Archive for the ‘Yoga Adventure’ Category

Inside Fish Eye

January 13, 2018

Written today about yesterday and posted today from Kerala:

We are in Madura, South India.  Our local guide for today stood up at the front of the bus and introduced himself:

My name is Mudu.

My name means “pearl”.

I have only one wife and two children.

I love my job.

I love people.

I am very happy to be with you today.

I am a very happy man.

And just like that, he won us over.  He led us through the Meenakshi Temple and, later, to the Tirumala Nayak Palace.  The day felt like a hands-on university course because we learned so much from him.

Tirumala Nayak Palace:

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Madurai is 80% Hindu.  The other 20% of the city population is Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist.  Madurai, along with Varanasi, is one of the longest living cities in the world.  Its history goes back to at least 3,600 years. A “living city” is a city that continues to function as a city for 2000 years or longer.  A “living city” maintains its heritage and culture and never loses its identity from ancient times to the present.

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Following are various facts about Madurai:

  • Madurai’s main agricultural products include rice, sugarcane, coffee, tea, and cotton (some of the best cotton in the world is grown here).  The list is extensive and also includes coconut, bananas, mangoes, cashews, chilis, and onions.
  • Madurai is known as the Temple City with Meenaskshi Temple as the most famous.
  • Madurai is known as the “Jasmine City” because it is a major exporter of jasmine.  Jasmine is exported all over the world, always in its raw flower form only.
  • Madurai is known as the “City That Never Sleeps”, sharing the title with Paris.
  • Madurai is known as “The Festival City”.  There are 284 festivals per year. In other words, it is a party town!
  • Madurai is a Trading City. Some 300 villages surround Madurai.  These villagers come to the city to pray at the temple and while they are in town, they make good use of their visit to the city by shopping for their supplies. The streets of the city are lined with ample stores and a variety of markets.  We passed Onion Street, where all the vendors were selling different kinds of onions.  We passed Banana Street where you could see trucks filled with bananas clustered on their stalks.  There are over 2000 shops to satisfy the needs of villagers, pilgrims, tourists, and residents.
  • Madurai has a huge gold market!  People in India consume more gold than anywhere in the world.  South India surpasses North India in gold purchasing and most of that purchasing happens right here in Madurai.
  • Madurai is an up and coming modern city.  There is a new international airport with flight connections to Colombo, Dubai, and Singapore.
  • Madurai is a cultural hub.  The city offers much by way of music, drama, art, and crafts.
  • Madurai is also known as the Soul of Tamil Nadu.

At the heart of the city, is the Meenakshi Temple. It, too, has existed in one form or another in the same location for as long as the “living city” has existed, though the present structure dates back to the 6th and 7th century.  It is referred to as the “Taj Mahal” of South India.  The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum and a major monument, but Meenakshi Temple is neither of the above.  It is an active spiritual center, receiving 35,000 visitors/worshipers daily.

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Meenakshi Temple is dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi, a manifestation of Parvati (Shiva’s wife).  Meenaskshi is also known as Fish Eye because, like a fish, she never closes her eyes. She watches over you. She blesses you.

Hindus pray at Meenakshi Temple to develop a deeper consciousness of the divine.  It is one of the few temples devoted to a woman. Both men and women come here, but this temple is also known as a woman’s worshiping place.  Couples come here to pray for a child.  Pregnant women come here to pray for a safe pregnancy and delivery.

This pregnant woman was at the temple to pray with her family (and holding her phone).

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Women lighting candles and praying:

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At the temples we see people on religious pilgrimages. Sometimes, they are groups of women wearing red saris. It is a sight to see! They are all dressed similarly and seem to float past you, a red cloud of silk, a stream of white flashing smiles.

At other times, we see groups of men wearing black lungi and some wear black shawls. They are Shiva devotees on pilgrimage. They are bare-chested, their necks flanked with holy beads.

