Haridwar and “Mother India”

Went into town today in Haridwar to visit the “Bharat Mata” temple that worships “mother India”. The temple has 7 stories or floors.

The temple is a testament to how cultural, religious, and political change and diversity in India has been constant and how the different religions and cultures are all nurtured by mother India. It was a temple but also sort of like a museum in that it worshipped a goddess called mother India,

but also had statues and exhibits about India’s major historical figures, information about each state in India, as well as a large model topographical map of the subcontinent.

India has 29 states. (I am currently in Uttarkand and have been in Delhi and Punjab). This temple was a good example of how secular and religious aspects mix in Indian culture and belief.

View from the top of the temple. The view looks out over buildings in Haridwar. You can see the Ganga River and the mountains in the background.

After the temple we went into town and walked through the marketplace and along the Ganga (Ganges) river. People were there for aarti and to bathe in the holy waters. There were also kids playing in it and one woman looked to be washing her clothes.

India truly is a multi sensory experience. There are sounds everywhere of music and vehicle horns. There are large crowds and a lot of lights.

Took this picture in Haridwar marketplace. The alleys are very narrow and people ride motorcycles and bicycle rickshaws down them. My new friends Lynn and Andrew are in the foreground of the picture.

There are many smells coming from street food vendors and old trash. There is so much to look at but you have to look down because you might step in cow poop. In most of the places we’ve gone out there are people everywhere. You really get a sense of how densely populated India is walking in its cities.

One also gets a sense of how lack of infrastructure and over population has led to major problems with trash and pollution. For example, each time I tried to find a trash can for my trash, it was almost impossible to define. As an American, I would never throw my trash down on the ground, but I can see why Indians do. They have very few trash cans. One of my fellow travelers on the trip is from India originally but works as a college professor in the US. I asked her what she thought about making trash cans more available and whether or not providing more trash cans would solve or help the trash problem. She said that she thought it would help and that India could change its habits to clean up the environment.

The Ganga river is quite polluted. The water is a grayish-brown. I saw many trash items floating down the river as well as sticks and big pieces of wood. Strangely I saw quite a few flip-flops! Despite the pollution, many adults and children were immersing themselves in the river. The current is strong and the river runs fast. There is a government campaign called “Swachh Bharat” (clean India) that was launched in 2014. There are posters and signs promoting it and according to some people in my group that have been to India before, there is an improvement in the areas of trash, sanitation, and pollution. It seems to me that there is still quite a ways to go.

I snapped this picture as we walked along the Ganges. There was a girl holding another child and I like to capture images of everyday people in India. I wonder if they live there or if they are visiting Haridwar. There appeared to be a lot of poverty that was visible.

I will never get over the sight of cows in the middle of the street and sidewalk. They just ignore people.

Fire Ceremonies and everyday practices

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.

Swami Ritavan Bharati who spoke to us. We were there on the anniversary of the death of his guru Swami Veda. He had some profound things to say. There was a sign outside his meditation room that said “check your ego at the door”

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.

The offering I was given to throw into the fire during a fire ceremony

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.

Rishikesh and the Ganges River

“Aarati” or prayer songs performed morning and evening at the Ganges River in Rishikesh. We were there for the evening. Also involves an offering to the river of flowers, camphor, incense and lamp lighting. This is the god Shiva that is being worshipped there. Many people in the group swam in the Ganges. I just dipped my toe 🙂

The Aarati offering

The Aarti or prayers sung to the Gods is done by boys from an ashram/orphanage called Parmarth Niketan.  At the orphanage, boys study with a Vedic priest to perform rituals and specifically fire ceremonies.  When the boys come of age, they can decide whether or not they want to become Vedic priests or if they would like to live a life in another role like householder.

Boys from Ashram singing Aarti

This is the footbridge that we had to cross to get to the other side of the Ganga River to attend Aarti.  Cows and monkeys also cross the bridge.  As you probably know, cows are sacred in India and in Hinduism so they roam free and are respected and fed by the people. The monkeys will jump on you or “attack” you and take your stuff.  One of the other participants had her glasses taken by a monkey!

Cow crossing footbridge Rishikesh

Monkeys on footbridge
Can you see the pair of monkeys on the red structure at the entrance to the footbridge?

Quick Note from Haridwar, Uttarkand India. At the foothills of the Himalayas and on the Ganges River!!

Went on an overnight sleeper train from Amritsar to Haridwar last night. What an experience. Studying Hinduism in Haridwar at Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalya university. This is the view outside my room below. If you look above the trees you can see the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. Can’t believe I am at the foothills of the Himalayas!! We are in Uttarkand province near Rishikesh, a holy place along the Ganges River. Considered “Mother Ganga” to Hindus.

