Wednesday, August 19, 2015

India Travelogue 10 - Wear footwear!

Sunday morning (Day 2) I was clear with objectives - I would plan for the day after completing the main ceremony for which I had come to Varanasi. Before that my cousin who was here on her wedding anniversary took me down for an aarti that happened everyday within our building itself. There was a small Siva's temple inside - not exactly inside but kind of attached to the building we stayed in. And guess who joined the priest after a while; one of the junior priests from yesterday night! Seemed like most of them had their food from the same place as us and they also performed the pooja here. He didn’t ask anyone for money over here.

Around 9:30am, I was told that I could go to see the priest. One of the boys working in the trust led the way. I didn’t wear slippers since anyway for the ceremony I won't be wearing it and we would be traveling to the place by a rickshaw or auto. I dressed in a t-shirt and dhoti; I didn’t have a belt and hoped that the dhoti would stay.

We took an auto that dashed through side lanes and took us to a Ghat. The network of lanes is quite amazing. We walked a few metres and then my companion said, "Looks like iyer is not here. He has gone home."
It was 10am and the Ghat was kind of deserted. We walked through narrow streets and I got a friendly pat by a couple of cows who were flipping their tails. Finally reached his home. There was already one pooja in process and mine was the next. About 45 minutes was what it took; some words to be repeated, some sentences to be said and some pindams we made for my ancestors. Today was amavasya (full moon day) and that is considered very auspicious. In Varanasi, when they do this ceremony they do it recollecting 3 generations of ancestors on the mother’s and father’s side and even consider close friends or teachers who have passed away; the ritual is performed to cover all of them as well as anyone who passed away but didn't have a successor; in which case no one would have performed the ritual for them and so my doing it would cover for them as well. I guess it was all about closure and reflection.

"Do you usually do this on the Ganga?"
"Yes. We can even do it on a boat in the Ganga. But in this heat no one can sit there."
After the function was over, he told me to immerse the contents of the plate in the Ganga excluding the dharba (special grass) which had to be cleaned and returned with the plate. It was about 11pm when a boy known to the priest led me to the Ganga. As I went barefoot, I knew why everyone wore slippers. The ground was too hot when the Sun was out. As we neared the Ganga, my foot was burning. There was hardly any shade on the way where I could get respite. Even on the Ghat there was no shade in sight; just concrete steps which were scorching hot. I was ready to plunge my feet into the Ganga. Fortunately on the river bank, because of the boats there were areas which were in the shade of the boats and those were very soothing. After emptying the contents in the river we went back up the stairs.
"There's the electric furnace," he showed me the building. He also said that it is only one of the two Ghats were bodies can be burnt.

I desperately made use of any shaded areas, I put my foot in places where there was water since it felt cool and at one point I wondered about whether cow dung would be cool or hot on the ground! Fortunately I didn't have to experiment since the guy got me a rickshaw soon.
"Rs.20 you can give him when you get down."

The rickshaw driver was a very old man with thick circular black glasses. He was extremely lean and dark. I felt sorry for him; at this age he was manually toiling. I had shade but he was under the mid day sun. Was he doing so for earning a living or was he doing so because he was bored at home? I paid him a little extra though he never asked for anything extra.

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Sunday, August 02, 2015

India travelogue 9 - Priests & desire?

The senior priest who had been advising us earlier told my friend that the priests performing this special function (abhishekam) will say that this is worth Rs.1000 or 2000; he told to give only Rs.100 per person at the most. Ah, money again!
We stayed and watched; crowds thronged behind us to watch the ceremony. It was late in the night, about 9:30pm was my guess and still crowded.

The very young priests (who were probably just 18 or 20) assisting the seniors in the function were having some fun of their own while chanting. They tried to outdo one another’s voice and style; and this brought a smile on the faces of the senior priests - some internal competition I guess. There was a cot that was brought in during the function; it was taken inside the shrine from our side and for that we had to stand. As soon as the cot went in, the crowd tried to push us aside to take our positions but we resisted. I didn't know why in temples people felt that standing one feet closer would make a difference; if they had been polite I wouldn’t have cared - but when someone tries to rough you up to gain advantage, you will surely resist.

At the end of the function, the priest came with a lamp. We did the usual process and at that time the priest put a garland on my friend. I was behind him and caught the eye of the senior priest who gestured me to get out from the place. I slipped away and returned to our original place. On the way, one of the temple guys came with a bowl of sweets. He put some in my hand and then asked for money. I smiled and walked away. Money again; ah!

I was certain that since my friend hadn't returned, he was caught for money by the abhishekam priests. He joined me a few minutes later and the look on his face confirmed my suspicion.
The senior priest gave us another sweet and sacred ash and asked, "Are you happy? Are you content fully?"
"Good." And he gave us all a garland each and waited.
These awkward moments of silence means just one thing - money! Oh boy... when we left the temple one of the younger priests stopped us. For what else but hoping for money! Oh boy...

How much money is enough?

The first time when we were mobbed by the priests for money, I felt angry. But now as I left the temple I was laughing. I was happy that I didn't give in to every priest who asked for money but my laughter wasn't because of that victory.
My friend commented, "This is the first time I'm seeing priests asking for so much money. Minimum 100!"
"I have never seen anyone demand money inside a temple. They never force you like this."
"It's there in some places but not like this. No matter how much money we give they will not be happy.”

And that was the reason for my laughter. You have these priests who are living in a spiritual place; who have probably read more holy scriptures than many of us, who would have had teachers explain the scriptures to them, who recite and chant verses from the scriptures everyday.
I'm not saying it's wrong for them to ask for money but the manner of doing it; trying to force you into giving; it made it seem like they were desperate for the money. And what is money but yet another worldly desire; a desire like any other that will never be satisfied no matter how much you get. A desire that if you keep chasing you will probably lose yourself in the process; the scriptures talk about crossing the barrier of desire. Some say that the devil is nothing but desire - even in other religions it is said so. And isn't it an irony; when you see the very people who would be very knowledgeable in all this, craving for money? These people breathing majority of their life in a holy place were finding it hard; how much harder for others then? An insatiable fire.

We saw at least 4 teams of police cops on our way out; they were all stationed for the temple. We landed somewhere on the other side of the street; Hindi again helping us find the route out and the route back home. The roads were empty at this hour; it must have been around 10pm. We were the only ones barefoot on the main road.

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