The groups of pilgrims arrive together in large buses. Going on a pilgrimage is optional for a person of Hindu faith. For 48 days before the actual start of the pilgrimage to the temples, the pilgrims have to prepare their bodies and their minds for the sacred experience and journey. They have to undergo a strict discipline to purify their bodies and minds. For 48 days, they have to adhere to the following rules:

  • They refrain from eating meat and adhere to a strict vegetarian diet.
  • They cannot consume any alcohol.
  • They can’t have sexual intercourse.
  • They have to go barefoot at all times. This also means that when they go to work, they are allowed to go to their offices and workplaces in bare feet. Of course everyone at work would know when a given co-worker is preparing to go on pilgrimage. It is an honorable endeavor and every Hindu is familiar with the rules of the 48-day preparation for the holy pilgrimage.
  • In addition to eating a strict vegetarian diet, breakfast is to be skipped entirely. A light lunch is permitted and a lighter dinner is acceptable.
  • For a whole 48 days, men and women must not cut their hair and men are not permitted to shave. Therefore, most pilgrimage men we see at the temples are bearded.
  • For 48 days, while preparing for the pilgrimage, no bed is allowed. The person must sleep on the floor!

Thus they are purified and ready for their incredible pilgrimage! The purification process is intense. When we saw the pilgrims at Meenakshi Temple, there was a festive feeling all around them. Their skin is clear and gorgeous and they look lean and healthy.

Once on pilgrimage, the pilgrims will visit several temples and the group will stay together, pray together, and eat their meals together. The pilgrimage will take place over the next 8-10 days. It is a joyful ecstatic time for people of faith. During the pilgrimage, they will most likely sleep on the bus.

One objective of Hinduism is to raise one’s consciousness, to liberate oneself from the material mode of living, to reach a deep understanding of spirit and God. I am certain that what I have just written is both correct and incorrect, for it is really difficult to describe any aspect of Hinduism in just one sentence. I am trying my best here.

For Hindus there are three ways to become liberated and to reach an understanding of the divine:

  • The first way is through the temple. A worshiper goes to the temple to make simple offerings and to pray to the deities. Our guide explained that there are multiple deities in Hinduism because the nature of the human mind is always wandering and unsatisfied. All deities represent facets of the divine and they represent the many ways to realize God. Everyone’s personal evolution is individual and the paths to evolving are many.
  • The second way to reach an understanding of the divine in Hinduism is through the body via yoga. Yoga creates positive energy. Yoga leads to a sound mind and body. Yoga prepares the body, mind, and spirit for meditation.
  • The third way to reach an understanding of the divine in Hinduism is through meditation. Meditation leads to God consciousness.

Ultimately, every Hindu wishes to be free from the cycle of birth and rebirth. There are several terms to describe the freedom every Hindu is seeking (the terms may differ slightly in meaning but are related): liberation, moksha, Samadhi, enlightenment, salvation.

I am far from being an expert on the subject of Hinduism. My understanding is pretty basic, even after eight trips to India. So below is my humble approach to giving you an elementary description of the deities of Hinduism.

There are many deities in Hinduism. Mainly you have a trinity. As in Catholicism, the Hindu Holy Trinity represents three aspects of one great divine consciousness:

  • Creator: Brahma (His wife is Saraswati and his vehicle or mode of transportation is the Swan.)
  • Protector: Vishnu (He maintains and preserves life and sees to it that everyone is safe and secure. He nourishes the human spirit. His wife is Lakshmi and his vehicle or mode of transportation is the Eagle.)
  • Destroyer or Transformer: Shiva (He is the patron of the yogis. His wife is Parvati and his vehicle or mode of transformation is the Bull whose name in Nandi.)

The deities marry and they have children. Each is associated with countless stories to teach life lessons to humans. They are adored, loved, feared, and honored. Each of the deities above, the trinity and their wives, have many manifestations, also known as avatars. For example Vishnu becomes a fish (known as the deity Matsya). Vishnu also manifests as Rama and Krishna.

And so we are back at Meenakshi Temple.  Fish Eye, she who never turns away from you and watches over you, has a gorgeous temple dedicated to her. Meenakshi is an avatar or manifestation of Shiva’s wife, Parvati.

This may be one of the most beautiful temples I have been to in India.  Inside the temple, there are statues of the deities and they are treated as living gods.  Flowers are placed around the neck of Shiva’s Bull, Nandi, and people whisper their prayers and desires into his ear.

Nandi, Shiva’s Bull:

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Whispering into Nandi’s ear:

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The temple is made of granite. The upper part of the temple is stuccoed and painted with bright colors.  It is repainted every 12 years. Inside there are statues of deities with multiple arms and hundreds of ceiling paintings of colorful lotus flowers (lotus symbolizes enlightenment, or rebirth). 

Lotus Ceiling Paintings:

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The floors are made of granite and there are thousands of sculpted pillars.  The stone pillars are from distant quarries, transported to the temple so many years ago and carved on site. Each stone pillar is enormous and uniquely carved.

