Star Date: January 2009
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
Ke a Hol He!
(Hello! Desert nomads)
"My life is my message."
(Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948)
Beating drums, temple priests chanting, bells ringing, fragrant flower garlands, smoking incense, loudspeakers blaring ear shattering Hindi songs; all add percussion to the music of life. One cannot talk of India without acknowledging the lifeblood of spirituality and religions pulsing through her veins. There is a temple, ashram, lonely lingam draped with flowers, or colorful shrine, on every corner. Symbols, one of our interests and a lifelong study of Joseph, accentuate the sea of culture with the Hindu Ohm, Islam's crescent moon, the Jain (whirling sun) swastika, the Zoroastrian's fire, the Christian's cross, the Parsi vulture, the Jewish star, the Sikh's sword and the Buddhist wheel of dharma. All originating from the same source, an ancient but simple worship of the sun and creation, these symbols are interchangeable and come in all colors, shapes and sizes, with glitzy flashing lights and transient fluorescent paints, offsetting permanent stone carvings from centuries past. Indian guru Krishnamurti said, " When one loses their deep intimate relationship with nature then temples, mosques, and churches become important..." As populations explode around the world, nature gets crushed under the heavy load of humanity. The clanging of bells or 'busyness' of a religious ritual certainly provide a distraction from life that the silence of nature doesn't.
In India there is a
ceremony or ritual to suit every taste. Hindus are
remarkably accepting of other
faiths for they offer thousands of different paths to the divine.
Buddhism teaches control of the mind, Jainism non violence to all
living creatures, Sikhs display spiritual strength, Sufis find
answers within and revel in praising God through music. Gurus such as Sai Baba,
Sri Aribindo or Osho have attracted
thousands of devotees looking for a quick fix of happiness, enlightenment or as
with the Hugging Mother, unconditional love.
Islam shows unparalleled hospitality to strangers and
Christianity, what does it stand for? Generalizations
are just that. Christianity has, in India, offers an
alternative for people unfortunate enough to be born into a
lower caste. For only a small donation new converts
are promised freedom from the bondage of the caste system.
Mass conversions make a loud statement and in fact India now
exports priests to America, where churches are dying a slow
Whatever the religion is, it is really a person's actions that speak louder than the rhetoric or the religious banner they stand behind. What message does our life give to those around us? There are many roads leading to the truth, and many answers are awaiting you in India, if one has the patience to persevere and search. The choice is ours. One thing for sure, India and the world in general would be a drab place without the riotous spice of religions and their rituals.
Sadhus, the holy men or saints of Hinduism, fit this job description. They abandon everything and everyone they know and are mourned as dead by their families. They devote their lives to God, reprogramming their minds and bodies through renunciation, celibacy, discipline, meditation, yoga, deprivation and secret tantric practices. This sounds good in theory anyways. (click here for some of our favorite sadhus - bottom of Oct 08 page) The crowning glories are the eccentrics who may be seen lurking around temples or down side streets: some of our favorites have been guys with heads buried in dirt for hours without suffocating, those with floor length dreads sporting monkeys as hats, naked sadhus wearing only paints as bright clothing, and the really extreme ones, 'fakirs' who hold a pose for years on end resulting in atrophied limbs, proving to the crowd that their body holds little importance to them. Often ragged and dirty they are kept alive by donations in their water/food bowl. Regularly they don't remember what hardship they are enduring, as whiffs of hash create the dream world they covet amid the confusion of India. We even read an article describing one such sadhu we had spent an afternoon with. Well read and intelligent on the inside, his theatrics and extreme dress and markings had earned him a reputation that preceded him. Called a fake in the article, brought up the question, "What is a real sadhu anyways?" Certainly our friend had done more to earn his credentials than the modern 'yuppie' sadhus who dress in orderly orange robes, faces painted and hands outstretched for 'baksheesh' or money. The 'greatest sadhu show on earth' is at the Kumbh Mela, when over 11 million Hindu pilgrims gather every 12 years in a writhing mass of humanity to wash away their sins in the Ganges River. After almost a year in India I cringe to think of the sheer numbers, opting instead for a glimpse of spiritual bliss in the peaceful mountains of the Himalayas. To each his own.
Another entertaining splash of religious color are the brightly dressed or painted cows, 'holy cows', parading along with their owners playing flutes or drums. All of a sudden one such musician eclectically broke into the haunting melody of Titanic. Although these religions have controlled society and ruled for centuries, was this melancholy tune predicting the future? Many worshippers here seem more interested in watching each other or checking their cell phones than sincerely going through the rituals of worship passed from generation to generation. Temple priests look bored, car dashes have portable alters with flashing lights, and time in the temples or churches is being replaced by glitzy billboards or blaring television commercials promising happiness with the latest purchase. Bollywood stars are the new saints and flashy gurus attract devotees with promise of bliss and the fast track to enlightenment. Where will all this lead? India's exotic, accepting culture has resisted change for thousands of years, but the winds of change are blowing.
