Monday, January 29, 2007

Osho Land--First Impressions

Two nights ago we took the mother of all trains rides, boarding our 3rd class AC sleeper car in Calcutta and disembarking this morning in Pune, the home of Bhagwan Rajneesh's notorious ashram. The train ride was a bit like a sanatorium with everyone cough and sneezing all night (us included). I thought I'd caught my cough/cold from the dust and smoke at the Kumba Mela while Kathleen believes hers came on from all the auto rickshaw exhaust in Varanasi. In any case virally we're full-fledged Indians.

On board the train we met Shakti, a 51 year old Indian woman who was returning from her daughter's wedding. As for being an unconventional Indian she pretty much takes the cake. And much of this comes from her 10-year involvement in the Osho world. While she was forced into an arranged marriage with a man she did not care for, she made sure her daughter's life would be different. And it has been. Her daughter graduated from medical school and just married a man she's been living with for the last ten years. Her stuffy father did not approve and boycotted the wedding. And for the last 10 years Shakti has been living apart from her husband...and taking in much of the Osho message of sexual freedom.

The Osho center (called a meditation resort) appears a bit like Esalen does today. Something that was inspired by someone who is no longer here...and with travellers from all over the world arriving to grok what's left. The cafes here are populated by Europeans and Australians wearing maroon garb. I'm tempted to join for the could I travel so far and NOT take it all in? Same time the whole thing looks so dizzying...

Meanwhile we need to find some cough medicine!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

More on Sex and Marriage in India

As I've noted previously India seems to be on the verge of a sexual inspired by international TV shows (e.g. Sex in the City), the activities of Bollywood stars, and the stirrings of India's discontented youth. As for hard numbers, arranged marriage very much remains the norm, but much is shifting. Assisted marriages wherein a friend/go-between rather than parents facilitate introductions occurs as do out-and-out love marriages. And for many of the 20 and 30 something parents we've spoken to who are themselves in arranged marriages, they foresee love marriages for their children. And ideas about family have shifted, too. While previously Indian families had upwards of five or six children, now many young couples consider two children the ideal.

Arranged marriage has been practiced in such a way where ones' parents are full party to the activities of the nuptial couple. They declare how many children they should have, when the bride's tubes should be tied, etc. What Westerners might consider personal decisions very much function as family decisions.

While divorce does occur in India, it's considered shameful...and especially in the context of an arranged marriage, it is avoided at all costs. This condition has certainly contributed to what have been considered dowry deaths. While dowry has been legally banned since the 1980s, nonetheless a wife does inherit wealth from her family that can be considered the property of her and her husband. Untimely deaths (the first seven years after the wedding) are investigated. While the husbands' family routinely reports that the bride was unhappy and must have committed suicide, the pressures of arranged marriage are often at the core. Sexual incompatibility can be an issue. Brides report that they are being used sexually and that their husbands don't treat them in a loving way. And grooms claim the bride doesn't excite them...that perhaps she's not as pretty as the picture her parents' received.

From a safe distance I wonder where young India is headed. Will they embrace their version of a Western way? Will they push aside the prudery of the conquering British and before them the sexually restrictive Muslim Monguls and fashion their own versions of an enlightened Kama Sutra? It IS a very interesting time.

The Bengali Way

Kolkata (Calcutta) is on the Eastern end of India and embraces a whole other way. Rather than the Hindi that's used in Northern India, much of the chatter we hear is in Bengali. Its more tropical here...there are palm trees, hot afternoons and warm evenings. And we've taken in many temples. Yesterday we visited a Vedanta center--on the edge of the river...we meditated along with the other visitors and resident devotees. For many Indians a vacation or a weekend outing is centered around visiting one or more temples. Religious rites are absolutely embedded in daily life. As we sat in semi-lotus position amongst the crowd of meditators Kathleen nudged me and whispered, "some thing's about to happen." Suddenly the doors were released and a life-like sculpture of a Vedanta visionary was exposed and everyone rushed forward and made rupee and flower offerings.

The most intense temples have been the ones featuring the goddess Kali. She's a bloody wild woman who invites intensity and animal sacrifice. Yesterday we patiently waited in a line for about 20 minutes....and then as we neared a small doorway, the intensity blew open. Temple priests were grabbing offerings of red flowers and rupees and we caught the smallest of glimpses of this black eyed dark goddess. Kathleen noted the shoving and screaming were as if we were at the New York Stock Exchange...Kali does set the stage for some very intense yelling/emotional release.

Across the way were a series of perhaps ten lingum (penis) temples. Visitors came to each one, pouring water and depositing flowers and rupees. For a culture with such ambivalence about public sexual expression, these clearly offer important relief (and release).

I Join An Indian Family

After taking in the Saraswati hoisting rituals, an Indian family asked me to pose with him. (I remain astounded in how exotic I look to everyone here!)

Saraswatsi--Goddess of Education

Likenesses of Saraswatsi were hoist into the river...and then eventually they wash ashore in the rubble of flowers, candles and other offerings. (The pollution here is unbelievable...but these rites absolutely override reason!)

Temple Snoozers

Men taking a snooze on the steps of the red temple in Varanasi.

Jain Temples, Calcutta

The Jainism came out of Hinduism...a highly acetic practice that prohibits sex. Unlike the American Shakers, who are nearly extinct, the Jains fortify their ranks by adopting children. The temples were truly exquisite...filled with silver, gold, and shiny mirrors.

Calcutta Book Mart

Adjacent to one of Calcutta's universities are countless stalls selling all kinds of books at very good prices. Makes Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue look puny. Then again has not yet hit India!