The sculpted pillars are below. There are thousands of them, each is unique and each one is made from a single slab of granite:

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Having fun interactions with these young Tamil women at the temple:

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Sweet family we met at the temple:

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Yoga:

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And an incredible cup of tea made from cardamom, saffron, and cinnamon.  The tea is great for colds.  Even if you don’t have a cold, try making yourself a cup of this tea.  It is so good!

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Inside a Hindu Temple

January 11, 2018

Between yesterday and today, we visited three Hindu temples. We are lucky enough to have two excellent guides, Arvind and Raja, to usher us into the temples, to lead us up to the Brahman priests who bless us and mark our foreheads with white ash or mark our brow center with yellow or red powder. Raja teaches us to offer the Brahman priests money with our right hands, to circumambulate the temples in the direction of a clock.  Raja leads us in mantra and meditation and he interprets the many symbols chiseled into a sculpture.  When we stand before a sculpture of a deity, he guides our hands to touch the exquisite and ancient work of art. Together Arvind and Raja tell us stories of Hanuman, Shiva, Shakti, Garudha, Brahman, Nandi, and Vishnu.

Arvind and Raja are windows to this intricate spiritual world we have entered.  They gently guide us into a realm that is so different from anything else we have ever experienced.  Meanwhile, flocks of people are all around us.  They are praying, laughing, meditating, hoping, sitting in circles, standing, walking.  Some are sharing a meal, using banana leaves as plates placed on the stone of the temple floors.  The Indian temple is simultaneously overwhelming, fascinating, mysterious, festive, colorful, frenzied, chaotic, noisy, and calming.  It is a spiritual and cultural hub.  It is the heartbeat and fire of the Hindu spirit.

Inside the temple I hear bells ringing and clanging, people praying and chanting and talking.  And everywhere, friendly people in colorful clothing want to shake our hands and take photos with us.  They want to know where we are from, how long we are staying, what site and which temples we are visiting.  The women, the men, the children are charming, playful, cheerful, and so beautiful.

To enter a Hindu temple, you must remove your shoes.  Arvind paid someone to guard our shoes.  Can you imagine being a guardian of shoes?  It’s a very serious job.  There are thousands of shoes and the person must make sure the shoes get returned to the correct person.  Two years ago, Arvind lost his shoes in the mountain of shoes.  Needless to say, it was a very unpleasant experience. This time around, our shoe guardian was just outside of the temple and her shoe-load was small and manageable.

Last night we went to the Bull Temple in Tamil Nadu.  It is a temple dedicated to Shiva.  It is enormous and very beautiful, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Our very lively, funny, engaging, and toothy guide Raja took us around the temple at dusk.  He had us chanting and took us into the heart and soul of the Bull Temple.  It sprinkled lightly all day so we were walking in our bare feet through puddles and over ancient stones.  After a while, you just have to let go of thinking about your feet being wet and dirty.  After all, I kept reminding myself, feet can always be washed thoroughly and scrubbed with the help of a pumice stone back at the hotel.

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Today we climbed the 454 steps to the top of the Uchi Pillayar Rockfort Temple. When we climbed the steps to this temple two years ago, we were in the thick of a heat wave and the stone steps were like hot coals under our feet.  But today, we had wet stones from last night’s rain.  One of the most touching scenes were the many people lined up along the sides of the steps, sitting, waiting.  They were lean and looked poorly.  I did not photograph them.  The time was about 11:40am and Arvind explained that they were waiting for 12:30pm to come around because, at that time, a free meal is served daily at the temple. Temples serve free meals daily to the poor.

The climb to the Rock Temple was not difficult because the temperature was comfortable and not too hot.  We had some nice views from the top.

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I took the most photos at our second temple visit today: Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam.  How can I explain the experience?  It had just finished raining, so we walked barefoot over wet stones again.  We were surrounded by devotees, fervent in faith and prayer, walking among the statues of the deities.  Hands in prayer, eyes closed, they prayed and left offerings of flowers and garlands.  Inside the temple there are statues and paintings, sculptures and altars, incense burning, lit candles, and paintings depicting stories of love, justice, compassion, honor, and miracles of life.

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Umbrella Man:

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Holy Cow!

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And now I am writing from our very comfortable 5-Star historical hotel in Madurai. When we got here, I wanted to open the doors looking out over a vast balcony, but I was afraid of letting the mosquitoes in.  It’s been raining and so the dread mosquitoes are around.  I have worked myself into a tizzy over their presence.  Mosquito repellent is my best friend.  On the bright side of things, if I turn up the air conditioning and have the fans going (yes, both fans and AC), the mosquitoes don’t stand a chance and become inactive!

