Away for the holidays

It may have just been Halloween in the States, but in Delhi, it’s beginning to look a lot like Diwali. 🙂 We’ve been invited by my friend to stay through the holiday, so we can get an insider’s view of the Hindu festival. I’m really excited for the chance to see a bit more about Hindu traditions. It’s weird – although 80% of the country is Hindu, I feel like I haven’t had very much exposure to Hinduism since I’ve been here. We have been to a few temples, and it has been very interesting to hear my friend’s parents’ thoughts about their faith and practice, but somehow I don’t feel like I’ve really connected to or experienced much of the Hindu religion. This is as opposed to interactions I’ve had with elements of other faiths in India so far.

I found the Sikh’s Golden Temple both fascinating and moving. To be fair, I have a bit of an inkling about Sikhism already because of the American Sikhs I know. Having contact with that community woven into my yoga practice over the years has given Sikhism a special place in my heart. The Sikh community in India is different of course, but still I found/find a certain inexplicable sense of comfort from contact with that community and I appreciate what I know about the faith – the emphasis on openness; treating everyone equally, things like that. There is an energy of self-respect and fierce peacefulness that many of the practicing Sikhs at the Golden Temple projected that I found very compelling.

I also absolutely loved being in the community of Tibetan Buddhists at Mcleod Ganj. The relaxed but earnest interweaving of their profound faith into their everyday life was in my eyes a thing of beauty. From my perspective, the way they interacted with each other and their environment was open, relaxed, caring. The atmosphere was less formal than in other places we have been in India and I loved that lack of structured social interaction giving way to genuine exchanges. The energy in the Temples there was very striking to me as well – mundane fantastic. 🙂

I haven’t had any chance to interact with Muslims in India yet, still I was surprised by how moved I was at the Mughal historic and religious sites we have been to so far. I wasn’t expecting to be wowed, but the sheer elegance and beauty of the mosques, mausoleums, minarets, etc. has struck me every time. Not just the Taj Mahal, which is mind-blowingly beautiful. Humayun’s tomb, the Qutb Minar, even the buildings within the Red Fort of Delhi – walking around at all these places has always filled me with peace.

We even have had contact with the Baha’i faith, visiting the Lotus Temple in Delhi. Built in the 1980s, it doesn’t have the historical oomph of most of the other sites we’ve visited, but it is still an impressive bit of architecture and landscaping, and reading the tenets of the Baha’i faith, I really loved a lot of what they had to say: about respecting people of other faiths, the equality of the sexes, the importance of education.

In contrast, I don’t feel like I understand hardly anything about Hinduism at all yet. I know some of the stories from the Bhagavad Gita because of my yoga training, but I have yet to discover the beauty conveyed by my teachers in Zürich anywhere in India. I’ve found the temples objectively beautiful but somehow opaque – I have no insight into the how, what, why behind the rituals performed there, the stories the artwork is telling. Let’s see what the experience of Diwali brings. 🙂

So far, it’s reminding me of Christmas in the States. Although it is far from wintry, we are noticing that the nights are cooler, and coming in quicker and darker than before. Decorative lights are showing up on peoples’ homes and on storefronts. The markets are getting increasingly crowded and hectic as people are doing their last-minute shopping. According to Wikipedia, this is what it’s all about:

Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps (diyas) filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil. During Diwali celebrants wear new clothes and share sweets and snacks with family members and friends. Some Indian business communities begin the financial year on the first day of Diwali, hoping for prosperity the following year. In Hinduism, Deepavali marks the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom of Ayodhya after defeating (the demon king) Ravana, the ruler of Lanka, in the epic Ramayana.

Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you a bit more after we celebrate on Friday. 🙂 In the mean time, I’m enjoying the festive atmosphere. I’m getting into the spirit of the holidays  as well by stuffing myself like a Thanksgiving turkey. I am still totally drooling over the food at Ritu’s house (for example, lunch today was a laundry list of some of my favorite things: Paneer cooked with onion and tomato, bitter gourd, a gorgeous northern style sag dish (sag = leafy greens. This was a combination of different ones, including spinach), a simple but wonderful yellow lentil dal, fried corn roti (a special treat; they are richer than the normal whole wheat roti we have every day, which aren’t cooked in oil), and of course their divine, homemade yogurt. Heaven!), and will no doubt need to go on a strict diet when we leave here!

Since my cooking class last week, I’ve been invited into the kitchen here and have been taking instruction from the lovely women working here. Feels great to be cooking even a little bit after being without a kitchen for two months. Happy to have the smell of onions and garlic on my fingers again. 🙂

So, there is lots to enjoy this last week in Delhi. Next week we’ll be running around Rajasthan . There’s so much to see in that one state alone – India really is amazing!

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