BUDDHA'S 1ST SERMON, TEMPLE SEX & DINNER AT SADIQS
Trip Start Jan 15, 2011
43Trip End Mar 19, 2011
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This chapter was supposed to precede "Orchha - An Impromtu Spreading on the Betwa River", but I accidentally sent out the other one first
The last stop before leaving Varanasi is a few minutes outside the city, called Sarnath. Sarnath means "deer park" It was a place where the deer were protected by the emperor Ashoka and is still a deer park.
India is 80% Hindu and only a small percentage is Buddhist. Sarnath, for years was a major Buddhist center in this country. Now, as my guide Aman explains, for any religion, three things are required: Philosophy, Ritual and Mythology. Hinduism is strong on all three of these aspects, whereas Buudhism is basically a philosophy sans the mythological component.
Emporer Ashoka, one of the most powerful Hindu rulers 270 years after Buddha died, helped spread the words of Buddha. He wanted faith to be felt by the common people as well, so he made art and signs of symbolism to get the word across to those people who still worshipped statues: he built columns that contained the words of Buddha. This was his way of upholding Buddha's wish that there be no statues built to reflect his image.
After attaining Enlightenment, Buddha took the decision he should preach his dharma to five companions who were staying at Sarnath, so it was here, for the first time that his teachings were delivered, which event in the Buddhist texts is known as the dharmachakra-pravartana, "Turning the Wheel of Law." This is not only an important archeological and museum site, it also became a center for Buddhist pilgrimage because it was the place where Buddha delivered his first sermon
The first sermon outlined the basic problems of life as well as the solutions and is regarded as the essence of Buddha's teachings: that there are two ways of life: the way of pleasure, which ultimately brings sorrow, and the way of self-deprivation. Both of these extremes, he held, are paths to be avoided in favor of the Middle Way.
Time to fly to Khajuraho, home of the erotic temples!
If the Middle Path was the way of Buddha, one might surmise an entirely different approach to life and the hereafter was once preached at the temples of KhajurahoTaj Chandela resort. There were some things I needed to pick up so he drove me around town and helped me buy a much-needed watch.
"So, what do people do here on Saturday night?" I asked of not just idle curiosity but more of my incessant necessity to stay entertained.
"Nothing," was the reply. Great, and I'm scheduled here on a Saturday night. I tried a different approach.
"So, I see there's a theatre here."
"Oh yes. For the traditional dances. You're seeing it tonight."
"Yes. It is on your itinerary."
"But I don't have to see it, right?"
"You do not have to if you do not wish," he replied with a friendly grin that would become his trademark and that I would later learn was his infectiously sincere smile
Dear reader, I am not being unappreciative of other cultures, but at the risk of sounding jaded again, I've seen these local traditional dance shows and they're all the same. They're well executed, but aside from perhaps a few subtle differences in gestures, costumes and I suppose, yes, the music, they all amount to the same thing. Folk dances geared toward tourists.
"So is that what you all do on your big night out? Go to the dance show?"
"No. Done it," he confessed.
I pressed further. "This...theatre. Do they have other things beside the dancing shows?" (There's always hope.) "Like...maybe bus and truck tours of big Broadway musicals? Or Lady Gaga?"
"No, just the dance show. But tomorrow night you will go to the light and sound show," Sadiq promised.
I must confess, I was not sure what to expect when I first booked this town through my agent. I initially saw it as a stopover point between Varanassi and Agra when I thought we were going to be driving the entire distance. But instead she had me flying into Khajuraho's rather tiny airport. And as we drove through, I tried to spot signs of why the guidbooks said, "No true traveller to India should leave without first visiting Khajuraho." And then, as we headed down the main drag in town, I saw it. Smack dab off to the side of the road, after a big fountain and a small lake, were all of these temples growing out of the ground. Big ones. Ornately carved and wait till you read and see with what!
(Actually a tip: Don't go to Khajuraho to see sexual acts carved into temples. It's about so much more than that. That's all I'll say now and will elaborate further later in this entry.)