And there are wild peacocks and peahens everywhere on the hotel property, which sits up on hill overlooking a colorful town below.  One peacock perched on our balcony and I got this shot from inside the room:

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Chiseled Town

January 10, 2018

We have been in Mamallapuram, also known as Mahaballipuram, for the past two heavenly days. With much reluctance we have to move on today. This going to another city brings a slight amount of dread (why must we leave the comfortable known, this elegant seaside hotel, the gentle breeze, the happy flocks of friendly South Indians?). However, moving on also invites an element of excitement because the India experience is one grand surprise after another. Just when we think nothing can surpass a given meal or a given temple or a given historical site, we are served up another unimaginable delight!

By Indian standards Mahaballipuram is a small town with a population of 8000 people. Back in 2001, my first visit here, the town was a quiet gem and, as I walked around, all I could hear was the consistent pleasant clink-clink-clink of stone masons and sculptors chiseling and chipping away at slabs of local granite. The sculptors’s hut-studios lined the streets and the artists magically rendered rock into statues of Ganesha and Shiva. Clearly, it seemed the chiseling artist’s job is to release the trapped bulls, monkeys, tortoises, and deities from the stones.

Today the town is bustling with masses of pilgrims visiting the temples and other holy sites of this town, but it is still charming as ever. Below are photos and descriptions of this wonderful town with its UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Monolithic Stone Temples carved from the existing granite. These 1,400 year old stone-sculpted temples are on the shore and vulnerable to tsunamis and rising sea levels.

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The temple is surrounded by many bulls. The sculpted bulls were all found in the sea and you can see how eroded they are. The details of the faces are missing in these bulls. No one knows how old they are ( they pre-date this 1,400 year-old temple), exactly how many temples have been washed out or taken over by the sea, or what other treasures remain buried at sea.

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Our lively guide for the day, Stalin. Presumably, his parents were communists and gave him this name.

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Arjuna’s Penance below. Here, my fellow Catholic- raised readers, penance refers to “meditation”, a profound meditation Arjuna took on to seek wisdom and answers to difficult questions ( perhaps I can write more in this later). This incredible bas relief is carved into the immense live stone wall.

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Beautiful little girl

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My yoga Challenge continues I’m on day 46! Only 10 more days to go.

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And, always a delight to lead my fellow yogis in yoga practice  yesterday, we had “International Yoga Day”. The lifeguard joined us, as did a French woman and a very lovely Irani-British woman.

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Krishna’s Butterball. Krishna loves butter so this extraordinary rock, sitting seemingly precariously on the side of a steep hill, is named with Krishna in mind. Scientists cannot explain how the boulder got there.

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Ellora’s Temple Caves

January 7, 2018

Today we went to the Temple Caves in Ellora.  Unlike yesterday’s caves, the fabulous temple caves of Ellora were never hidden, lost, or waiting to be rediscovered.  They were always treasured and contain Jain, Buddhist, and Hindu temples.  The 34 temples caves of Ellora were carved directly into the sides of a basalt hill and one of the temples here, Kailash Temple, is the largest monolithic temple in the WORLD!

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The excavation was done from the top and downwards.  No scaffolding was used to carve out these enormous works of temple architecture. Three million cubic feet of rock was chiseled out and removed from the mountain to create these fabulous caves. The caves were built between 350 AD and 700 AD and were inhabited by holy men.

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Imagine if you will, a bus arriving, packed to the gills with tourists. Most of these tourists are from various parts of India.  The women wear colorful saris. The men are cheerful and hold the babies.  The children are dressed up and their eyes so beautifully big and filled with light.  The men, women, babies, and youngsters are beautiful.They have come to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site, like us, to see this gem of India! They are all very excited. They are friendly. They are playful. They are welcoming.  How many times did I hear an enthusiastic “Welcome to India!”?  Children laughing and crying on the bus.  Many languages are being spoken and the whole bus is like a party!  Most people have selfie-sticks and are taking photos of groups sitting on the bus.  Well, I am on this bus, too! And my group is on this bus! In my row, there are only two seats, but three of us have squeezed in for the short shuttle ride to the temple caves. We are laughing along with the others.

