From September 15th to October 4th we had Dussehra/Navaratri break from the university, and in this time I met up with my mom in Kolkata (Calcutta) and from there we toured north India. We went from Calcutta (and surrounding areas) to Delhi, and from Delhi to Mumbai. From Mumbai we traveled south to Mangalore, and from Mangalore we took a taxi to Sringeri, where we are now. Mom will be staying with me for a couple of weeks, just to check out Sringeri and settle me in.
The trip in itself was fantastic. I cannot do it justice by writing about it (much like all of my other trips). Some of the highlights of the trip:
In Calcutta, when we were visiting the Dakshineshwar temple, within the temple grounds there was a shooting going on for some Tamil film. It was an action scene, no less. We got to see guys get beaten and punched up (pretend) and the hero look all cool (in a temple grounds!). It was interesting; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film shooting before. There was a whole ring of people around the crew, watching the action. What I find interesting about this is that all customs, stigmas, superstitions, etc. dissolve in the face of a film shooting. Fighting, disgusting clothing, etc. all in a temple grounds is definitely faux pas, but when it comes to filming for a movie, all rules are void. Another thing is, actors/actresses/politicians are somehow above “law” or “rules” because whenever they go somewhere, they don’t wait in line; if they do something against, the police are content to just get their signatures; when they go abroad, they are treated as if they are gods. What I don’t understand is: aren’t these celebrities also people? Don’t they eat the same food we do? Don’t they bleed the same way we do? Don’t they have the same issues we do? Why are they treated differently? Admittedly, people worship them, but why? Their job is simply to act in movies. What makes them more knowledgeable about life than another person just because their job entitles them to fame? Anyways. That happened.
While we were in Calcutta, we traveled to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) ashram in Mayapur, West Bengal. This was also a fascinating experience. People from all over the world were at this ashram, just singing “Hare Krishna Hare Rama” all the time. One thing that bugs me is that under the guise of “religion” or “spirituality” people do all sorts of silly/crazy things. For example, the people who come from abroad treat it as a vacation to come to the ISKCON ashram. They make some money abroad, which translates to thousands of Rupees in India, so they can work for a year or two abroad and then come live the rest of their lives in India without worrying about making any more money. This is great, except that life should be used productively (in my opinion) if one has the opportunity. Instead, these people just lock themselves up in ashrams and live the rest of their lives ignoring the rest of the world. That being said, what we saw at this ashram was pretty cool. Here’s a video I recorded while there:
In Mumbai, we went to several different places of interest; one being a store called Good Earth. It was quite a remarkable store – everything was super futuristic (again, in my opinion) and had a sense of the “new” in it, which made the entire store just a fun place to be in. In addition to this, on our way out, we ran into Deepika Padukone the actress. (I know, I know. I just mentioned that they are just people too… yet, it’s something interesting to mention for people who are interested! Just because I feel one way doesn’t mean that everyone else has to.)
We also went to the Chinmaya Mission ashram in Mumbai, called Sandeepany Sadhanalaya. It is where a famous two-year Vedanta course is conducted, and is also the home base for Swami Tejomayananda (lovingly known as Guruji). Swami Tejomayananda is the worldwide head of Chinmaya Mission presently, the successor of Swami Chinmayananda himself. This particular visit was made so that I could meet Guruji. We have a deep connection with Chinmaya Mission, dating back to before I can remember (before I was 5 years old). I was literally raised as a part of the organization, and have benefited immensely from this connection. Although my father was my first guru in terms of spiritual teaching, Chinmaya Mission has helped me expand and develop my own vision for living and has taught me many things regarding the Self. I have also made many lifelong friends as a result of this association. I am deeply grateful to the organization, and thus the connection we have established there is very important to me. I am, however, not biased towards Chinmaya Mission, and would not say that it is “better” than any other organization; one thing that the Mission has taught me is that each person has his or her own path to finding him or herself, and thus the innumerable organizations created for the purpose of helping seekers find themselves are all equally valid. The plethora we see before us today is simply a manifestation of this truth. I am very much for the acceptance among different organizations of each other based on this timeless piece of wisdom, and I believe that this is also the reason that religions and religious organizations should not be concerned with how many followers they have; for as soon as they shift their focus from finding the Self, their very existence becomes invalid.
The purpose of our visit to Saneepany was to meet Guruji. I wanted to tell him what I was doing in India (studying Sanskrit, shaastras, etc.) and to see what he had to say about that. He was very happy and suggested that I get in contact with the Chinmaya International Foundation, where they are doing research on Sanskrit and Sanskrit-related topics. I told him I would. We proceeded to meet a few of the brahmacharis (including a couple of my old friends from back home!) that were studying there in the two-year Vedanta course. Overall, it was a very productive and inspiring experience. I hope I get to go back there someday!
The contrast between Calcutta and Mumbai is striking. Calcutta is full of the old-school style of life, it is still very “old” in its appearance and feel. It has many remnants of the British rule over India (like the Victoria Memorial) and therefore its feel is very slow-paced. Mumbai is full of new-school everything, from buildings to shops to people and lifestyle. It is the most western city I have been to in India thus far. Nonetheless, it is very much India in its approach, and this combination makes it a very happy city to be in. I like it.
After visiting these places, coming back to Sringeri is a change worth noting.