Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Special Charan Darshan


Monday at work I have a clarifying question for my coworkers that I’ve been thinking about since visiting the Iskcon Temple on Saturday. Isn’t Krishna one of the avatars or forms of Vishnu? Isn’t that why he’s blue? Vishnu is usually blue, too, when you see him depicted in artwork. He is one of the main trinity of Hindu gods: there is Brahman the creator, Shiva the destroyer, and Vishnu the sustainer.

They tell me I am correct. Then I go on about how it’s confusing because Krishna has his own avatars. There is the unicorn-horned fish and the dwarf and the lion man. “Is that right?” they ask me. I tell them yes, I saw a display about it at the temple when I went.

“You are more religious than all of us,” Jonaki says. Amar and Shabnum and Preeta chuckle.

After work, I tell Palminder to go to the Iskcon Temple. He says, “C-83?” No. I want to go to the Iskcon Temple. Just for a half an hour. I want to check out the Radhastami festival that I saw a poster for when I was there on Saturday. It said there was a “Special Charan Darshan (Only Once a Year)” that runs from four thirty in the morning until nine o’clock at night on September 8th.

Radhastami, I discover with the help of my trusty friend, Wikipedia, is the celebration of the birth of Srimati Radharani, Krishna’s consort with whom he is bound in eternal, transcendent love.

I don’t know what to expect from the celebration. I hope it’s not too crazy. Not long ago there was an article that made the international headlines about a stampede at a Hindu temple. I can’t imagine the Hare Krishnas stampeding, but you never know.

As we pull up the hill and drive past the parks on the way to Iskcon, the streets are peopled, but not overly crowded. People walk leisurely, enjoying the relative cool of the dusk. There is even a little breeze to lessen the heat.

Palminder drops me off and says I can find him parked where he was last time. I assure him it will only be about a half an hour.

I walk past the same woman who frisked me on Saturday. She peeps into my purse and asks, “Smoke?” No. I don’t smoke. “Okay,” she says, as she feels me up then waves me on.

The grounds of the temple are tranquil. I hear music coming from inside. I check my shoes at the shoe stand and put the little token that will allow me to get them back into my pocket.

As I walk up the steps, I notice people touching the stairs just as they did when entering the gurudwara. I forget that while there are so many faiths here in India, many of them have common roots in Hinduism, so many of the practices, traditions and beliefs are similar. I touch the stairs and touch my forehead as the others do. Two guards at the door welcome me with nods and smiles. I am the only white person I see here, but I don’t feel like I’m causing a scene. No one here gives me crooked looks or stares. They all chant along with the Hindu monk who is singing into a microphone.

Inside the temple, the various shrines are closed. Intricately designed golden doors hide the idols inside from view. Garlands of flowers are draped everywhere, especially around the circular ceiling and over a life-sized statue of Swami Prabhupeda, the man who is responsible for spreading the Krishna consciousness across the globe.

The music picks up tempo, as do the accompanying drums. The monk with the microphone motions to the crowd that we should walk in a circle. We do. Another monk stands outside the circle and holds a little brass bowl with an open flame in it. As people circle past, they pass their hands quickly through the fire. When they’re not playing with the fire, they clap along with the music, as do I.

Eventually, the circling stops and people stand in place. Some sit. At one point, everyone gets on their knees and touches their heads to the ground, then they stick their hands up in the air and follow the monk with the microphone in chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.

During this, three little girls sidle up next to me, smiling hugely. They want to know where I’m from. They tell me my hair is bright. They want to touch it. The guard comes up and shoos them away.

I decide to go downstairs to see if the bookshop is open. I want the book with the George Harrison interview that I found here when I came on Saturday: “Chant and Be Happy.” I walk across the grounds in the deep blue dusk. Tonight, the fountains are filled and lit and pulsing with water. Behind the counter sit five monks in saffron robes. They all have two chalk-colored lines running up their foreheads in the shape of a large paperclip. This is the sign of a Krishna worshiper. They sit back, relaxing. I have to ask them twice for the book I want. It costs twenty rupees: fifty cents. Even if I have to leave it behind in India, it’s worth the price.

I walk back out into the dusk with my slim volume in hand and take my camera from my purse. I want a snap of the temple lit up against the night sky. It’s pretty. As I get the temple centered on my camera’s screen, I feel a punch to my behind. A gaggle of little boys stands near me and laughs.

“No! No!” I tell them. I wish I knew the Hindi word for bad. I should have just told them, “Hare Krishna.”

They would be in huge trouble if someone saw them do this, but their parents are probably inside at the darshan while they are out here running wild.

I walk away, but one of the boys follows me, skipping. He wants a picture.

“Nihan!” I say. No! “Chalo!” Go away!

“Nihan!” he laughs, mocking me. He thinks it’s funny that I said a Hindi word to him. He races off back to his group of friends.

After a vibe-harshing experience like that, I decide to go back to the darshan and enjoy a little more of the chanting and singing. The guard ushers me in once again.

I kneel and listen to the music and watch the crowd. The bowl of fire has been extinguished and now there is just the Hindi song that everyone seems to know the words to. I wonder if this is the same thing that has been going on since four thirty in the morning. I can’t imagine they have the same monk sing for the whole time. They mast take turns.

I don’t want to leave Palminder waiting for too long, and I also don’t want to have to find his car in the pitch black, so, as on many occasions, I cut my festivities short to find my driver and return home.

I get my sandals back from the shoe stand and walk out past the gate where the guard greets me with a final “Hare Krishna.”

The darshan was pretty sedate. The crowd friendly and not too large in number. I wish I could have understood the songs they were singing, but I felt welcomed into their midst all the same, even if I did get a punch in the butt by some tiny hoodlums.

On the way home I read the first few pages of “Chant and Be Happy.” They talk about the familiar Hindu theme of seeking for happiness in impermanent places where we can’t really find it: food, sex, companionship, sports, arts. All these things are temporary. That’s as far as I get before we run out of light and I have to stop reading.

Where does true happiness lie again? I need a reminder like a punch in the butt, but I'll have to wait until I’ve got better reading light.


auntlinda said...

you are so thirsty .
you just dont have enough time to drink in enough of India.
your urgent desire to learn all you can , experience all you can, feel all you can ,taste all you can ,hear the music see the sights smell the exotic aromas and understand the people and their religions, in such a short time ,is inspiring to all of us who read these stories. i feel i have been to inia. i hope your thirst is quenched by the time you have to leave these amazing people and places .

Ekendra Dasa said...

It was a pleasure to read your detailed experience. You have a very good talent for expression in the English language.

Hare Krishna!

Ekendra Dasa (ISKCON Member)