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In no time at all, we arrive and everyone piles out of the bus.  There are many hawkers/vendors waiting.  Those of us from the USA stand out, as you can imagine.  The vendors spot us and they surround us, working hard to sell books, photos, postcards, purses, bags, sculpted elephants, Ganesha, necklaces, gems, rocks.  You name it, they have it.  In their world, no means maybe and maybe is very close to yes.  Their eyes are filled with hope.  Oh, some of them are very charming. Their tactics and skills for selling are remarkable and impressive. “Miss, Miss, my name is Johnny.  Remember my face!  When you finish looking at the caves, I will be here.  I’ll save you a necklace for you for later. I give you good price.”  They are very clever.  When, later, we leave the caves, we can be sure Johnny will still be there, waiting, remembering our faces.  They are full of joy, anticipating a sale.

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Inside the temples, we are dazzled by the work of thousands of hands from ancient times.  How on earth did they create these masterly carvings? Enormous life sized elephants carved from the rock greet the tourists. Kailash Temple is most impressive.  It is the last place we visited in Ellora today, the grand finale!

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Kailash is a miraculous site.  It is uniquely a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva.  The temple was a great center of learning.  It’s built like a chariot and has an antechamber, an assembly hall, a sanctuary, a tower, and an open sky platform.  This is a mind-boggling cave temple within a cave temple within a cave.  Near the innermost temple is Nandi, Shiva’s bull.  People were lovingly whispering into his stone ear, their whispers releasing prayers and hopes and dreams.  Nandi, it is believed, will listen and then deliver the prayers to Shiva.

In the innermost sanctum, there is a Shiva lingam.  The lingam is the divine symbol of energy of Shiva. I felt a deep inner stillness and I felt the room was humming with energy.  My mind went blank and I simply observed the worshipers. As we stood there, Hindus came pouring into the room to pray, to touch the Shiva lingam, to raise their children to touch the Shiva lingam, to press their foreheads to the edge of the yoni and to be reminded of the power of creation, of consciousness and nature coming together in perfect union and life.

In traditional Indian society, the linga is seen as a symbol of the energy and potential of Shiva himself. The lingam is often represented as resting on yoni (Sanskrit word, literally “vulva”, “origin” or “source”), a symbol of Goddess Durga in Hinduism.

The Lingam has also been considered a symbol of male creative energy or of the phallus. The lingam is often represented with the Yoni, a symbol of the goddess or of Shakti, female creative energy. The union of lingam and yoni represents creation or life.

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Soon, I will be offering an evening yoga session.  As I write back in the cool of the hotel room, I hear the Muslim call to prayer.  India never ceases to fascinate!  Not only will I never forget the Ellora caves, but I will also never forget the lovely people at the caves, the large families and groups of school children, all vying to interact with us.  Such an incredible day!

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Ajanta’s Buddhist Caves

January 6, 2018

The day started with sunrise yoga.  Yoga in India!! The sunrise, the grounds, the yoga was all very dreamlike.  The sun rose as the moon set.  We practiced Salutations to the Moon.

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Imagine hiking along a ridge and spotting an unusual formation in the far distance. This strange rock formation is peaking out at you, within an enormous horseshoe rock-face wall across the valley.  You are not quite sure what you are looking at, but you are pretty sure you see a man-made vaulted entrance, almost entirely covered by vines and forest.  Your curiosity is enough to make slide your way down the treacherous cliff, ford the Waghora River, and bushwhack your way up a steep ravine until you reach that spot you saw from so far away.  You machete your way through the dense greenery to an incredible find: the Ajanata Buddhist Caves.

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More thrilling than any Indiana Jones film ever made, this scenerio really happened. The year was 1819, the place is outside of Aurangabad in India, and the discoverer of the immense and beautifully preserved caves that had been hidden for centuries was a British official named Jon Smith. However, Smith wasn’t hiking.  He was tiger hunting up on the ridge when he saw the vaulted arch above one of the caves hidden openings. He was soon to discover 30 significant hidden caves within the area.

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The Ajanta caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The man made caves were carved directly out of the stone, monolithic and impressive.  It took 700 years to carve out the caves between the 2nd century BC and the 6th century AD. The walls of the caves are covered in frescoes, which contain some of India’s most precious and valued art.

