Sunday, July 10, 2005

Ajmer, Pushkar, and the Govinda Deva temple (Day 6)

We awoke earlier en route to Ajmer and Pushkar. These cities, which are pilgrimage grounds for Muslims and Hindus, respectively, are located outside of Jaipur. Both cities have tremendous religious significance.

At Ajmer, we first attended the Anasagar Baradari, which is basically a shoreline along a manmade lake where there are five medium-sized marble tembles. The trees in this area were draped with large bats commonly referred to as firefoxes. The breeze here was very nice. The pavilions were erected by Shah Jahan in 1637.

From there, we headed to Adhai Din-ka Jhonpra. This temple was red sandstone with a white marble prayer shrine, and is said to be one of the oldest in India, dating back to 1199. It had a large, intricately carved screen (basically a big wall carved with arabic script) and vaulted ceilings with 5 corbelled domes. We left this area and walked through the center of the small town. On our walk, we saw people chopping pieces of meat covered in flies, among other discomforting things. While I have enjoyed the previous market environments, this one was a little on the dirty side, and the people here seemed much less happy for us to be there. When we reached the end of the market, we appeared at the Shah Jahani masjid, which is a famous Islamic temple. We had pre-arranged to meet with one of the Sufis there, who was a descendant of the Chishti line. Coincidentally enough, our appointment with him was arranged by the head brahman at the Hindu temple in Pushkar, thus disproving the notion that Hindu and Islam stand in any sort of opposition at a leadership level. I think the mosque we were attending is the final burial place of one of the Chishti saints, but I can't quite remember. Nonetheless, after purchasing bandanas to cover the heads of those of us without hats, we headed into the mosques. It was small and crowded, and teeming with action. I put my head under a sheet to pray, then continued walking around the tomb. A women who was breastfeeding right next to the prayer area turned and rubbed her breast on me, which was sort of an interesting experience to have in such a place.

After exiting, the sufi took us to a dargah (prayer/study room) and spoke with us above the interplay between the muslim faith and America. He had some important things to say. He does not feel that Islam and America are inimical on religious grounds, but rather on political grounds, and particularly he placed blame on "petrol." He also delineated between sufis and other muslims, saying that sufis, who are mystics, absolutely do not condone of terrorism. He argued that no muslims do, but that it would behoove Americans to realize this significant difference between two orders of the muslim faith. I find much merit in all that he had to say.

From there we headed to Pushkar. We first stopped to eat lunch, and while we were eating the head brahma actually came to meet us (I was surprised and impressed). He was a small older man, and very polite. He accompanied us on the bus ride to Govind Devji, his Brahma temple, which we couldn't tour as it was not open. (Religious customs demands that the temple not be opened even for visitors outside of the approved time to worship - not even by the brahman!) He showed us a fabulous collection of books, ranging from archeaological chemical cleansing to the effects of multinational corporations on religious institutions. He also gave us two kinds of rice. The first was sweet and sort of odd-tasting, the second made me almost throw up in my mouth. A local journalist was present, and asked us to line up to take a picture in front of the temple for the local paper. We then went to a side area and viewed the processional carriages, which kind of looked like merry-go-round animals. He then showed us the impressive front gate to the temple, which had been 30% chemically cleaned. He explained that he was consulting a number of major players to refurbish the old temple to make it something special again. He seemed like a wealth of knowledge, and I was glad to have shared his company if only for a while.

From there, we headed to a waterfront area. We walked in, up some stairs, and down some more. There, at the waterfront, men dressed in religious garb sat us down and had us put our feet in the water. With fish nibbling at our toes the whole time, he had us repeat different hindi words such a "brahmaputra, shivaputra, ganeshaputra, a bunch of familynames-putra, lake and sky-putra..." you get the idea. He handed us flowers and spices to throw in, then a coconut (which we didn't throw in). Then he asked us to repeat "donation," then "500 rupees," then "promise." When I gave him only 100, which I felt was being overly generous already, he said I owed him four more. So I got up and left. He didn't harass me much, but the one who serviced Donna followed her up and yelled at her. Its sad that these men are making a scam of religion. I suppose it is better than those who just flat out ask for it by putting their hand by their mouth. Tough call though.

In order to give us some sleep time the next morning, we squeezed in the Govinda Deva temple back in Jaipur before calling it a day. We reached the temple just in time for its closing ceremony (darshan). Though this temple was not as keen on exuberant displays of worship, it was still very loud and exciting. Gongs were banging, fire was being burnt, Hindus were throwing their hands in the air...the image they were worshipping, which was of Radha and Krishna, was the one that Raja Man Singh spent 15 years transporting from the Red Sandstone temple in Vrindavan. Christy, Nikki and I were invited into the gated area to approach the image and make an offering. It was hecka thrilling. After doing so, and as I started to walk away, one of the orange-clad brahmans called out to me, and threw a big, thick floral necklace to me! I wore it with pride as I headed back to our bus.

When we got to our bus, we had to wait on the other half of our group. Christy and I went to take pictures of cows, and when doing so were aproached by some Indian boys who spoke English well. We talked to them about Jaipur, and America, which they very much wanted to visit. So many Indian people have expressed admiration for and a longing to visit America that is deserves mentioning. They gave us their email addresses (I was amazed that these kids had email addresses), and we gave them ours. I then gave my pen to one of the children in the area (they LOVE "schooly-pens"), and got on the bus.

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