Saturday, April 12, 2008

Desert heat and spirituality - Pushkar

I am here in Pushkar, one of the most holy cities in India. It is here in Pushkar that the only temple to Brahma stands on the holy lake Pushkar. Brahma was the creator of this world, but was cursed (who cursed him and why depends on the mythology you have been taught) and only allowed to have one temple at the place where he worshiped- Pushkar. He also created Pushkar with the drop of a lotus petal (this alone had made the place spiritually important. Pushkar is a jewel in the desert. Rocky hills and seas of sand surround this desert oasis.
The weather is hot here. It is probably around 40 degrees and the power has been out for most of the day which has given me a new respect and love for electricity as I mutter under my breath what I would give for a fan. There is little to no breeze here and the flies are everywhere.
There is so much more to Pushkar besides the heat and the flies. As I said before, it is one of the holiest cities in India and thousands of people make the piligramage here every year to pay their respects to Lord Brahma, to bath in the sacred lake, and to perform puja. Puja means worship, and performing puja means to be blessed by a brahmin.
The other things to do here in Pushkar is to go on a camel safari!
My camel safari was great fun. We left in the early evening just before sunset to try to avoid the heat (not possible) as our camels and guides lead us on a three hour walk through Pushkar and the surrounding desert. There was much laughter, and mirth despite the heat. Some of the camels were extremely funny. I (of course) choose the bad boy of the group. It wasn't until I got on him that I noticed the bit of hair and skull that was missing from the back of his head and was later informed this was from a fight with another camel. He took every opportunity to eat and tried to bite me when I went to pet his head. His name is Krishna, one of the most important gods of Hinduism, and the name seems to have gone to his head. Despite his attitude and the fact he had to walk at the back of the line so as to not get into trouble with the other camels, my guide handed the reins over to me and I was the only one in the grou that got to "drive" their own camel. Riding a camel is not that different than riding a horse and Krishna behaved tolerably well for me.
All in all, the camel safari was acceleratingly and the desert sunset was stunning.
Performing the Puja:
Yesterday morning I went down to the lake with Genish (my brahmin, not the god)and took part in the puja. The puja was much more involved than I had expected. We were given a plate with five things on it: sugar, red powder, yellow powder, flowers, and a coconut. Our hands were washed with holy water from the lake, then we repeated the mantra that Genish chanted. We asked for health, happiness, wealth, and for a sweet mother, sweet father, sweet sister, sweet brother, and sweet husband. We were told to make a wish and after more repeating of the mantra a red and yellow thread was tied around my wrist and I emptied the contents of my plate (not the coconut) into the lake. Once the puja was finished we were asked if we wanted to offer a prayer/blessing to someone who had expired. (His word not mine.) A decided to offer my prayers and my blessing that the next life be a good one to my Auntie Karen. I did not expect this to be so overwhelmingly emotional. I was given holy water from the lake, I repeated the mantra I was given over the holy water and I had to speak her name before releasing the water into the lake and repeating the process. It was on uttering my aunt's name that I broke down. I was in Japan when she passed away and as I performed this blessing and prayer for her I realized I had not yet done any ritual to honour her passing and her life. I barely managed to repeat the mantra, but I completed the process, sat down in the hot sun and let the steaming tears run down from my behind my dark glasses. I looked over the holy lake, at the hundreds of temples that dot the city, and at the many ghats that marked the places of prayer donated by kings, presidents, Queen Elizabeth, and Ghandi. Ghandi, Neru, and several gerus have some or all of their ashes sprinkled in this lake. I tried to think that she would like this, that she would feel honoured, but this could not comfort me and so I just let the tears come.
Pushkar is a place for families to come. Yesterday I honoured mine both living and past, I wished for health, and I wished I was here with them. Spiritually in India is as much connected to the family as it is to the individual. I may not be the most spiritual person in the world but my puja here in Pushkar was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
Pushkar is also known for three other things: hippies, cheap shopping, and Israeli food. The three go together. Some of the hippies here have gone... well... native, except scarier than the natives. Deadlocks, unwashed hair, tattered clothing, and a lack of shoes are all signs of those who have been here too long and drank one too many bang lassies. The Israeli food here, on the other hand, is AMAZING! Indian food has had to step back for the falafel and humus. I am going to have to get another one for the train ride to Delhi tonight.

My love to all.


Anonymous said...

I was just speaking to your grandparents in NS as they were reading your entries. Thank you for telling us of these experiences. Love you

Katherine said...

She would feel honored. That was beautiful (I'm crying here). Love you, K

Anonymous said...

Oh Linden,
That was such a beautiful thing to have done to honor Karen. She would have seen you. She would have known. I am sure of it.
I hadn't had a chance to read your entry until now. Standing at a computer in the "Goalie Barn" waiting room as Alec receives a personal training excercise on plastic ice.
What a place to have tears streaming down.