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  • Buddhist monks lived in these caves
  • The rock was chiseled out by humans along. No animals were used in carving out the caves.  The rocks were small fragments and they were dumped into the river where they would quickly erode by force of the river.
  • Once the caves were abandoned, dense forests covered them and they were forgotten
  • The wall frescoes depict various years and events in the life of Buddha.
  • The frescoes depict scenes from the royal court (patrons of the cave building and art work)IMG_2149Above, a lotus flower painted on a ceiling

I used to think this (below) was a reclining Buddha (it is enormous), but learned today the statue shows Buddha as having just died.  I couldn’t capture the whole statue with my camera…. Below his peaceful corpse are depictions of the humans who wail, grieve, and appear to be inconsolable.  Above the Buddha are depictions of the happy heavenly creatures who eagerly await his spirit’s arrival. Above his body are images of angels and cherubs laughing and dancing in anticipation of a heavenly celebration.

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Posing with the school children:

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Jack poses with the shoe man. You have to remove your shoes before entering temples in India.  This man is paid to guard our shoes! Arvind paid him for the important task and later tipped him. Even so, at one point, this man raised his pant leg and showed me an ace band wrapped around his presumed injured knee and he promptly asked me for an additional tip.

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Arvind on his iPhone, tending to details.IMG_2183 2

A Day in Mumbai

January 4, 2018

I’m in Mumbai!  We had a tour and I have about an hour to attempt to write about today!  Not sure where to begin or how to write since my mind is swirling with words.

The day started with yoga! Our yoga space and session were really great.  I thought we were going to do our yoga session poolside, but when I got to the pool at 6:45am, Rajesh, the man who gives a new meaning to “Jack of All Trades”, was setting us up in the Pavilion looking out to the pool.  Rajesh had towels and water for us and was very excited to show me the space!  It was perfect except for one thing.  He had the AC blasting!  It felt like a walk-in freezer.  He was pretty surprised when I asked him to turn off the AC and to open up the glass doors looking out to the swimming pool.  In no time at all, the room was at a comfortable Mumbai morning temperature, very conducive to deep stretching, not too hot and not too cool.

A little more on our man Rajesh:

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I could tell by the way he walks and stands and carries himself about that he was a yogi. So when I saw him yesterday (he was taking our drink orders at the pool), I asked him if he does yoga. He said, “Yes, I am a yoga teacher, but how do you KNOW?”

In addition to teaching yoga, he is also a life-guard, a professional dancer, a kick-boxer, a karate black-belt, a singer, a Thai massage therapist, and a professional in the art of mimicry!  I had never heard of the latter, but he explained that he does impersonations of famous Bollywood stars.   He proceeded to entertain us with various impersonations.  The funniest imitations were of a woman trying to show interest in a man and one of an angry woman!

Then we did some yoga!  He showed me a variation on Sun Salutations.  Beautiful…we did his version of the Sun Salutations together. Ha! I got my 39th Yoga Challenge photo at that point.  Then he offered to give me a Thai massage right there and then.  We found a space in the gym, using my yoga mat, and he gave me an impromptu 20 minute Thai massage.  Heavenly!

The first stop on today’s tour was to the Dhobi Ghats, where your India-made sheets, jeans, and shirts were probably washed before making their way to American or Canada… or wherever it is that you live!  The Dhobi Ghats are in one of Mumbai’s slums.  We walked through the slum and watched the washer-men and the school children and the busy lives of these very industrious people.

This man below is actually washing a family’s personal laundry. They have an intricate system of tagging the clothing so that the laundry is always washed and returned to the correct owner without error.

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Prayer Flag-like lines of Laundry decorate the slums:

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No, they do not launder the hotel sheets.  (I asked!)

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I love the touch of the Silk-Curtained-Door:

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And the school children of the slum were adorable like the little girls below:

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We stopped at the Mahatma Gandhi Museum, which used to be the home Gandhi stayed at whenever he was in Mumbai.  It is a testament to how simply Gandhi lived, but also a testament to his greatness. The most impressive aspects are the library, which contains all the books Gandhi read, his spinning wheel, and his simple bedroom.  I was stuck by the story I learned about Gandhi and his spinning.  He said that spinning for him was like an act of prayer.  By spinning, he said he felt more connected to the poor and therefore more connected to all of humanity and creation.

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Gandhi’s sandals (behind a glass case).  I couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to stand in these shoes…

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L1400418And lastly here are some images of the Crawford Market:

L1400430Yes, you guessed it!  Those apples are from Washington!

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L1400423Spices anyone?  The vendor had us all sniffing each jar!

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Street book stalls!

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more later….

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Celebrating Winter Solstice

December 4, 2017

I know we are still days away from the Winter Solstice, but this weekend, we had our annual Winter Solstice Hatha Yoga Retreat, always held the first weekend of December.