It doesn't take millions, as with the Kumbh Mela, to make an impression as one travels this land of contrasts. In India one is able to find beauty in the small, simple things: the bright saris of the women hauling road rock on their head, vibrant fruits and vegetables in a local market, rich smelling curries cooking at curb side stands, a rainbow of 'tika' powder and bright flower garlands outside a temple, a flickering butter lamp in a small Ganesh or Shiva shrine of a dark street, the smile of a street beggar with twisted limbs or the antics of an elephant decorated with bright chalk and bells. This land is an overload to the senses. Traveling in India presents the full spectrum from utter frustration to wonder and amazement, and the thought of leaving brings tears to my eyes. After almost a year we know India better. We fit better in her skin. Things that made our heads spin now don't even get our attention. Thanks, Mother India for the hard learned lessons.
It is not surprising that such shining examples of love as Mother Theresa or of nonviolence as Mahatma Gandhi hail from India. Acceptance of others and nonviolence is written on India's soul. Gandhi was greatly influenced by the nonviolence or 'ahimsa' of Jainism. An interesting part of the exhibit at Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram along the river in Ahmedabad was him sharing his heartfelt feelings towards his loving wife, Kasturba. She died in jail, 5 years before Gandhi was assassinated. He was deeply saddened by her death. She didn't have an easy life living in Gandhi's shadow. He revealed that he was inspired by her power with compassion, rather than from her ego. Her peaceful opposition to Gandhi's control opened Bapu's eyes. It was her non-cooperation to his husbandly control that inspired him to follow her example by encouraging non violence and passive resistance while leading the movement for India's independence from Britain. On being asked for his view on Western civilization: "I think it would be a good idea." We all have to remember to lighten up and keep smiling!
Gandhi claimed that non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its "seat is in the heart and it must be an inseparable part of our very being". This appealed to the essence of Hindu culture and their all encompassing acceptance of differences around them. Millions followed the example of this great teacher and independence through non violence was achieved. Where is our dear 'bapu' today?
When arriving at a random bus station at 8am and the only direct bus to our destination has "just left" we pick a city in between and head out. From that city we try to make a connection to our destination. This technique usually works quite well and certainly offers more of an escapade than a 'through' bus. While on the second leg of one such trip we asked a family, "How far is it to the next town and can we get a bus to Ajanta from there?" Only the son spoke any English and he asked that we write down our questions. This began an afternoon of exchanging notes - just like in school. The final note read, "we will arrive too late for you to continue on to Jalgaon tonight. This is a request from a good Indian family to an American family. "Would you do us the honor of spending the night with us in Dhulia? As you wish." We gratefully accepted and the next bus stop we jumped off quickly and bought a bunch of vegetables at the market to cook . We filled a rickshaw to overflowing and before we knew it we were busy cooking a full on Indian meal together at 10 pm with Devchand, Pravin, Pratibha, Vijay and Ajay and 85 year old Grandpa.. After the usual string of relatives and neighbors dropped by for a look at us, we collapsed on the boys bed and slept like logs. The next morning Joseph helped them with their computer and we visited, then caught a bus to Ajanta. This is one of the main reasons we like traveling. You are forced to be in the moment, to be spontaneous. You never know what the day will bring. We had just spent the night cooking and sharing a meal with this beautiful Indian family, in Dhulia, Maharashtra. These complete strangers opened their home and hearts to us in a town we had never even heard of and wasn't even on the map. These encounters restore our faith in humanity and encourage us to continue spreading the word: the world is an amazing, brilliant place!
The hand carved ancient caves at Ajanta and Ellora are well worth their designation of World Heritage sites. A complete historical menu of eastern religions awaits your visit to these fascinating structures. Located along several scenic bends in the Waghore River in Ajanta, the 30 Buddhist caves date from 200BC to 650AD. As Buddhism was gradually replaced with Hinduism, the construction shifted to Ellora and Ajanta was suddenly forgotten. In 1819 a British hunting party stumbled upon this holy site and were amazed at the quality of preservation of the paintings in these remote, centuries old caves.
Over 5 centuries Buddhist, Hindu and Jain
intricately carved monasteries, temples and chapels from the
2 km stone escarpment of Ellora. Walking through and on top of the
breathtaking Kailasa Temple is an astounding experience. It is the
world's largest monolith structure, carved by over 7000 laborers
during a 150 year period. Honoring Lord Shiva this
temple was built to represent Mt. Kailash (in Tibet) and after
carving three massive tunnels into the rock face, an estimated
200,000 tons of rock were removed before the elaborate carving
of the temple could begin. Kailasa Temple covers twice the
area of the Parthenon in Athens and is 1 1/2 times as high.
You can get a feel for the vastness of this structure by hiking
around the top of the temple complex, accessed by a path on either
side. The combination of different styles of temples indicates
a long period of religious tolerance. While enjoying the
religion has left for us, look out for the antics of
the wild monkeys who certainly add a bit of spice to
a busy day of exploration.
