving relief from their suffering through the Sri Ellaiamman Temple’s devotional tree, Neem. This tree has been well known in India for more than 4,000 years due to its multiple miraculous health benefits, such as soothing wounds and protecting skin. Many people even reside off the main street near the temple entrance; here they can connect and pray together.
Not far away, large trees extend their branches over a modest group of families who set up camp under the scorching sun. Bells ringing from the bicycling ice cream man can be heard in the distance as small kids are seen licking ice cream from their lips. Fathers prepare chickens to be cooked and women dressed in saris take care of babies wearing bindis on their foreheads. Spices and delicious aromas waft through the air; families gather on blankets beside the fire, where smoke rises from the cooking chicken, which children eat with rice from banana leaves. Everyone is part of the process.