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For me, this time of year is an opportunity to seek light, a time to put up Christmas lights and light candles in the early evenings.  I also see this as a time to surround myself with light, with people of light and radiance. I did just that this weekend with the lovely retreat participants! The early evenings and long nights leading to the winter solstice give ample time for restorative yoga by candlelight, time to contemplate, rest, reflect, and renew.

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Here is a passage I found on line explaining the significance of the Winter Solstice:

Embrace the return of light.

Winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun is at its lowest arc in the sky. The word solstice is derived from the Latin word solstitiumsol meaning sun and –stitium meaning stoppage. One ancient definition of solstice is “standing still sun.” Because the earth is tilted on its axis, the northern hemisphere leans farthest away from the sun during the winter solstice (on December 21 or 22), resulting in a long, dark night.

The winter solstice has carried strong symbolism for many, many years. Some refer to solstice as the rebirth of the sun—and not coincidentally Christmas celebrates the birth of the Son. Ancient cultures feared the light of the sun would not return unless they performed vigils and rituals on the solstice.

Solstice can be a magical, contemplative time—a night of spiritual reconnection and ritual. While solstice may not have gained the notoriety of Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza, many people celebrate it as a deeply meaningful holiday—a time to celebrate renewal, rebirth, and gratitude for the coming light.

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During the weekend retreats, we often do shared readings.  The theme this weekend was winter solstice and I love what the retreat participants shared.  Below is some of what was shared:

“Did you rise this morning
broken and hung over
with weariness and pain
and rage, tattered from waving too long in a brutal wind?
Get up, child.
Pull your bones upright.
Gather your skin and muscle into a patch of sun.
Draw breath deep into your lungs;
you will need it
for another day calls to you.
I know you ache.
I know you wish the work were done
and you
with everyone you have ever loved
were on a distant shore
safe, and unafraid.
But remember this,
tired as you are:
you are not alone.
Here
and here
and here also
there are others weeping
and rising
and gathering their courage.
You belong to them
and they to you,
and together
we will break through
and bend the arc of justice
all the way down
into our lives.”

– Audette Fulbright Fulson

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I found the following poem by Maureen Edden:

The Shortest Day

it is night when I get up each morn
I have hardly made it to the noon
before blue shadows cross the lawn
and I am looking at the moon

L1400277The following Turkish Proverb was shared:

Good people are like candles; they burn themselves up to give others light.”

And here is a good reflective poem by William Stafford:

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the
           world
and following the wrong god home we may miss
           our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of
          childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.
And as elephants parade holding each
          elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the
          park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something
         shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should
         consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the
dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to
          sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
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And the following two poems speak to tonight’s Super Moon.
On a night
when the moon shines as brightly as this,
the unspoken thoughts
of even the most discreet heart might be seen.
(Izumi Shikibu 10th-11th century)
All night I could not sleep
Because of the moonlight on my bed
I kept on hearing a voice calling:
Out of Nowhere, Nothing answered, “yes.”
(Tzu Yeh 3rd-6th Century)
We experienced the very bright night skies last night and the night before as the Super Moon, not quiet yet full, was lighting up the cloudy night skies.  We especially experience the brightness of the moon here at Ocean Shores, where there is little light pollution.  Today, because of the gravitational pull of the Super Moon, when we took a walk on the beach, the tide was very high, leaving very little room to walk along the shore.  You can see the long shadows cast by the noon winter sun and the narrow stretch of sand on a beach that normally has a very large span of sand.
L1400275L1400282L1400278Lucky us…Jerry gifted all of us with her freshly pressed apple juice from her apple orchard.  So GOOD!!!!  Stay healthy and hydrated, readers!  And get out there and look at the super moon tonight!

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Whidbey Island Visit

October 16, 2017

My weekend seems to have begun on Thursday evening when I went to see the dress rehearsal for the opera, The Barber of Seville.  It was delightful!

Then on Friday, after teaching a morning yoga class downtown, I went to Whidbey Island for two days. We were blessed with gorgeous autumn weather and we went hiking at Ebey’s Landing.  It’s one of my favorite hikes.

L1400087You can see the trail goes along a cliff overlooking the sea! Wind, sea, cliffs, prairie, forest, fields, views, history, a nearby historical graveyard, Ebey’s Landing has it all.  L1400089

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Fields along the hike:

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Gigantic strands of kelp on the beach:

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After the hike, hungry as ever, we headed over to the Front Street Grill in Coupeville for a Penn Cove clam dinner.  The clams were the best ever, done up Thai style in a coconut milk sauce.  Then back to Linda’s to rest and relax.

