Again, originally from 6 November 2011.
There are so many temples and shrines here, and small acts of worship abound everywhere, but I haven’t yet worked up the courage to touch a single bell or ask anyone about what I see. Already I notice that custom here is different than what I recognise from books and films, and it seems unimportant to record it perfectly or understand it completely. I am content to stop over-thinking, and instead to observe, to walk gently over the rocky rises and dips of the earth, to try and learn this place without asking too many questions. In this town I experience a longing to pray and slow down, witnessing how religion is indeed life for others around me. The whole area is suffused with a devotional feeling beyond words.
Perhaps this is one reason that it took me so long yesterday to discover the somayajña’s exact location, or even to find someone who understood what I was asking. I kept wondering, could such a huge undertaking really go unnoticed? but here, where bhakti seems bone-deep, I could’ve imagined this yajña to be just one event of many throughout the year.
After finally finding my way yesterday, I discovered a śālā that was still under construction, though nearly complete. The site was quite beautifully chosen:
It’s a harmonious contradiction, these busy homes framing the ancient, silent Himalayas, and indeed, as the first full day of rituals commenced, I saw these contrasts everywhere.
Ancient chants, carried through the crowds by sound amplification.
Priests in traditional garb, but also wearing toques and sweaters for the evening chill.
The centre altars, animals, and structure all in accordance with Vedic specifications, and sheltered from the weather with coloured tarps.
A cow lows as a cell phone rings, and electric lights ignite as the sun vanishes from view. Certainly I feel very grateful for the lights and the microphones when, hours after sunset, I can still hear and see the rituals effortlessly.
I wonder what they think of this, the townspeople who attend the rite. Do they resent the intrusion of well-meaning ritualists, or welcome the somayajña and its goal of peace?
And I admit, despite doing my best to leave ego behind, I still wonder what others think of me. In America we are taught never to stare at people and to hide our curiousity behind aimless small talk; here, people look at me, and those with knowledge of English start to ask me questions. Why am I here? What do I do for work? Do I have a family? A husband, a brother, a sister? Do I know what is happening?
At the last query, I tell them, yes, I know.
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