Saturday, November 29, 2014
Pooja, one of the participants in my Environmental Track asked me during the week if I would please come to her village and visit her farm. We had been talking a lot about planting trees in our sessions and she told me she had personally planted 150 trees on her farm and really wanted me to see them. Being invited to see an Indian Village that was far outside of the touristy places was something I had dreamed of doing, but didn't really think it would be possible. Here was an ideal opportunity! She said she had a car and would be happy to pick us up and take us to her Village and bring us back again.
So I called her this morning and we tried to figure out how to help her find us. She wanted our address. We didn't know it. We called up Google Maps on Saji’s Laptop and it immediately located us – BUT it only knew the names of a few of the major roads. There were 5 turns between the nearest named road and the blue dot that represented us! I tried to talk her through the process of finding us, using the 4 cardinal directions, but I couldn't get the concept across. I tried telling her, “Pretend the world is a like a clock. ‘North’ is like the 12 on the clock. ‘South’ is like the 6 on the clock.” “You want me to get you at 12o’clock?” she asked? “Never mind”, I said. Let’s look for a landmark. I see a big park not too far from here….Oh, wait! There is a big Temple just up the street! Have you ever heard of ‘Swami Narayanan Mandir’?”
“That's my Temple!", she almost shouted, "That's where I am!" "WHAT?!", I cried, "That's where you are now?” “YES! YES!", she said. <Hysterical laughter> “You are almost across the street from us!! I can't believe this! That’s too funny! I’ll meet you at the corner.” “No, not now”, she said, “In 10 minutes.” I had her describe her car so I could spot her more easily. “Silver.”
So I was going to go into the Swami Narayana Temple! This had special significance to me because ‘Lord Narayana’ is the first teacher I call in the Puja to the tradition of teachers of Transcendental Meditation. (See my post entitled 'Background' more about this.)
At that point I still thought she was actually inside the Temple and just needed 10 minutes to wrap up what she was doing and get outside. I thought I’d try to find the Temple by foot, as it looked like it was just a few shorts blocks away. I asked the House Manager and he walked me up one very short street (like maybe 3 houses) and pointed. There was the front gate of the Temple. Almost visible from our Guest House.
I walked to the Temple in 3 minutes. There were 4 huge cows hanging around the front gate, completely ignoring the 'No Parking' signs!.
They took some Selfies with me. I didn't see a silver car in the parking lot and called her again. She answered from her car. “I’ll be there in 5 minutes!”, she said. Ohhhh!!! So she wasn't really there NOW. Later I decided she probably meant that this particular temple was now her local temple, so in that sense she was 'there now'. But I'm just guessing.
Later I learned that she was born in the Village of Lavarpur, and she calls it ‘her village’ and the house she was born and raised in is still 'her house' (not: 'my grandmother's house') It was apparently just a subtle distinction in the way we feel about and describe what is currently 'ours'. But I’m just guessing here. Before I got to India I thought I probably understood Indians pretty well. Each day I have realized over and over how little I understand them.
I told her I would go inside and wait for her, and she said I should do that.
I took off my shoes and socks and walked up the long flight of steps, which had a parade of colorful elephant statues along each side.
Pooja at the Swami Narayan Temple
At the top of the steps I noticed side altars on each side of the steps, one for Ganesh and the other for Hanuman.
Ganesh is the God who removes obstacles, He is the patron arts and sciences, intellect and wisdom. He is the god of beginnings, so he is always honoured at the start of rituals and ceremonies. You see him at the front door of almost every Indian house - sometimes on the outside of the house, sometimes just inside the door.
Hanuman is the God of speed, strength and overcoming adversity. You see a flying Hanuman figure hanging from the rear view mirror of almost every Indian car, just like you see a Saint Christopher in the car of many Catholics. I was having a theological discussion with an Indian friend of mine and he admitted to me that he didn't believe in any of these various Hindu Gods. I pointed to the Flying Hanuman figurine hanging from his mirror.
Flying Hanuman hanging from a rear view mirror
"Oh! That has nothing to do with religion!", he said. He seemed a trifle annoyed by my observation so I didn't pursue it further but I assumed it might be decorative or ironic, like my son who has a Zombie Ninja figurine hanging from his car mirror, and I have to assume my son doesn't really believe THEY exist.
In front of me was a fenced-off area and behind the fence was a series of cages, made of iron bars. It looked like a jail. In the jail were the Gods. I have to assume they were only in Protective Custody.
I saw a pair of Gods with black skin. They were standing close together in the posture of a husband and wife, but they both seemed male. In fact, they were dressed identically, and the only thing that made them different was that the one on the right was about 10% shorter than his twin brother. I assumed that it was Narayana. There was another pair of especially beautiful Gods that were very obviously male and female and I assumed they were Krishna and his favorite devotee, Radha.
Krishna and his greatest devotee, Radha
Five minutes later Pooja joined me at the railing and I asked her to tell me about Gods. Her favorites were Krishna and his consort Radha. "I love, love, love LOVE Radha Krishna!!", she exclaimed.
She was anxious to get to her Village so we picked up Saji and headed out. Her Village is called Lavarpur and is located just 5 miles due east of where we were in Gandhinagar. She stopped the car just before entering the village and we were greeted by her mother ‘Neeta’ and her 14 year old brother Kashish. They had arrived by motor scooter. Kashish hopped in the car with us and Neeta left on the scooter. I told Pooja that her mother should be in the car, but she said no.
We stopped at a crossroads inside the village and looked at a bunch of cows that were individually chained to posts in the ground.
These 'Holy Cows' are apparently milked
Pooja pointed and said, “They are Gods.” I said, “You keep your Gods in chains?!” She didn't understand my point.
