April 9, 2012

Elephant Blessings from Lakshmi.

photo courtesy of Fatima DaCosta

My Travels through India

The first domestic flight out of Mumbai South to Mangalore was pretty much just like any other flight, but the two-hour minivan ride from the airport to our accommodations was far from ordinary.
We were quickly acclimatized to the ways of Indian driving and you can safely assume the driver is usually a man. From the Mangalore airport, we traveled for over two hours to Udupi in our fleet of four minivans: two for people and two for luggage. Watching these men go to work loading all of our stuff  suddenly made me wish I had brought half of what I packed.

Why drivers are compelled to play chicken with all oncoming objects, mostly trucks with men and equipment spilling off them, while talking on their cell phones not hands free, I’ll never know. If the driver started texting—then I was ready to intervene. My guess is this is how they learn to drive and are encouraged to honk non-stop.

I do remember reading in Shantaram that if a driver kills someone they need to run for their lives because the driver will be mobbed and killed on the scene. This was confirmed by one of the drivers I spoke with who could speak English. Very interesting…tradition? So maybe Indian drivers are actually safer to drive with because they don’t want to be mobbed and killed unless they A) Can run really fast or, B) They have some secret code as to who wins the game of chicken.

Honk, honk, swerve, whoaaaaa close one, honk, swerve, shrieking. 

In no time, Captain Raghu had all us yogis throwing our hands in the air shouting, “Jai Ma!” at every close call, which was pretty much every five minutes—and this little piggy cried, “Jai Ma! Jai Ma! Jai Ma!” all the way to Udupi.

I have no idea how the others fared in their van, if they were lucky enough to have a mantra crying victory to the Divine Mother. Sure worked for us. I did not share with the others that one of my closest friends who has been on pilgrimages for the past four years was in a very serious bus accident last year. Very serious, as in the front windshield was completely shattered, most of the passengers had glass in their hair and everyone was banged up somewhere. The miracle was that everyone survived the head on collision of two buses. The road was closed for two days to remove all of the debris and buses were totaled. Her crew made it to temple for abhisheka, which involved pouring nine buckets of water over their heads. There’s so much that could go wrong in that scenario with all the open cuts and shards of glass running down the body.

This is India.

Close your holes and let the water cleanse you, no matter how bacterial infested it possibly could be. If you go on a pilgrimage this is what you do. Be a part of the culture. Why go otherwise?

After this first long ride, the rest of our minivan experiences were similar though I decided not to look at the road ahead and just relax. What will be will be. With some silent Jai Mas thrown in for good measure, this was a much better way to travel and just be in India.

We settled into the hotel all intact minus one large piece of luggage. A new rule was set into place. Watch your bag go on the van, watch your bag come off the van. I was fully confident the bag would make its way to us so there was nothing to fret about. Though it wasn’t my bag that was lost, I did reflect on what I would do if I were in that situation. I would do exactly what I did. Eat my lunch and wait to see what happens. No point in spending your time worrying about something that is out of your hands.

Besides, worrying is just wishing for what you don’t want to happen.

How is that ever a good idea? Within a few hours the misplaced luggage came back.

Post lunch, I was ready for a nap. Our arrival in Udupi was officially our third day in India. I’m not counting arriving at the airport at 11:00 p.m. as a day in India. We were on the go to say the least. My body had no idea what day it was or what time. Of the three nights that had passed, I had slept a total of maybe 10 hours. Being in nap position doesn’t necessarily facilitate a nap. The fancy noise reduction headphones I bought at JFK worked great, only they didn’t lull me to sleep. So I meditated and practiced savasana in bed.

What? Savasana is a practice? It just may be the most difficult asana (posture) of the asana practice. Quoting T.K.V. Desikachar on savasana, “It is attention without tension, loosening-up without slackness.”

I’ll take three please.

We were told the hotel was good by Udupi standards, and it would due for the night. My roomie and I noted some blood spots on the wall. We decided that it was from dead mosquitoes and left it at that. Not so gentle reminder to take my daily Malarone pill.

Lakshmi Blessing

Evening festivities in the sacred village of Udupi were pretty rockin’. It was at this festival that the runny nostrils of Lakshmi found its way to my fingers as she gently took a coin.
The wetness of an elephant’s trunk isn’t all that different than the runny mucus dripping from your very own nose. After taking the coin, she then lifted her trunk to bless me by attempting to tap her trunk on my head while I bowed. I kind of confused the order of the ceremony and backed away too soon and then bowed so I stuck my head back in and she tapped it.
My clumsiness didn’t throw her off at all; however, the photo is a bit blurry. Trust me, there is an elephant’s trunk somewhere near my head in the photo. Raghu and Kaustubha Das, one of our other teachers on the tour, explained that this festival happens every night in Udupi. Could you imagine every night the same celebration for eternity? One of the temple’s where we took darshan (viewing of a deity) was built by Saint Madhvacharya in the 12th century. This saint was an important philosopher during the Bhakti movement.

      After his return from Badri, Madhvācārya stayed in Uḍupi for some time and wrote his bhāṣyas or authoritative commentaries on the ten Upaniṣads. He composed glosses on forty hymns of the Rig Veda and wrote a treaties Bhāgavata-tātparya highlighting the essential teachings of the purāṇas. Apart from these, he authored several topical handbooks and on devotional song. It was during this time that he installed the deity of Kṛṣṇa which he found in the western ocean near the Uḍupi sea-coast. After sometime, after appointing disciples to take care of worshiping the deity of Kṛṣṇa that he had installed, he undertook his second tour to Badri. 

~ Wikipedia

Inside, the temple was breathtaking. We weren’t allowed to take photos, though I wanted to photograph the latticed dark wood wall with hundreds of unlit votive candles seemingly floating, ready to receive wishes and prayers. After darshan, I received blessed water in my hands, which the Indians drink, but foreigners pretend to drink by passing the water in front of their face then over their heads.

Three hundred men and women joined in to pull the Krishna fort barefoot. Yes, you have to take your footwear off to pull the deity fort. India culture is big into bare feet, indoors and out.

What exactly is a Krishna fort? There probably is an official name for it, but my best description is that it was akin to a float like in a parade but really high up like a tree fort or an air balloon being guided along. Only this fort needed to be pulled at a brisk pace by the power of 300 people or Lakshmi solo. This was her true purpose.

Post festival we gathered for dinner and enjoyed delicious southern Indian cuisine. The next day was a half day in Udupi, two hour van ride to the train station, then we traveled to Varkala, in the very southern part of Kerala on the Adriatic Sea via a 14 hour overnight train ride. Woot- woot!


Read Kim’s other adventures:

You Are Here. Mumbai, India Part One.

Editor: Brianna Bemel
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