Peter along with his daughter, was standing in the queue at Meenakshi temple in Madurai. There was a long queue and tight security. When his turn came, the security guard, frisked him and his daughter. He was about to send the two in. Out of curiosity, he asked the daughter, a charming cherubic cute little, fair skinned girl, for her name. She gave her name very distinctly as M..E..E..N..A..A..K..S..H..I and in clear terms. The security guard was taken aback.
A fair skinned foreigner with his pale blue eyes, coming to Madurai, was not any strange thing. Every day, hundreds of foreign tourists pour in. Many a times, dignitaries and VIPs accompanied by local officials, visiting the temple, was a common sight. But this father and daughter duo, standing along with commoners, for darshan, was a bit uncommon. His suspicious mind was alert. ‘Any ulterior motive?’ Naturally, the security guard asked the father for his name. He said, PETER.
Guard asked, “Full name, please?”.
Reply received instantaneously from Peters, “Rous Peter”.
Security guard thought, he was kidding. Again, he asked, this time with a stern voice. Peters, remained calm and replied coolly,
“I am Rous Peter and this one, my daughter, Meenakshi.”
The security guard was losing his temper. He once again questioned him, in a strong and forceful tone,
“Hello, this is our famous holy shrine and you’re a visitor. No jokes here. Be serious. Who are you?”
Peter reiterated and repeated the same thing. Annoyed by this foreigner’s repeated mockery and in a fit of rage, he thrashed him and held him by his upper towel cloth covering his shoulders. Already fair and pink, and now by the flush of blood rushing to his cheeks, Peter was turned overly pinkish. He could not understand why the sudden turmoil. He did not do anything wrong, nor he spoke anything atrocious, as to invoke the guard’s anger.
The guard still holding him strongly, asked him to produce immediately, some documents, as evidence, or else, he would be evicted and would not be allowed any entry into the temple. Peters, still retaining his cool temper, said in a soft tone that the documents were left behind in the hotel room. He did not bring them here, for the common queue. Neither it was quoted anywhere as compulsory requirement and to be produced, if demanded. This lack of proof, provoked the security guard furthermore and he got irritated.
“These Christian foreigners have no regards nor any respects for our faith. They always mock at our rituals and holy practices. It was a grave mistake by our government to allow such scoundrels to gain entry and go freely. See how easily and liberally, he is using Goddess Meenaakshi’s name and he calls himself Rose Peter, a long-time collector of British era and a strong devote of our Goddess. Are we fools sitting here, in allowing these teasers and fraudsters to have their way?”
He liberally used harsh words in mixed languages, both English and Tamil, strong enough to arouse anyone’s temper. By then, the crowd got divided into two groups, some supporting the security personnel and other, standing and taking the side of foreigner. A lady came forward and spoke in favour of Peters. She spoke softly and clearly,
“Security Sir, don’t rush to conclusions. He could be an honest fellow. By sheer co-incidence, or due to some queer family reasons, he would have adopted such names. Our heritage and government’s policy are, to uphold the visitors as guests. ‘Athithi Deo Bhava!’ Here, in his case. you need not treat him as God, nor even demi-God! But take him as a fellow human being and allow him. In any case he cannot enter the Sanctum Sanctorium. All they can do to, is to appreciate and wonder the sculpture and architecture of this fabulous temple. They may be lacking in devotion. But for that reason, we need not deny them the pleasure of appreciating our marvellous architecture. Temple is not only for worshipping. It also stands for art and culture of the country.”
Security guard was not convinced. He still believed that the foreigner had some ulterior intentions. He did not produce any documentary proofs, nor came with any recommendatory letter from any officials, as was the common practice. Of all things, he had chosen to be a commoner, which was quite uncommon. Just then their senior officer came. He did not want any sort of minor or major altercations in the temple premises. He knew very well that in no time a tiniest spark would kindle a wild fire and in crowded areas, at the slightest provocation, mob would flare up and turn violent.
