February 18, 2007

In order to be Indiana Beaver Jones, walking in sewage barefeet is part of the deal

Upcoming posts:
- visiting Mother Theresa's home
- the super-power of complaining
- Gandhi's Ashram - the pearl of Ahmedabad

One of the things I haven't done enough of since I've been in India, is blog about touristic or cultural highlights. Since I am travelling here for business - there is nothing surprising there. Nonetheless, I should treat my readers with these experiences, so I am starting with a flashback to Kolkata where I managed to do just a little bit of tourism.

I went to visit the Kalighat Temple in KOL just shy of two weeks ago now, with my friend and collegue P. and his lovely family. I didn't take my camera on tour with me since it is forbidden to photograph inside the temple - and I really had no clue what to expect in terms of herd phenomenoms.

Kalighat is one of the aspect of the goddess Kali (as in Kalimaa - Indiana Jones: Temple of doom.)
But stereotypes aside - it was much less scary then you might expect - and I did not have eyeball soup! It was quite an adventure though !

Kali (Sanskrit: Kālī, Devanāgari: काली) (Pronounced /kɑːliː/) is a goddess with a long and complex history in Hinduism. Although sometimes presented as dark and violent, her earliest incarnation as a figure of annihilation still has some influence, while more complex Tantric beliefs sometimes extend her role so far as to be the Ultimate Reality (Brahman) and Source of Being. Finally, the comparatively recent devotional movement largely conceives of Kali as a straightforwardly benevolent mother-goddess. (For more on Kali do visit Wikipedia's Article on on the matter.)

Anyway, I borrowed some pics to give you guys an idea.

It started with meeting up with my friends to go to the temple. We met with the priest somewhere off the temple, purchased the offerings (flower necklaces to be undone and thrown at the idol) and left our shoe to the shoe-minders.

Offerings are refered to in Hindi as Prasad:
Prasāda (Sanskrit: प्रसाद), prasād/prashad (Hindi) or prasādam (Tamil) Prasadam (Telugu) is both a mental condition of generosity, as well as a material substance that is first offered to a deity (in Hinduism) and then consumed (Hinduism and Sikhism). Hindus believe that the prasad has the deity's blessing residing within it. In contemporary Hindu religious practice in India, the desire to get prasada and have darshan (cross referenced) are the two major motivations of pilgrimage and temple visits. (see the Full Wikipedia article)

In this case, the Prasad consisted of necklaces of flowers, and a banana-leaf cone containing 2 cookies, an hibiscus flower (symbol of the goddess) and popped rice.

We then walked about 10 minutes to barefeet to the temple.

As you can see, the streets of Kolkata are sparkling clean, and it's completely logical to remove one's shoes 15 minutes before entering the holy place, so that one can enter the temple with scarily dirty (and itchy) feet. But anyway, in India, do as the Indians do. I am not complaining.

We finally made it to the temple where just getting in was an ordeal. There were people, people and more people. I remember wondering where all the people were in Kolkata. Now I know. They are all at the Kalighat temple !!!

Once we'd pushed and shoved for a good 10 minutes (include 3 minutes of balancing the slippery floors and the flithy feet with unknown substances sticking under the toes), we made it inside and boy - was it a site. Scores and score of people there (like I said - it felt like the whole city was there) trying frantically to present their offering to the goddess.

The two things I saw that somewhat participated in the cultural schock (aside from the smell, the filthy feet and the massive amount of people there) was all the pushing and shoving. I even saw a guy threaten to pummel his friend with a coconut (presumably Prasad) and a woman nearly got her saree unrolled as she was exiting the temple!!! (Yes, a saree can be "unrolled" - for more details, click here.)

The priest starte the Puja (see below) with pressing his right thumb to our foreheads and annointing us with a red mixture. He then proceeded to some chanting which we were to repeat. Of course, being completely ignorant, I did my very best to repeat what was said. He concluded by putting his hands on our heads in a sign of blessing.

Pūjā (Devanagari: पूजा) (alternative transliteration Pooja, Sanskrit: reverence or worship) is a religious ritual that Hindus perform on a variety of occasions to pray or show respect to God (or gods). Puja consists of meditation (dhyana), austerity (tapa), chanting (mantra), scripture reading (svadhyaya), offering food (thaal) and prostrations (panchanga or ashtanga pranama, dandavat). The individual also applies a tilaka mark on the forehead with sandalwood paste, and then a vermillion (kumkum) dot (chandlo) in its centre. This signifies submission to the Almighty and also His Omnipresence. Puja is usually concluded with aarti to the Lord. (See the Full Wikipedia Article)

It was then time to push forward towards the idol to present the Prasad (specifically, the flowers) to her. I said present, but it was more like throwing flowers at a statue then anything else.

Now, I am betting that you wonder what the statue looked like. I was expecting something like this (based both on the Indiana Jones movie and the Wikipedia article) :

Instead - I saw this (more like - caught a glimpse of it):

Picture borrowed from Kalighat Kali Temple

India, I tell you, never ceased to surprise me !

The Beaver

My guest map is wonderful ! And you'd all be wonderful to post, all of you lurk mode readers!
Thanks and may the winds of Fate blow your way !

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