Later that afternoon, Sadiq drove me to the Jain temple just for a sneak preview. I think I might have pled not to be left alone there and in this town he probably couldn't think of anything else to do but to stay with me, anyway. (That was a mile stab at humor.) Actually, in a strange way Khajuraho was reminding me more and more of my hometown in terms of size and things to do
But he didn't want to give away tomorrow's tour, so we just sat on a wall and had a coke. Travelling alone can be, guess what? A little lonely at times! So it was nice just to sit and chat with someone at that point.
The traditional dance show. Like I said, you've seen one and you've seen them all. I dozed off, but that was because I was tired, anyway. Somewhere around the lively Rajasthan dance I woke up. Stayed awake long enough to film the gifted dancers you'll see in the video. They were good, don't misunderstand me. But I saw it in Turkey. I saw it in Kathmandu. I saw it in Bangkok. I saw it in Bali. At least this one didn't come with a dinner that I'd have to sit through with a lot of people I didn't know. This was just a theatre. And I apparently wasn't going to be seeing "Bollywood the Musical" or even "Fiddler on the Roof." But for what it was, it was well-produced and performed with craftsmanship and finesse and I must say, while I was awake I did enjoy myself.
THE TEMPLE TOUR - FEBRUARY 11
The temples, built a thousand or so years ago by the Chandela dynasty in what my itinerary correctly describes as “an inspired burst of creativity", after which the temples were abandoned, fell to ruin and were lost until they were accidentally unearthed or uncovered or however they found them by a British army engineer in the mid-nineteenth century. Of course, if there ever was a palace no one has ever found any remnants of such a place so much of the legend and history of this area remains a mystery, which of course makes it that much more intriguing.
Now a World Heritage Site, the park is divided into three sections: the Western (Hindu, 12 temples), the Eastern (Jain) and the Southern (Hindu)
I hesitate to admit that I eventually gave up on taking notes. It was evident that I wasn’t going to be able to write down all of the information being generated by my very capable guide.
The sculptures are divided into five categories:
1 - The Principles (Lord Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Maintainer and Shiva, the Destroyer. My guide believes Shiva should be known as “the transformer” for it was evil that he destroyed in favor of good)
G = = Generator
O = Operator
D = Destroyer
2 – Helping or support gods
3 - Most important Apashara (“the beautiful women from the heavens, their celestial names)
4- Floral and fauna (geometric design)
5 – Erotic (Most popular, but ironically only constitutes 2.5% of the sculptures).
The sculptures all represent the daily life of a human, which is divided into four stages: 1) celibacy (learning & knowledge); 2) householdship (time for marriage, family and livelihood; 3) Vanprastha (the stage of “middle-age”, when human has fulfilled responsibilities toward the family); and 4) old age (total detachment from family life, spent in meditation and liberated from human life)
The dragons in the sculptures represent human desire, whereas the repeated theme of lotus flowers represents the four cosmic energies (earth, water, fire and air).
That’s all the notes I took. And I'm afraid I didn't manage to snap pictures of the most erotic of the images (thought I had). Sorry. But I got a little bit of the different stages of sexuality depicted on three different levels of reliefs.
Listen to the video about how and why my Guide became a Guide. He’s a very likeable and well-spoken individual.
Now, why all the eroticism? That would be the first question most would have on their mind, but I had to get my notes out of the way.
Most of this is a mystery, but the most predominant belief is that the Chandelas practiced Tantric sex as a means of obtaining “Moksha” (remember that word from Varanassi?), in other words, they were a tantric cult that believed fulfillment of earthly desire and need would lead to the release from the cycle of rebirth (some of us might think of it as “eternity” or "nirvana", but I'm not quite sure that's an accurate analogy)
There are plenty of other theories for all of this “sexuality in the sandstone”, but the spiritual goal of achieving Moksha seems to be the most fitting.
As one surveys the carvings, one is struck by the sensuality and beauty of the work. Full-bodied women and men of all shapes and sizes engaged in just about every sexual practice one can imagine. There’s straight sex, gay sex, bi-sex, tri-sex, massive orgies, animal sex and even probably some sex I’ve not heard of. My guide shed light on an interesting theory arising from one of the sculptures: the drunken man leaning on another man indicates the probability that homosexuality was an accepted practice way back when. But as I said before and will reiterate here, this is only a small fraction of the art depicted here. The deities, their attendants, dancers and musicians, embracing couples, celestial maidens and all the others are shown here in just about every day to day activity one can think of. They collectively and individually reflect on religion and artistic genius.
