Monday, December 31, 2007

Adventure 2: Mathura and Vrindavan

Today we went to Mathura and Vrindavan, an approximately three-hour drive from my uncle’s house in Noida. It was me, my mom, my cousin and his parents, and another aunt of ours in one van. We left at 6:45 AM and arrived at 9:15 AM at Mathura, the place of Lord Krishna’s birth. When we got there, we left everything in the car with the driver, Raj (I know, how ironic), and walked to the temple. We had to go through some intense security (even more intense than airports) to get in because of recent bomb threats to any places of worship all over the country. There were two lines – a woman’s line and a men’s line. The woman’s line wasn’t even a line; there was nobody there. So my mom and two aunts made it inside within a minute of us arriving there. Our line, however, was about half a football field long. It took forever because security was so tight! Once we got through security, we took our shoes off and left them at a little check-in place before entering the actual temple. Finally we got in, and it was BEAUTIFUL. The intricacies of the decorations in and around the temple were fascinating, and unbelievably detailed. I could not believe this was the work of human hands! I went around the temple, reading everything (thank God I can read Hindi, albeit slightly slowly – but I’m practicing), and simply soaking in the atmosphere. I was so in love with the place that when it was time to leave each little section of the temple I found it hard to move. We saw the actual cell where Krishna was born, the place where his parents were imprisoned, and a bunch of other interesting historic sites. We left the temple in awe of its grandeur. It is not a tourist spot, though it easily could be, but it is more for the locals because there is almost nothing written in English.

[As an aside, I’ve only been in India for 2 days. Actually, not even 48 hours yet… and my God, what an adventure it has already been so far!]

After we exited the temple in Mathura, we went to Vrindavan. This is the place where Krishna grew up. Here though, nobody says “Krishna!” They all say “Radha!” or “Radhe!” It is so interesting! As you go around the city, if you get in the way of a rickshaw, the person pedaling will not ring his bell. He will call out, “Radhe! Radhe!” until you get out of his way. It is so… fun! We went to the Banke (pronounced BAH-kay, with a nasal accent on the first syllable) Bihari temple, where there were more people together than I have ever seen in one place at one time. Here’s how I mean – we dropped off our shoes at the check-in place in front of the temple, and positioned ourselves at the entrance. Let me tell you, with the amount of people in the hall looking to get darshan, which means a glimpse of the idol of the Lord within the temple, it seemed impossible that we could even get inside. I mean, I could hardly stay standing let alone walk properly there were so many people. I don’t have any pictures because they did not allow any cameras or cell phones or anything electronic inside. Anyways, we positioned ourselves at the entrance and within a minute (without doing any actual moving or pushing ourselves) we made it all the way inside the temple, right up next to the idol!! People were climbing on top of each other to see the idol (I could not see it from where I was standing) and I honestly felt like I was going to be lost forever. At one point, my feet were literally off the ground, and I could not move. I flailed my legs and I was unable to reach the ground, but eventually I got down with a little squirming here and there. On top of all this, I had some money in my pockets (money that wasn’t mine! I had pockets so my mom and my aunt had given me their money to hold) and I had to make sure that no pickpockets took any of it. But with a stroke of faith in the people today I let go of my inhibitions about holding the money tight and went with the flow of the crowd. I let myself go and found myself right in the middle of the temple, albeit crushed between people, but directly in front of the Lord. I got my darshan right on! And as soon as I did, everything seemed to freeze. The Lord seemed to be staring me right in the face and I could not move, I did not want to move. My mom and my cousin were calling out for me from the side of the little area I was in, and I knew that they were, but I could not look away from the idol. All went quiet and I could not hold back my smile. I knew what was happening as it happened and I relished each moment of it to the fullest. Once the world fell back into place I was pushed right back out to where I came from and found myself right in front of my family, with my shoes! Like I said earlier, despite the seeming chaos of the organization here, there is some method by which it all occurs. I had a ridiculous amount of fun. Adventures left and right already, within 48 hours of arrival! THIS is what I am here for. I love it! One of my favorite parts about this whole thing is that there is no rule in any temple anywhere that says that you cannot participate in the rituals and rites, or enter the temple, or anything like that, if you are not Hindu. In the temples here and everywhere, the priests in fact encourage everyone to take prasad, or the food that has been blessed by the presence of the lord! Such is the culture here.

Next we went to the ISKON temple, which is a different sort of temple. It is more geared towards foreigners so it is a different sort of atmosphere altogether, seemingly more for show than for prayer (though I don’t think that’s entirely true). It is as if we entered a different world, where there was only a fraction of the people, the place was entirely clean, and everyone had money of their own. I liked it but I was a little sad that such different planes of wealth could coexist right next to each other. Anyways, the experience was nonetheless enjoyable. After that, it was time to go home, so we ate at the restaurant located at the back of the ISKON temple, and then went to find our driver. Once we found him (it took almost an hour!) we drove straight home, no stops.

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