Saturday, January 27, 2007

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).