One thing I have learned here is that there is not one way to practice Hinduism. We have visited many ashrams, ceremonies, holy places, and places of remembrance for gurus and swamis. They are all different with some similar basic beliefs.
While I am on the topic of gurus and swamis… “Guru” means teacher and “swami” means master. Swamis are also known by the name “sannyasin”. A sannyasin is someone who has renounced the material world living the life of an ascetic. “Sadhu” is also a common name for wandering monks who have renounced the world. The title of guru is passed down through lineage (not necessarily familial). A guru usually picks his successor and seek out spiritual students who excel at knowledge of scripture and spirituality. Many scholars in India have told me that I am a guru because I am a teacher. I thought that was funny.
The Fire ceremony is interesting and very cool to witness. Hindus believe that fire communicates prayers up to the gods and that blessings come back down on the people. Fire is also considered purifying. Yellow/orange/ saffron colored robes and clothing are worn by holy men and devotees alike because it is the color of the sun. In the fire ceremony, prayers are sung and chanted and sacrifices are thrown into the fire like black sesame seeds and rice.
Towards the end of the fire ceremony. They pour clarified butter or “ghee” on the flames to help them reach higher to God.
At the ceremony they prayed for blessings for everyone there and made a special mention of the “foreigners”.
Everyone here is very friendly and helpful and they are so happy that we are here to study their traditions and culture. I have been asked quite a few times to take a picture with Indian families. One guy in our group who is tall and fair has been like a celebrity here! These women in the picture below loved my hat and asked to wear it for a picture.