He took Peter and his daughter aside and allowed others in the queue to proceed. He then started quizzing. Peter, as usual maintained his stand. The senior officer explained to Peters that the reason for the altercation was his name and his daughter’s name. He narrated the story of ‘Rous Peter’ of yester era and his benevolence, to the present foreigner by the same name ‘Rous Peter’. He patiently narrated the entire story.
“Rose Peter, or as you say Rous Peter, was British Collector here in Madurai during 1812 to 1828. Though he was a staunch Christian, he respected Hindus and their local practices. He was astonished by their strong devotion to local deity Meenakshi. The temple was situated between his house and his office. Everyday, he was going to office by his horse. While crossing the temple, he would cross he would get down from his horse and remove his hat and shoes, and cross the whole path on bare foot. People, passing by would wonder his reverence and appreciated.
It so happened that one night, it rained heavily in Madurai city and the collector was sleeping in his house. The rains lashed and the downpour increased. The collector was disturbed by the sounds of thunder and rains. Despite the loud noise, he distinctly heard sounds of anklets. He was wondering from where such sounds were coming. He got up from his bed and saw a small little girl wearing precious jewels, and calling him, “Peter, come away.” She, led him by his hands and simply followed the running girl in the rain. Once he was out, he was shocked for life, by what he saw. What happened further was, the building from where he was dragged out by the small girl, was destroyed within a second, by a strong lightning. He turned aback and looked for the girl and at that instant moment, she disappeared in the direction of the temple. On that second, he saw that the girl ran without any shoes, but the sounds of anklets, ringing in the air and rain. He realized and strongly believed that Goddess Meenakshi only came in the guise of a small girl and saved his life. As a tribute he wanted to do something that was unique. He discussed with temple priests and ordered to make a pair of golden shoes for the deity. His name was sculpted as ‘peter’ at the bottom of shoes. These shoes are still preserved even now and are taken out once in a year during the annual festival. This is not any imaginary story…., a real incident that happened and it shows the respect given to Hindu Goddess by the collector, a Christian foreigner, by faith. “
The officer continued further, “In another legend, the same Rous Peter had to run for life, when an elephant attacked him. He prayed to Goddess Meenakshi, and killed the animal in a single shot. The collector donated a pair of stirrups. We were even told that he refused to go back to his country after retirement. So strong was his devotion. Have you not read the poem, ‘More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.’ Prayers are the golden fetters that binds this world with the other.
You see now for yourself, that in this holy town, we give undue importance to worship, prayer and devotion. In such a place, if you call yourself as Rous Peter, how will anybody accept you? Will you not be taken as fake? When you perceive from this angle, you too will understand that our security guard was right in questioning you about your identity.”
Peter thanked him first for his fluent English and then, thanked again, profusely for the long story of Rose Peter. Then he said the very purpose of his visit was to have holy darshan of Mother Meenaakshi, the Protector of this universe. What he told further, was really awe-inspiring. The senior officer was spell-bound. He allowed him to talk uninterruptedly.
The gist of his long narration was that the present Rose Peter was the descendent of the 200-hundred-year old by gone era of the then, British-era collector Rous Peter. This very information he got just a few years back. The first thing he did after knowing about his great-great-great-grand father was, to get his name changed to Rous Peter, through official Gazette. Then as soon as his daughter was born, she was automatically named as Meenaakshi.
He was wanting to come to Madurai from the time he learnt about his great-great-great-grand father. After years of serious efforts, only now, he could accomplish his visit to Madurai. Probably, it was destiny that he had to come to the temple with his daughter. Peter kept on saying something more, before when the security guard came and interrupted his senior officer. Before he could say something, he screamed, “S….ir……..” and fainted.
The senior officer rushed to his rescue and lifted him. The security still dazed and his finger pointing to the girl, said,
“Just now, I saw her standing here with the golden shoes, inscribed peter underneath.”
The small girl, Meenaakshi stood there undisturbed, with her mesmerising smile.
As enchanting as ever.