El-Branden Brazil

Photographer, Writer & Mystic Traveller

Posts from the ‘Sacred Places’ category

The Meenakshi Temple Of Madurai


Colourful godly stuccos at Meenakshi Temple. Photography by El-Branden Brazil

In the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is the bustling, crowded city of Madurai. Within it, is one of Asia’s great wonders, the Meenakshi Temple. Dominating the city’s skyline, 12 gopurams (temple towers) burst out towards the skies, engraved with thousands upon thousands of colourful images of Hindu gods and scenes. The temple is devoted to the god, Shiva.


Temple Offerings Photography by El-Branden Brazil

The ground on which the current buildings are located, has been the focus of religious rites since the 7th. Century. Much of the grand architecture that defines the temple today, was constructed by the Nayaks during their tenure as rulers of Madurai from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries.

Within the walls of the complex are many small temples, where offerings of oil, incense, colourful powders, candles and flowers are placed.

There are several different sanctums that the worshipper passes through. The inner sanctum is a space for only Hindus to enter. Becoming disorientated by the vast complex, I accidently entered into this space. It was poorly lit and extremely atmospheric.

A large statue of Ganesh, illuminated by candles, caught my eye. As I was preparing to take a photograph, I was soon made aware of my mistake, when a sadhu (holy man) shouted at me to leave. Another man, came to me, and politely told me that I was not permitted to visit this area. I apologised appropriately and left quickly, so as not to further offend. However, I felt rather lucky and blessed to have entered the holy of holies and get more than a peek. I meant no harm nor disrespect.

Mount Everest – Goddess Mother Of The World

Photography by El-Branden Brazil

Photography by El-Branden Brazil

There, Mount Everest stood, nobly towering above the many, many white ridges and peaks of the Himalaya. Our small plane crawled along the seemingly endless wall of mountains that suddenly jut, without impromptu, from the low hills and plains of the Nepalese landscape.

Jason and I had spent an exhausting, but rewarding week trekking in the Annapurna region. On our return to Kathmandu, the call of Everest enchanted us. Due to a lack of time, it was impossible to trek to the base camp on this trip. Instead, we decided to take up the opportunity of flying with Royal Nepal Airlines, for a thirty-minute glimpse of the giant mountain.

At the time, the Maoist insurgency was causing some difficulties in the country. On several occasions while we were there, they enforced national strikes, which meant that public transport, shops and other facilities were forced to close for business, out of fear of violent retribution from the rebels.

On the day of our flight, all taxis were brought to a stand still, making it very difficult to predict whether we could get to the airport from the Kathmandu Guesthouse, downtown. Luckily, a bus organised by the airline, came to pick us up. The alternative was to pay high prices for an unscrupulous gangster to drive us there.

We waited for a while at the airport, surrounded by the usual ragbag of tourists. One Englishman sat in a corner, with his much younger Filipino wife coddling him like a baby. Finally, we boarded our small propeller aircraft. As our plane climbed altitude, we could see the wonderful, timeless roofs and spires of Kathmandu and its many temples.

Human structures quickly gave way to the brown, grassy hills of the upper plains, and then the unforgettable entrance of the majestic Himalaya range. Nothing can prepare you for the scale and magnificence of the sight. No photo or beautifully written prose can capture the almost mystical rapture that can be engaged by looking upon the spectacle with one’s own eyes. There is nothing like it anywhere else I have been.

The airplane bobbed up and down upon the varying air currents outside. Soon, Everest came into view, with a wisp of cloud wrapped around its peak. Unfortunately, the windows in the passengers’ cabin were tinted brown, so the natural colour of the surroundings were hard to perceive. However, the captain allowed us to file into the cockpit individually, where we were permitted to take photographs through clear glass.

To the inhabitants of the region, Everest is called by the much more beautiful-sounding name, Chomolungma – Goddess Mother of the World. As tantalising as our view of her was, she seemed drowned among the many other high peaks. There was a certain dissatisfaction in the glimpse we were given, perhaps due to the ease in which we were allowed to view her. I felt like a cheat, undeserving of seeing her full glory. It was as if the mountains around, shielded her from our arrogance for dare looking down on her, as we cruised by in the comfort of our airplane.

I had not felt like this in the Annapurna, where a long, arduous trek had humbled me like a rite of initiation, permitting me to the overwhelming sight of that splendid mountain range’s sheer, white walls. Like Everest, the Annapurna’s magic would have been diminished if observed from the air. Only from the ground can humans tap into their primeval faculty of mind, where the mountain connects as it has always done for millennia. It is by no accident that mountains have been the inspiration for so much spiritual faith.

As I gazed out towards Everest, I made a promise that next time, I would trek to the base camp, where I will be forced to prostrate and look up upon her beauty. Only then, when I am made aware of my own insignificance, can true appreciation and gratitude be appropriately graced upon her.

The Sphinx – Time’s Guardian


Photography by El-Branden Brazil

Time’s stalwart guardian, the Sphinx, has seemingly forever sat upon the Giza Plateau. In fact, according to most estimates, this enigmatic creation is believed to have been built when Khafra’s pyramid was constructed between 2558 to 2532 BC.

The term sphinx comes from the Greek for strangler; although it has been suggested that the word originates from the ancient Egyptian phrase shesep ankh (living image).

Many scholars have surmised that the face of this fantastical creature is, in fact, an image of Pharaoh Khafra himself; although this has still yet to be confirmed. It certainly seems plausible, as the Sphinx stands at the end of a ritual causeway that leads up to Khafra’s pyramid.

Recently, there has been a lot of contention regarding the accepted age of the Sphinx. Some scientists have suggested that the Sphinx may belong to an older civilisation, dating as far back as 12,000 years. These controversial conclusions were founded upon the level of erosion that has affected the main body of the sculpture. The maverick scientists who promote these theories, believe that the erosion lines could only have appeared during a period of high moisture in the region, pre-dating the age of the Pharaohs by thousands of years, during a period that followed the last great Ice Age. If this could be proven, then the history of civilisation would have to be radically updated.

Traditional Egyptologists are not swayed by such ideas, as they are not by the predictions of American mystic, Edgar Cayce, who had visions of a lost library of ancient wisom laying within the Sphinx. There have been several legitimate excavations to discover if, indeed, a space within exists. Towards the back of the sandstone statue near its tail, a small, hollow chamber was discovered, but nothing that would hint towards a larger, more important inner complex.

With a maximum height of 20 metres, and a length of 73 metres, the Sphinx instantly enthralls the visitor with both powerful mythology and ancient history. There are efforts to preserve it from the increasing threat of Cairo’s pollution, which is causing the Sphinx to suffer from stone’s equivalent of cancer. How much reconstruction should be done, has been a source of great contention, but with the current environmental assault, if work is not continued, this fabled art piece will be challenged to survive another millennium.

Photography & Report by El-Branden Brazil