Now, being more spiritual than religious over the past few years, I find that ceremony and tradition are rules that I want to break. If someone tells me that something is to be taken as fact and yet has no real proof, except that their "faith" told them so, I am a sceptic. However, stories in religion are silly, fun, scary, violent, and teach us something about humanity. From what I can tell from my very limited understanding of Hinduism, is that they have several gods that also can take on many forms. There are great epic stories that are passed down from generation to generation and are now written in some very famous spiritual books called the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata.
When visiting a temple in one of the 7 sacred cities in India (6 in the North and 1 in the South - which is where we are), we came across some beautiful carvings, ceremony, colors, and heart felt dedication. The pulse of the inner temple is a beat that carries you along even if you don't intend on dancing. The main gate is where all Hindus walk through with their offering of flowers, food, or spices. Being totally unaware about any of the traditions, I decided to buy a ring of red and yellow flowers, to give as a gift to the gods of their people. As soon as we walked into the temple square, beyond the large stone gate, there was an elephant all dressed up with paint, and was blessing those who gave a small donation. The elephant was trained to take the money out of their hands and then gently tap the top of their heads with its' trunk. AWESOME!
Ahead of us, I noticed that there was a line being formed in a setting much like you'd see at an amusement park... so Greg and I went to see what was going on. We lined up with all the men and women, all of whom were locals. As soon as we turned the corner we realized that we were heading into a sacred space. I was wondering if we were going to be hauled out of line, as the sign above us read, "HINDUS ONLY ALLOWED IN INNER TEMPLE." I thought for sure that this was the end of the road for us. Well, as it turns out it was for Greg, but not for me. I watched with nervousness as they asked him to leave the line, because he was a foreigner. I was going to head back with him, but then we both realized that they were letting me go in! So I looked at my husband and with a knowing nod... we knew it was where I needed to be.
As my travel partner was no longer with me for support, I felt a surge of panic arise within me. I thought, "I have no friggin idea what I am doing and so here it goes. Time to breathe and go with the flow." Sweaty arm pits and hands I marched forward. When I got to where the line diverged into two, I started to feel anxiety swell up inside me. I had no idea which way I was supposed to go, so I followed a couple of girls in front of me. I watched them and did what they did. They touched a statue... I touched a statue, they put a dirt like substance on their forehead... yup, I did the same. I also went for it, because I got pushed in that general direction, and took wet turmeric and sprinkled it on my head. Not sure where the water came from or why we were grabbing it from the ground. At least I didn't have to eat it!
As I was fumbling around, a nice man who seemed to be organizing the lines, saw I clearly was a fish out of water, and decided to help me. He told me about the gold on the temple, some of the carving of the gods and where I should go next. His help earned him $5.00. Worth every penny. I left the inner place, feeling shaky and relieved that it was over and yet wanting more. I couldn't really get into the meditation of it all, but I could see why daily Hindus go through the temples and observe these rituals to remind them of their blessings and to ask for guidance in their day. I loved that no one was preaching, condemning, and that their "house" was filled with love.
To explain what exactly happened in there, is very difficult. I feel very blessed that I have been able to experience something that most travellers will never get to. My gratitude for the people that helped me along, when they saw I needed it, was over whelming. I walked into the temple full of fear and anxiety and left feeling a sense of peace.