Namaste! We’re here! Addi, Bob, Rick and I were all on the same flight. We arrived exhausted at the very new and impressive Delhi Airport late last night. Arvind’s sweet smile was the most welcome sight for all of us. He quickly whisked us off to our hotel. We were fast asleep by a little after 1 p.m.
The front desk failed to give me my wake up call this morning! Miraculously, I woke up on my own at 6 a.m. (I must have a built in alarm clock in this head of mine) and had plenty of time to get ready for the morning yoga session. Everyone showed up for yoga from 7-8:30 am. It was great to see Jeannie, Jim, Joe, and Terri. We had our yoga session outside by the pool. It was about 72 degrees out and the air here feels thick with dust. Our focus was “centering”, not always the easiest thing to do as the honking car horns in the distance remind us of the throngs of humanity out on the busy Delhi streets. Yesterday, Addi noticed a sign on a truck that said, “Please use horn!”… as if to encourage road cacophony. Horns honking in the background and beautiful birdsong in the foreground! Yoga in India seems to be all about opposites converging.
The pool area where we did our yoga felt very dusty under my feet. I told everyone, “Stay on your mats” and I slipped into my flip flops anytime I wanted to walk off my mat to do adjustments. Just the same, our mats now bear our own dusty footprints. I noticed the gardener doing yoga between watering plants, inspired by our yoga practice. After the yoga session, Bob came up to me and sincerely said, “I want to be your best yoga student.” He goes on to explain, “I mean, I want to be the one who shows the most improvement in these next two and a half weeks. That’s what I mean by being the best.” My heart beats with happiness because I know that out of good intention, effort, and discipline a strong, lovely yoga practice grows and with that practice comes a multitude of benefits!
Arvind (our tour guide) greeted us on the air conditioned bus with a generous “NAMASTE!” “Nama” is the Sanskrit word for “I salute” and “Ste” in Sanskrit refers to “the Divine Being”. This Hindu greeting carries the belief that God resides in every living being, including all fauna and flora. When we greet each other with Namaste, we acknowledge the divine presence in one another.
Arvind calls me Fran-ji. Ji is an honorific added to a person’s name to show respect. When Arvind calls me Fran-ji, it sounds like Franci (pronounced FRAN-CHEE in Italian) and that is the name our Italian guide Tonino gave me on Pantelleria. Everywhere I go, every phase of my life, I am given a new name. Francie, Franny, Francesca, Franca, Franci, Ciccia, Fran-ji. It is as if my name is clay and can be modeled into many diverse forms. So, for the time being, I am Fran-ji.
Not sure if I can load any pictures. I am having problems…. Like last year, the pictures may have to wait until I get back!
On the bus, Arvind reminded me of some mind boggling numbers:
*There are 18 official languages in India, but there are a total of 1,652 unofficial languages spoken in India!
*There are 1.1 billion people in India today!
*The official population for Delhi is 14 million people, but actually there are more like 16 million people living in Delhi.
*In 1911 the British started building New Delhi. It took 20 years to build the infrastructure that exists today. They built the city with 70,000 people in mind. They predicted that at some point the population might swell to 7 million and they built to accommodate that many people. Never in their wildest dreams would they have imagined 16 million people jam packed in this city!
Hindu Temple Visit: This temple is commonly known as the Birla Temple, but its official name is Shri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir. It is dedicated to Vishnu’s consort Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. Many icons and depictions of the gods and goddesses decorate the temple. Once again, I am struck by Arvind’s talent as tour guide. Arvind is really amazing at teaching us about Hinduism! Below is a review of the three main deities, the Hindu Trinity, and their consorts:
Brahma is the Creator. His consort is Saraswati. She is the goddess of knowledge. When we arrived at the temple, we were all given a tikka, a red dot placed on our foreheads. This type of round red dotted tikka is Saraswati’s symbol of perception.
Vishnu is the Provider. He nourishes and sustains the life that Brahma creates. His consort is Lakshi. She is the goddess of Prosperity. Vishnu worshipers wear a yellow tikka that starts at the brow center and goes up the forehead, a symbol of energy ascending to the heavens or to the higher chakras.
Hindus believe Vishnu has had 10 reincarnations: in his 7th life, he was RAMA, in his 8th, he was KRISHNA, in his 9th, he was BUDDHA, and in his 10th, he was CHRIST.
The third deity of the Hindu Trinity is Shiva. Shiva is the Destroyer. He lives on earth, on the cremation grounds in Varanasi, and does not have reincarnations. His consort is Parvati. She is also knows as Shakti. Together Shiva and Shakti form the perfect union. Their symbol is the lingam set on the yoni. Shiva is a loner. He is rarely shown with his consort, Parvati. He prohibits her from entering the cremation grounds. Together they have the adorable and most loved son, Ganesh, the elephant god. Shiva’s tikka is always white (white ashes) drawn across the forehead in three lines. The three horizontal lines remind us that Shiva lives on earth, is of the earth.
Arvind also talked about three types of knowledge:
Visual (most basic)
Understanding (we all try to understand what we see)
Intuition (the highest type of knowledge) When we have intuition, we can perceive the truth and we can grow to become more compassionate human beings.
A visit to a Sikh Temple: Next we went to visit a Sikh Temple. The Sikhs broke away from Hinduism because they didn’t want to have idols. Whereas Hindus believe there is just one god, but many manifestations of that god, Sikhs strictly believe in just one god and do not pray to the other deities.
The Sikh temple was clean and beautiful. Cleanliness is a big virtue with the Sikhs. So is brotherhood and community. Sikhs love to share food with those who cannot afford to feed themselves. We listened to chanting and music at the temple. Both men and women in our group were made to cover our hair with headscarves.
Every Sikh follows 5 rules:
*Men and women must never cut their hair. Men must grow their beards long.
*They must always carry a comb which is tucked into their mounds of wound up long long hair. The comb symbolizes that though the hair is kept long, it is clean and groomed.
*Men and women must always wear a bracelet. In the old days, the bracelet was a very thick wrist ornament meant to protect the hands from being cut off by an enemy’s sword.
*Men and women must always carry a dagger. This dagger is meant for protection. Sikhs were persecuted and massacred by the Moguls in the 1500’s and they have vowed to never be vulnerable again!
*Men and women wear sewn underwear. This sounds funny, but traditionally Indians wore dhotis (loin cloths) tied as underwear. The problem with dhotis is that during warfare, they can come untied and be a hassle to deal with. Sikhs need never worry about their dhotis embarrassingly coming untied at inopportune moments because of this brilliant idea of wearing sewn underwear that look a lot like boxer shorts.
What I love about Sikhs is that men and women are equal. Baby girls are welcomed and celebrated at birth! Women are educated and exude a refreshing sense of self confidence. It is really wonderful to see.
A visit to the Chor Bazaar: Chor means “thief”. This is the Thief Bazaar. If your wheel was stolen from your car, you might find that very same wheel right here in this market! Car parts inundate this market!
Well, it is late and we had a full day. It is stormy tonight and the power went out briefly while we were having dinner. I will end with something Arvind told us. He was talking about how religion works here in India and how everything alive is venerated and potentially holy. He said that if the 9 of us went to that tree (and he pointed to a big tree we were passing) and if we all tied a yellow string around it, within a week, a thousand yellow strings would be tied around that very same tree and there would suddenly be people worshiping it.
Namaste from India!