Early Morning in Bharat Mata

Guest post by Richard Furlough.

Walking at Dawn: Of my varied experiences while traveling through India, some of the most surprising and memorable have been during the hours just before dawn when I’m out walking and exploring this beloved country. Whether participating in the elaborate mahamangala harati ceremony performed at 4:30 every morning at Sri Sailem Jyotir Ling Temple in southern India, taking a dip in the Ganges River from its rocky beach before it enters Rishikesh in northern India, or simply picking flowers in a Delhi park for 5:30 puja, something unexpected and special awaits.

Varanasi: It was no different my first morning in Varanasi. Upon arriving in this ancient and most holy of cities the previous afternoon, the Ganges was in flood stage from the monsoon rains. The red flags were flying up and down the waterfront which meant that no boats were allowed on the river. Theghats leading steeply from the city proper perched on a bluff down to the waters of the river itself were completely submerged.

The Ghats: By this particular morning, however, the Ganges had receded somewhat such that the upper portions of the ghats were revealed, and I was able to head north along the river by holding onto the iron railing separating the city from the river and jumping over mini-crevasses created by the floodwaters.

 

A Pandit: As the sun breached the horizon on the other side of the Ganges on this overcast morning, I came upon a Pandit performing his morning puja to either Shiva or Ma Ganga, and stopped to watch and meditate.

 

 

There were also two Indian men performing their morning ablutions in the river. After about half an hour, I decided to act on a thought that I had during meditation, and retraced my steps back to the hotel to retrieve one of my traveling companions so that we could return to the same spot and perform our traditional puja to the Holy Tradition. A stiff breeze blowing from the river made it impossible to light our incense so the pandit offered some that he had formed by rolling it between his hands and that was already lit.

After puja and after meditating for awhile, another Brahmin man who had witnessed ourpuja asked several questions about the Holy Tradition picture, then offered to take us to his silk company’s shop located in the family’s home nearby.

A Nepali Temple: We began to climb the ancient steps into Varanasi, passing the Nepali Temple before entering the narrow alleys that characterize much of this city. We passed by many open doors that revealed by sight and sound the city’s inhabitants beginning the new day.

Sari Shopping: Upon arriving at the family’s home, we were immediately ushered to a small window that looked down onto a below-ground shiva lingum that we were told was unearthed long ago and that was “in the history books.” After descending the steps leading to this most recognizable symbol of Shiva so that we could get closer, and coming back up, we were directed into the shop where stacks of colorful sarees and shawls filled the shelves to overflowing.

Chai Time: We were served chai before the assistants began to open their wares in front of us by flinging them into the air where they settled at our feet. After making our selections, then some good natured bargaining during which we laughed frequently, we were escorted to an ATM so that I could withdraw enough rupees to pay for my purchases. I decided that even if I had paid too much, that I had had a good time doing it!

Gifts: My gifts this particular early morning were being a part of the ancient and daily ritual of recognition and adoration of some of the seemingly infinite aspects of creation…doesn’t matter that some call it Ganga or Shiva, it’s all the same…and being welcomed into a family’s home where I caught intimate glances into the daily lives of the inhabitants of this land that I have come to think of as my second home. Oh, and another gift of this day was finding my camera still atop the ATM where I realized I had left it after getting back to the hotel!

Bharat Mata, what future secrets will you see fit to reveal to me on future early morning perambulations? You are teaching me to be a more patient man and I am always grateful.

Images: First photo courtesy of Linda Castillon.

My Traveling Companions

Cat Friends: I have known my traveling companions, Linda Castillon and Richard Furlough, for many years. We have mainly lived in different parts of the country but connected in Texas, North Carolina, and Fairfield. We also connected because all three of us are cat people. I won’t say how many cats we have among us, but it’s quite a few.

The Soul of Grace: I met Linda in Houston in the early 80s while I was visiting my friend Jane. Years later, when I was back in Asheville, NC, I called up the TM Center and discovered that Linda was the chair there. Richard called me a short time later, having just moved to Andrews, NC. So we went to potlucks, discussed our cats, and renewed our friendships.

Linda is the soul of grace and loveliness. I’ve never seen her other than kind, caring, thoughtful, and hospitable. Even when she is discouraging the beggars and hucksters on the streets of India, she does it with grace and respect. Her closest feline friend, Lucille, passed during our trip. We were all caught in the sadness and yet had a feeling of rightness because Lucille was almost seventeen.

The Soul of Generosity: Richard, I’ve known since the mid-70s, first in Chapel Hill, when he moved into the TM Center where I was living, and later again in Asheville. Richard is the personification of strength, drive, and organizing ability.

 

Richard is also the soul of generosity, gifting both Linda and me with this transforming trip. Richard has the trip planned down to the last detail, carries the luggage, and chats up every person we meet. He walks into a group of strangers and leaves with everyone smiling and laughing. In fact, he never met a stranger.

Social Flow: Both Richard and Linda have ready and charming social skills. I am more shy and retiring and appreciate those who charm the world around me. I can rest and be included on their waves of energy and appreciation for everyone and everything around.

I am blessed.

 

Images: Photos courtesy of Linda Castillon.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

Consciousness Manifest in Beauty:  Brilliant white against verdant greens, the mausoleum known as the Taj Mahal stands, a monument to love, perhaps, the very least to architectural beauty.

 

 

Approaching the Taj: We trace the walkways, thankful for the shade on this very hot day, steadily moving toward the white domed building rising just ahead. We pass what is now referred to as Diana’s bench where Princess Diana had her photograph taken. The lines of people wanting to have their pictures taken there stretches back many paces.

We bypass the bench to gain the terrace on which the Taj sits. Richard elects to enter the mausoleum to see the crypt. Linda and I go to sit in the shade.

 

 

Meant to Last: My favorite part of the day’s adventure is seeing the structure on the left when you first come into the main enclosure. The building is topped by 22 domes. A guide explained that in lieu of calculators, etc., one dome was constructed after each year of construction, and the Taj Mahal took 22 years to complete.

Wilting in the Heat: I’m wilting as we head back to the hotel. Only the next day do we learn that it had been 110 degrees under the hazy Indian sun while we had been admiring the beauty of the Taj Mahal.

 

 

Images: First, third, and fifth photos courtesy of Richard Furlough.