MEETING SADIQ'S FAMILY
After a brief respite at my hotel, Sadiq picked me up on his motorscooter and drove me to meet his family at their home on the edge of town
I was skeptical. "That's not a squirrel. That's too small to be a squirrel. And squirrels aren't brown, they're gray. And they don't have a little strip down their backs."
Perpetuating his smile, he corrected me. "That is a squirrel."
I was equally as sure of my knowledge. I know a squirrel when I see one. And I know chipmunks. "It's a chipmunk, Sadiq."
"It is an Indian squirrel." I let it go, but later in Agra I would be proven wrong. That indeed, the squirrels in India are of a different breed than their larger cousins in the west, and they look like chipmunks
Next, a bird flew past us - I forget what kind of bird - but once again, the same excitement. He loves animals. His mother, a charming, lovely and proud woman who wore a serene smile the whole time, emerged from the house. Then one by one, so did his sisters. We were all introduced. Then the sisters disappeared into the kitchen, next to the patio with the door left open. I could smell the aroma wafting through the air of what would be our dinner. His mother joined us on the patio but when she sat down, she did so across the patio next to the kitchen. Wondering why she didn't sit closer, at first I thought this might be a cultural thing, but Sadiq assured me that she was merely keeping an eye on his sisters who were doing the cooking. She didn't want them to make any mistakes.
I asked Sadiq what religion he was.
"I am muslim," he replied with a smile.
When I asked where his father was, I don't recall his answer; maybe he was at work
"Yes, I like it. It is my home. I will always live here. Where else would I live?"
Our dinner was brought to us, a sort of cereal, like an Indian version of polenta ... I wish I could recall the name. It had a sweetness to it and could almost pass for dessert, and it was absolutely delicious and very filling. (Indeed, I had it for breakfast the following morning at my hotel and it wasn't nearly as good as the version prepared by Sadiq's sisters. I hope they made their mother as proud as my appetite was satisfied.) I complimented the cooks. Soon, one of Sadiq's sisters had retreated into another room and was surrounded by little children. Sadiq explained that she was a teacher and was holding a classroom in their home. Different children had different books, so I surmised she must be teaching different subjects and levels. When I told the children that they should listen to everything she taught them, they all nodded and agreed that they had a very good teacher.
Dusk had arrived and it was beginning to get dark
"We are discouraged from bringing home clients, and you are the first I have had over to meet my family, because I think you are a very nice American man, and you are famous singer!" I couldn't argue. We both smiled very broad smiles.
Back on the motorscooter, we were soon back at the temple area for the sound and light show. I took my seat among the 30 or 40 other guests. My review of the sound and light show: the special effects leave a little to be desired on the excite-o-meter, the dialogue is stilted old-hat and the voice-overs are of the old-school British variety of acting. But the story is charming and depicts the birth of the region of Khajuraho. It goes like this:
A beautiful village maiden named Hemvati was bathing in a moonlit lotus pond when the moon god spotted her. Enraptured by her beauty, he descended in human form and made love to her. She hardly objected, but the following day when it was time for the moon to retreat and make way for daylight, she became angry and threatened him with a curse. He said, "Whoa, there! I'll give you a son if that will make you happy. Take him to Khajjapura ("where the date palms are"). He will be a king and will build many temples, and he will perform the religious ceremony that will make you whole." This seemed to appease Hemvati, and she did what she was told to do. She gave birth to a son, Chandravarman, in a tiny village
Sidenote: A few weeks later I was very touched by an e-mail I had received from Sadiq. I had loaned him a copy of a DVD to my show "Twist of Fate" for him to download on his computer. In the e-mail, he now claimed he was now my biggest fan. But even more deeply touched was I by what he next told me. I have no idea what I said to him, but apparently something I said inspired him to donate a computer, in memory of Jim, to his sister's class to help her students with their lessons. I was deeply moved by his memorial.