The thing that struck us most when arriving in Pune (pronounced like Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii) were the unbelievably loud brass bands, complete with red and blue uniforms, sporting gleaming brass buttons and plumed hats, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Winter wedding season had arrived with gusto. Blaring brass bands, buses full of chatting guests, and grooms (having only met their fiancÚ's one time) nervously riding to the ceremony on a white horse are all part of tradition. Women in colorful new saris were busily fussing with the dozens of bangles and red saris trimmed in gold of the brides. We have attended several wedding in our travels but usually only have endurance for a few hours. Three to five days of celebrations leaves everyone absolutely exhausted but satiated and happy.
Two nights in Pune and week in Mumbai (2 hours away) - great 'plan'. We talked with a young man on the bus into the city and decided to meet him on the weekend to exchange software. Thank you! We would have been in Mumbai the night of the horrendous attack by criminals on innocent citizens. Our weekend meeting never happened because the young man's uncle was shot in Mumbai and he went to the hospital to be with him. Travelers were told to stay put, and keep a low profile, as westerners were being targeted. Violence such as this is hard to comprehend. Pune has an enormous army contingent so we figured it would be a safe place to lay low. This was the act of criminals to get attention worldwide. It worked. No one even pays attention to places around the world unless there is a disaster or an act of violence. It was interesting to note that all the Muslims we talked to were appalled by the attack and their community refused to have anything to do with the burials of the men shot by police. When we first arrived in Pune we stayed in the old Muslim section, complete with enormous goats on ropes, happily eating themselves towards the center platter for Eid al-Adha holiday. It was from our balcony here that we observed the strange gambling event of water buffalo fighting in the local park.
The climate here is good all year round and we enjoyed the warm days and autumn like evenings. Once we discovered the 'holy grail' of the vegetarian German Bakery and the quiet tree lined lanes of Koregaon we moved over to an apartment building across town and settled in. This allowed us to relax, boost our health and learn more about the Indian health sciences of homeopathy, naturopathy and the allopathy of Ruby Hall. I spent 3 days exploring different forms of meditation at Osho's controversial ashram, famous for requiring an aids test to attend and the active meditations before quiet sitting, aimed at tiring out the overactive western mind before a period of contemplation. Besides all the dancing and music I was completely taken by the Sufi whirling meditation under the new pyramid shaped main hall. Gatherings there can have hundreds of followers but this morning event brought out only about a dozen hardy souls, several complete with the full garb of wide red skirts flaring and tall hats. We are all observers of this great dance called life. Spinning nonstop for about 30 minutes, the smiling eye of the storm remains totally calm and peaceful while the whirling dance of life around blends into a blur of color. The large dark pyramid with morning light streaming in the windows, highlighting the red costumes of the dancers spinning to the Sufi music, is an impression I will have with me forever. At the ashram it was common to have lunch or join sessions with people from all over the world. Attendees hail from over 175 countries. One day, for example, I was joined by fellow explorers from Iraq, Russia, South Africa, Italy, Israel, Ubekistan and Columbia. A real global community. At the entrance is a quote from Osho: " What I am doing here is very simple, very ordinary, nothing spiritual in it, nothing sacred. I am not trying to make you holy persons. I am simply trying to make you sane, intelligent, ordinary people, who can live their lives joyously, dancingly, celebratingly." I'm not a 'devotee of gurus' sort of person but I can say that Osho's wisdom and impishness is reflected in the smiles of many of those rebels gathered. It all comes from inside each of us anyways, but being surrounded by like minded folk helps. Everyone who visits India is touched in some way by the thread of spirituality running through the fabric of the country. Many are drawn to explore deeper in one or more of the practices that present themselves. No matter what we experience we all go away changed. Mother India leaves her mark on our soul.
And so it goes.........................................Next the Konkan Coast, Goa, Bangalore, and a final farewell to India. Until next month let's pause a minute from our busy, hectic lives long enough to ask ourselves what message our life is giving to the world around us? Thanks for keeping in touch and for sharing this webpage with anyone you think would be interested. We have viewers from all over the world, from China to Europe to the US to down-under Australia to Borneo to mention a few; and don't forget the 4 regulars from Mongolia every month! So much fun to share the world with all this varied but interested group of global citizens. We are really glad YOU stopped by. Take care!
Love, Light &
$1.00US = 50 Rupees
Maharaja Restaurant: A small local place
across the road serves tasty, inexpensive vegetarian food.
We cooked here with the jovial brothers.
M.V & Co - Super Homeopathic Shop, MG Road Tel # 26133110
Dr. V.K. Soni, Amol, Lane #5, Koregaon Park, Phone # 26124906, A remarkable 80 year old "syncropath".
The Health Shop, 5th Ave Building, Dhole Patil
email:firstname.lastname@example.org (messages for Dr Soni)