Then a van full of children stopped and a few little children were either getting on or off. It seemed to be a small school bus. I played with the kids, many of whom seemed terrified of me, but a few brave ones shook my hand. I said “Namaste!” (the most polite greeting) and “Shukran” (‘Thank you’). Then we jumped back into Pooja’s car and went to her village Temple.
When we arrived there was a delegation of six or eight people outside waiting for us. They performed the usual welcoming ceremony: placing a flower lei around my neck, putting a red Tilaka mark on my forehead with a few grains of rice pressed into it, and giving me a small piece of sugar to eat ‘to sweeten the mouth’.
I took off my shoes and socks and we went inside to find about 10 more people seated on the floor, chanting. Pooja told me that they were all related to her. There were grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and others.
Pooja and I visited the main altar and placed garlands of flowers over the images of the central deities. I also made a small monetary donation to the temple. Pooja found a set of plain wooden prayer beads and placed them around my neck. I sat on the floor next to her family and wanted to help them chant, but the chant they were doing was long and complicated and I had no hope of learning it quickly. So they pulled out cymbals, bells, drums, rattles and other noise-makers and showed me how to use them.
I couldn't quite get the hang of the Cymbal Drums and eventually switched to Rattles
I had fun making noise for a while, but really wanted to be more involved. Besides Maharishi’s Puja, there is only one Indian chant I know, that I learned from the Krishna Consciousness people when I was in High School: “Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna! Krishna Krishna! Hare Hare! Hare Rama! Hare Rama! Rama Rama! Hare Hare!” So I figured, ‘What the Heck!’ and just started chanting that on my own, not so loud as to drown the others out, but loud enough that they would probably hear me. Turns out, THEY know that chant, too! Within a minute everyone in the Temple was chanting along with me and the energy in the room started to rise! Pretty soon I was on my feet and dancing around. A few others joined me! There were four or five of us on our feet, raising the roof of this little Temple as we sang praises to Lord Krishna.
Raising the roof with my Homies!
Pooja's brother Kashish, her Grandmother, Pooja, me, her Grandfather, her mother Neeta
After a while we posed for some group photos then left the Temple to see Pooja’s farmhouse, with all those trees she planted.
But there were several other stops to be made on the way. We drove through the little village for a while, but that didn’t take long. There are only about 5,000 people living there (80% of them have the last name ‘Patel’, according to Wikipedia. ‘Patel’ means ‘farmer’.) We stopped in the center of town where there were a dozen men sitting under a big shady tree. I asked Pooja to stop so I could go hang out with them. When she attempted to join me I ‘shooed’ her away, back to her car, and told her, “No! This is just guys! I want to hang out with the guys! No girls allowed!” She was puzzled, but backed off a few feet. I sat next to some guys and asked, “So! What are we talkin’ about today, huh? It’s ‘girls’, I bet! I bet we’re talking about ‘girls’. Am I right? Are you guys talkin’ about girls?!” I thought this was a really funny thing to say to a bunch of guys hanging out together in the middle of an ancient village in India, but since none of them understood what I was saying, the joke fell a little flat. I got Pooja to translate what I was saying, but it didn’t help. They never did admit they were talking about women. But I’ll bet they were!
From there we went to the communal water supply. This was a large pool with walls about 2 feet high. Pooja says when she was a little girl it was always full of water and sometimes they let her and the other little children swim in it. But the purpose of the pool was to get water for washing clothes. You didn’t wash your clothes in the pool, because that would make the water too dirty. You dipped clean water out of the pool into your own tub, and washed your clothes next to the pool, with all of your friends and neighbors. The pool is no longer filled with water or used, because now everyone has water piped into their home. But there are still hand-painted signs on the walls that say things like: ‘Water is life! Don’t waste it!” When Pooja and her brother translated the sings for me I shouted, “Environmental Track!”
India has been practicing Water Conservation for many centuries
From there we headed further out into the country to go to her farm, but first she pulled into another Temple, this one was smaller and older. She explained that she wanted me to meet the Goddess that ‘saved my life’ as she put it.
We went in, removed our shoes, and went up to the main altar where we saw a marble image of a Goddess that has a great many names. Her most popular name is Durga, but Pooja called her ‘Totrima’ and said she saved her live a few years ago.
Totrima, an aspect of Durga
Here’s the story as she told it to me:
"In 2011, when I was 16 years old, I was in the bathroom of our home. The was a gas leak in the hot water heater and the bathroom filled with gas, which made me lose consciousness and fall on the floor. I was in there for about 2 hours until my little brother found me. They took me to the hospital, but by that time I was completely unresponsive and in a coma. I was in the hospital for many days and everyone in our village thought I would die. But eventually I came out of the coma, and although I couldn't talk, or walk by myself, or even feed myself, they brought me home. I was like that for 6 months. Then my mother came here to pray to Totrima and ask Her to help me. Very soon after that I began to speak. I saw our dog and called his name. That was the first word I said in 6 months."
So we prayed to Totrima and thanked Her for saving Pooja. When I signed up for this trip I had no idea I would be hearing about Miracles. But India continued to surprise me every single day.
We drove out to the farm and the first thing Pooja’s mother did was to give me some Ayurvedic medicine for my head cold. It was made from the Turmeric that grew in their garden. They also gave us some freshly baked Nan.
Neeta picking Turmeric for some medicine
We walked around their 30 acre farm for an hour, looking at tomatoes, eggplant, cotton, mangoes, and half a dozen other fruits and vegetables. They used trickle irrigation to save water and the farm was 100% organic. The Environmental Track would be so proud!
Finally, it was time to get back to the city and find our Rotarian friends again. But I will never forget my miraculous adventure in the village and temples of Lavarpur, Gujarat.
Continue to Day 10b: Saturday afternoon