Holiest of holies

Trip Start Jun 28, 2009
Trip End Aug 07, 2009

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Flag of India  , Tamil Nadu,
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Today was absolutely LOVELY- my best day yet. I jumped straight to the computer after returning home from dinner- I don't want to leave anything out!

The turning point came early this morning as I walked with the group through the spectacular Hindu temples in Chennia’s Mylapore neighborhood. I felt relaxed and comfortable taking off my shoes (for the umpteenth time this summer) to walk through a courtyard where I knew thousands and thousands of people walk barefoot everyday (I’ve realized in the last few weeks how germ-conscious Americans are- there’s a striking difference here). I’m still in awe of India, but feeling a lot less shock at its extremes.

I got in trouble today at a famous church- the Saint Thomas Basilica where they have on display a piece of St. Thomas’ finger bone (now I’m the Doubting Thomas). The church was built on the site where St. Thomas came to pray in this area of India before he was killed in 72 A.D. There have been many St. Thomas churches on this spot over the years, but this latest sanctuary was built in 1897. Anyway, I forgot the rule about being quiet in all Indian places of worship, and I let out a big laugh while joking with another teacher- they scolded me good!

We visited an innovative organization in the afternoon called the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation- it helps poor communities by implementing eco-technology and sustainable agriculture throughout India’s various regions. They also support equality for women, who often endure tremendous abuses in impoverished areas. There’s so much going on in this organization’s outreach, but my favorite program is the development of salt-resistant rice that will grow well in areas affected by climate change (helps with encroaching seawater near farmlands). We met more cute kids there at the headquarters- they use computers there in the afternoons.

Most fascinating to me tonight was a trip to the Manapakkam Ashram a few miles from our hotel with a guru devotee, Jaya, whom one of our teachers met just the day before. Jaya and her friend, Frida who gave us our tour are from Jakarta, Indonesia and had flown in for their guru’s 83rd birthday. I got a funny feeling as soon as we entered the isolated compound- we left the garbage and poverty of the street outside and entered a garden of paradise. The guru’s house (a mansion by Indian standards) lies within the luscious green and super clean ashram grounds. The meditation area is wide open and beautiful- I’m sure it’s great for relaxing. However, Jaya and Frida explained to us that the number one goal of each devotee, according to their guru, is to be of help to others. Would Mother Theresa have walled herself in a luxurious compound and put herself up in the nicest residence on site? We watched as Westerners started filing in with their big suitcases, having flown all the way to celebrate their guru’s birthday.

After explaining the guru’s tenets and rules (there weren’t many) they offered to assist us in our first in what would have been 3 introductory meditations. These entail sitting across from an expert, or prefect, as Jaya and Frida were called, and meditating for 30 minutes. I passed- they were trying to be minimalist in their spirituality, but the fact that there were initiation rules gave me the willies. I took one nice idea from the experience- meditating every morning for 20 minutes or so could be cool. Wonder if I have the discipline…

We’re off to Kolkata bright and early tomorrow. In the first weeks the days seemed so loooooooong (our orientation in Madison seems like months ago) but now, maybe thanks to some more familiarity, the days are moving quickly. Wish me luck on my way to the "exotic northeast".

** By the way, I’d send more pics, but it takes about an hour to load 15 of them, and that’s if I have a relatively fast connection. So you only get the finest…
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Vichu on

Lovely picture with banana leaf.

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