Human Rickshaw, Calcutta

Victoria Memorial Calcutta

Looking More Indian in my new Punjabi

Friday, January 26, 2007

India Day in Kolkata (Calcutta)

Sixty years ago India gained her independence from the British. Here in Kolkata we witnessed parades, family outings, as well as many rituals and ceremonies. The most intense for me was witnessing a baby goat being sacrificed at the Kali Temple which is near Mother Theresa's hospital/infirmary. The little goat squealed as it was hoisted into a press and then with one swift whack of a hatchet it was split in two...the back half continued to thrash....

The culture here is quite different from the heavily vegetarian Northern areas we visited. Rather than seeing cows wandering the streets (and even on the train station platforms), here they're served for dinner (and breakfast). Beggars abound...and its a city rich in culture. There are no bicycle rickshaws nor auto rickshaws, but there are human ones! Strong barefoot men tow riders by walking...We dropped by an art opening...witnessed families picnicking in the parks, and likenesses of Saraswati ( goddess of education) being hoist into the Houllihy (part of the Ganges) River.

Yesterday I decided it was high time to start dressing more Indian and purchased the making for the typical woman's dress...leggings, top and shawl. Dropped them by a tailor and tomorrow morning I should be set!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Varanasi (Benares)

Varanasi is one of the oldest (2,000 years) and still habited cities in the world. And it is a most sacred place. Kathleen and I hooked up here the day before yesterday (me returning from the Kumbha Mela and she filled with adventures in gem shopping from her week in Jaipur.) Everything feels sacred here. The temples abound...each with its own flavor...some with intense dioramas of Hindu gods ripping their hearts out and others the transmutations of Hinduism (Buddhism and Jainism). The streets are filled to the gills with auto-rickshaws, bicycle-rickshaws, horse-rickshaws and cars, too. Skills needed by Indian drivers include a quick foot for braking and ready access to their horns to warn pedestrians, etc. that they're inches from being hit! The light here in the evening and the morning is especially beautiful...and particularily along the Ganges (Ganga) River.

As for me I finally washed the Kumbha Mela dust and smoke out of my hair, slept a bit more soundly and very much took in the beauty of this gorgeous place. It is the prime spot for Hindu cremations...bodies are transported by foot, car and plane from all over India for riverside cremations. The fires are witnessed by family members...and are too sacred to allow photography.

We're off on an overnight train to Calcutta (Kolkata) this afternoon....

Morning Bathers in Varanasi

Sunrise Over the Ganges (Ganga) River (Varanasi)

This morning we woke up early to take a beautiful ride along the Ganges (Ganga) River to witness sunrise and morning bathing.

Varanasi (Benares) At Night

The town was all lit up last night for a special festival...and weddings abounded. It was a most auspicious evening to get married!

Sarnath Mound Containing the Remains of Buddha

Sarnath features a fabulous archeology museum with relics going back several thousand years.

With Indian Tourists...

Some Indian tourists thought we were an amazing attraction and asked us to pose for their family photo.....

Durga Temple in Varanasi

Most of Varanasi's temples are so sacred and so exquisite that one cannot take photographs from the inside. I caught this photo a block away through its reflecting pond.
Inside the temple we made offerings...and felt as Hindu as we could.

Varanasi (Benares) At Night

We took a fantastic boat ride in the evening...and were witness to amazing pujas (ceremonies) along the Ganges River.

Indian Puppy Pile

While the lives of many of the dogs of India look difficult, these pups appeared to all be in good shape!

Kumbha Mela Audience

Some of the gurus commanded huge audiences....

Bindi Packets for Sale!

Colored Powders for Applying Third Eyes...

There were countless vendors selling these powders to enhance ones' ritual experience!

Sarees Laying Out to Dry

Kumbha Mela Bather

For Women to bathe at the Kumba Mela it involved immersing oneself in the Ganges (Ganga) while wearing ones' saree...and then rinsing the saree off...

With My Guru...

I visited my Guru, Anand, the following evening at the Kumba Mela. While there was this part of me that so enjoyed being in his presence, I sensed I could take that feeling with me ... and keep it forever. A wonderful gift!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I Find My Guru!

Yesterday evening I carefully wandered off from my camp, doing my best to not get lost. I walked down a path of night-lit time temples and played with my camera settings to get dreamy looking shots. As I approached the last temple on the row a young man invited me in. He wanted me to meet Anand, his guru. Anand, a very composed 65 year old man with dancing eyes, was holding court around a small fire. He immediately acknowledged me and asked me to sit. He was decked in pretty bracelets and necklaces and popped a variety of questions my way. After awhile I got up and explored more of the temple, as I was about to leave he led me into a private room and introduced me to a couple from Holland who have been visiting him over the last 20 years. They began to explain that unlike other gurus he's a "social worker," he offers private consultations on a variety of worldly matters often to do with sex and marriage. We all chatted about the challenges young Indians face re: family expectations vs. their own dreams. Next he led me into another room and had his cook fix me some chapati and dahl. (I did my best to eat a little though honestly I was not hungry for food.) Then he began to ply me with Ferrer Roche hazelnut chocolates and bottled mineral water and we began to laugh. I sensed that he could follow my mood. That I made sense to him. He invited to stay at his temple...I was tempted. I took some pictures of him...and afterwards when I'd look at them, I'd get this feeling of calm and delight when I'd see those dancing eyes and knowing smile.

I get it! Never knew I'd find such an appetite in myself for such a connection. Very sweet!