View from my room balcony

I would like to post more, but we have very little “off time”. Will be working on blog as much as I can. Posting to Instagram 🙂

On to Amritsar in the Punjab region in Northwestern India

The Golden temple is a place of prayer and pilgrimage. There are also “Langar” meals served three times a day to upwards of 100,000 people a day. All people of every faith, race, sex, creed, etc… are invited to eat at Langar and visit the temple. The Langar and the cleaning of the Golden Temple are done completely using volunteers providing “seva” or service. I washed dishes for 20 minutes and it was a wonderful feeling of many people working together to provide meals. Inside the temple are Kirtan performances of the hymns and reading from the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs. The book is housed in the Golden temple

Learning about Sikhism in Amritsar where Sikhism’s holiest site, the Golden Temple, or “Harimandar” (house of God) as the Punjabis say is amazing.

Me at the entrance to the temple. Truly one of the most beautiful places I have been. We were greeted by some dignitaries that are affiliated with the University that we are staying at. They gave us these long orange colored scarves as an honor. They tied them into turbans for us as everyone is required to cover their hair in the Golden Temple..

We are staying at Guru Nanak Dev University. The hospitality and friendliness that Sikhs are known for certainly is on display here! I have attended wonderful “Kirtan” services two mornings with singing hymns in the gurudwara (Sikh temple).

Me and the musician that sang Kirtan in the service. His name is Jatinder. We are friends now.

We have attended classes and visited the Golden Temple. We will be going to a sad site of the 1919 Massacre at Amritsar called “Jallianwala Bagh” by Punjabis. My students from World Cultures class will remember the scene from the movie Gandhi when the British army killed 400 and injured over 1000 Indians who were gathering peacefully for a holiday near the Golden Temple in a garden. “Bagh” means Garden. I will also have time for shopping tomorrow. Yay! I must say I am dying for a cold Diet Coke and another Starbucks! We will get to see the Golden Temple during daytime too.

I have had very little internet service provided in Amritsar, so I have not been updating the blog. You can visit Instagram for more pics. Follow me @epalladino359

I plan to Blog more when I get to the next stop in Haridwar where we will study Hinduism. Hoping to get reliable internet.

Please check back!!

Gandhi Museum!

It is really late at night here and I have had a long, long day. We saw three temples and an ashram (community of monks, nuns, and lay people living together to study religion), Had lunch at the director of the program’s house in Delhi ( beautiful home and wonderful lunch). Thanks to Dr. Shugan Jain and his wife Uma for hosting us. We almost didn’t have time for the Gandhi Museum…but thank god we did because I did not want to miss it. Sadly, the museum is on the grounds where Gandhi led his last prayer meeting and was assassinated by a Hindu extremist who did not agree with Gandhi’s politics. It was beautiful though and very emotional for me. Anyone who knows me at all, especially my ninth grade world cultures students knows that I am obsessed with Gandhi and so this was a pilgrimage of sorts. A few pics. the words at the bottom of the statue say in Hindi “my life is my message”…

The place where Gandhi last meditated. I did not want to take the picture where he was shot. It makes me sad.

Full Day in Delhi Part 2…museums, mosque ruins, nature centers, shopping, and Starbucks!

July 5th-Part 2

After shopping we had lunch at a nice restaurant that served Southern Indian food which is different from Northern Indian food. My knowledge and experience with Indian food is elementary for sure. I have to be honest that I don’t like most of it, but this trip is all about trying new things! The meal is served with soups, dips and chutneys that go with the food. I had coffee with ice cream in it which was like a frappe for dessert.

We then went to the National Museum of Modern Art and we had perfect timing because it began to downpour (think monsoon) while we were inside. For India apparently “Modern Art” starts around the 1500s. When your history goes back to roughly 2500 BCE, I guess 1500s CE is modern. I know that my sister Nancy would have loved this museum ❤️ There were too many amazing works of art to post here, but these are some of my favorites

Depiction of Krishna and Arjuna, the god and warrior in the Bhagavad Gita. The artist is Nandalal Bose 1880s-1966. It is a lithograph on paper

I took this picture with my phone of the rain outside through a window in the museum. My own piece of artwork 🙂

By the time we were done at the museum it had stopped raining. Perfect timing! We then went to a nature center (or habitat) as it was called and saw beautiful plant life and trees mixed with sculpture and water fountains. I thought this tree was beautiful and I wish I had found out the name of the type of tree. That is one of our “guides” Aashi who is a very talented young woman and also excellent shopper for clothes.

After the habitat we went to Lodhi Gardens which has ruins of a gateway and mosque from pre-Mughal Empire Dynasty of Muslim rulers named Lodhi. The ruins were fascinating to look at and wander through. The park was filled with families, joggers, dogs, tourists, and kids playing. These teenagers photo bombed my selfie with the gateway. It’s one of my favorite pictures so far.

The new friends I have made on this trip made my day in Delhi all the more special. The other “scholars” (as they are calling us) on the trip are all wonderful people, each with something to add to the experience. They all indulged me with a picture in front of Starbucks 🙂