Over the weekend, I was telling yet another family member about our Indian yatra, showing of pictures, describing things, answering questions, etc.
Afterward, it occurred to me that our trip could be broken down into three different aspects. And then, it further occurred to me that those aspects might just correspond to Hinduism’s Trimurti. So, indulge me… this may or may not work.
Our largely unworshipped lord of creation (and we did walk on the rock remains of Siva’s shaft of light that caused Brahma this trouble) came into play twice: At the beginning (of course) as we gathered at a beach resort outside of Chennai and about halfway through when we took a needed break at the ISKCON-support Govardhan Eco Village. Both provided us a few days of rejuvenation / creation. They gave us the energy needed for the rest of our very intense trip. In keeping with Brahma’s diminished role among the Trimurti, these days were the fewest of our trip.
The great preserver corresponds to the days when were in one city and, more or less, one main temple. Both Tiruvannamalai and Chidambaram, as well as our final few days in Mumbai, fit this.
These “stays” involved a bit of a deeper experience of the individual temples. We returned numerous times to each, and in Chidambaram especially we were able to walk from our hotel to the temple — which we did at all hours of the day (including about 3 a.m.). It allows for a bit of familiarity, of comfort perhaps.
Keep in mind, while we were in one place, we were anything but static. There were few hours “wasted.” We were out at temples, visiting ashrams, speaking with swamis. The repeated experiences of the temples created a deeper connection (to overuse the word “deeper”) that, I think, plays to the heart — to the sense I (at least) have of Vishnu and his avatars. We all have a personal pujari at Chidambaram, for instance.
Our pilgrimage, if it hasn’t been clear from earlier posts, focused mostly on Siva temples. Its fitting, then, that Siva should dominate my recollection of the trip — even in this way of looking at things. While we were by a beach for a day or two, and up in the hills for a couple of other days, and in single cities for a few nights here and there, really there was little lying around, hanging out, chillin’. Mostly we were moving, we were dancing, we were pushing ourselves to the point of destruction.
Metaphorically speaking. We were on buses, we were bumping along the Indian roads (a kind of dance, I guess), we were getting on and off, going into temples, up mountains, through small cities. It may not sound like it, but these days were exhausting.
We had days of travel from one stop to another and other days where we visited multiple temples (the Ashtavinayaka Ganesha temples, for instance). These typically lasted 12 to 14 hours. We probably visited about four temples on any given one of these days, and a few times extra temples got added on the fly. Most of our travel to one place from another included a few temple visits along the way.
People were drained in the end. But lest you think different, it was a good drained. The same kind of drained you are after an intense asana practice. The kind of stretching thin feeling that softens or opens you up for the experience at hand. The intensity of the travel, I’m convinced, helped keep us finely tuned.
The neverending yatra
As I continue to reflect on the trip and try to understand it — including exercises, failed or successful, like this one — what I’m having the most difficulty conveying to people is just how Indian it seemed to be. Part of that difficulty is because saying that sounds trite. But in the cities we stayed in, and all the temples we visited, we were almost the only non-Indians we saw. And our interactions with people were mostly in temples and on the streets; they weren’t with rickshaw drivers or people in restaurants and hotels. It was about as peer-to-peer as I can imagine it being. All we were exchanging were greetings, and a sense of faith in where we were.
There were a lot of these exchanges: with smiling children practicing their English; with shy men and women asking us where we were from; with bolder people taking their pictures with us; with priests and pujaris, swamis and teachers.
It was, as the word yatra implies, a pilgrimage. One that continues.
Posted by Steve