Linda’s decor is magical and festive:

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On Saturday, I woke up to an exquisite sunrise.  Luckily, I dashed outside to get a photo because the spectacular show didn’t last very long:

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The sunrise was the perfect opening scene for the one-day private home-style retreat I led that day.  We had an all-levels active Hatha Yoga session in the morning, followed by a delicious lunch and an invigorating walk to Meerkerk Gardens.  In the afternoon, we enjoyed a long restorative yoga session. For some crazy reason, I decided to transport all my bolsters over from Ocean Shores to Whidbey for the afternoon restorative session.  Glad there was space in the car for them!  It made for a wonderful session!

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Meerkerk Gardens have a grand collection of rhododendrons and plenty of other trees, including maples, which were in full autumn splendor:

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Hope you are enjoying this Autumn Season!

Part II: Lured by Rajasthan and Taj Mahal

August 20, 2017

Part II brings you dreamy images of Rajasthan, India.  This tour with daily yoga includes visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra.  Please enjoy the photos.  The photos below were all taken by me except for the first two (the tiger photos).

Journey to Rajasthan, Delhi, and Agra takes place from January 17 — February 3, 2018

This tour is led by Arvind Singh, organized by Kelley McHenry, and offers daily Hatha yoga, which I will be teaching.  In today’s second post, I am sharing a few of my favorite photos from travels in Rajasthan, Delhi, and Agra.  We will be revisiting the places below in the January 2018 travels. These trips to India will be the last I will be offering in India, only because I hope to offer yoga retreats to various areas.

Registration is open through the end of August 2017.  There is plenty of space for you.  View Full itinerary

One of the most exciting places we visit is Ranthambore National Park.  The park is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger.  If we are lucky, we will see a tiger.  The photos below are from a few years back.  These two photos were taken by a tour participant on one of our trips with her lovely Olympus camera (so I call these two photos “Rebecca’s Tiger”).

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Ranthambore National Park and Keoladeo National Park are two of my favorite nature visits on this tour. As of the last count, Ranthambore is home to 34 adult tigers and 14 cubs.  Both Ranthambore and Keoladeo are World Heritage Sites.  Keoladeo is considered to be the richest bird sanctuary in the world.  It is located in Bharatpur and is home to 366 species of birds.  Below are a blend of photos from both national parks:

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And a bundled up Arvind-with-bird-upon-head on an early morning chilly tiger safari outing to Ranthambore:

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Another highlight of the trip is the visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Agra, the Taj Mahal.  It is massive and one of the most beautiful buildings on earth.  Arvind tells the love story behind the Taj Mahal and explains the vision behind the construction of this mausoleum so perfectly.  The first time I saw it, I was so moved by the sheer force of the site before me that I thought my legs would buckle to the ground.  I believe one must see and experience the grandeur of the Taj Mahal at least once in a lifetime!

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When I think of Rajasthan, I see colorful saris, turbans, and the warm faces of the desert people.  It is an otherworldly and welcoming part of India. L1280618

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Where else do you find a “Blue City”, vast palaces that stand out like glistening jewels in a desert landscape, and immense astrological palace observatories?

Jodhpur the Blue City

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Imagine doing early morning sun salutations on the terrace of your hotel as a pink sun rises, awakening and lifting your spirit:

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I love the photo below with cow, auto rickshaw, and outdoor pots and pans.  India is, at times, wonderfully mind boggling.

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I had to do a little climbing to be in this photo.  India is all at once complex and simple, ancient and new.

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While in the desert, the camels await you.  They make a most humorous sound.  The first time I heard a camel, I asked aloud, “What’s that sound?”  A nearby woman answered me in a matter-of-fact tone, “That is camel, madam.”  Look at how the camel is watching me do Ustrasana, Camel Pose.

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India is 1,344,664,943 beating human hearts! 

There is an India population site where the numbers keep augmenting before your very eyes.

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Part I: Lured by Images of South India

August 19, 2017

I have two back-to-back tours in India taking place January 2018.  Both of the tours are led by Arvind Singh, organized by Kelley McHenry, and both tours offer daily Hatha yoga, which I will be teaching.  In today’s post, I am sharing my favorite photos from my last trip to South India.  We will be revisiting the places below in the January 2018 travels. These trips to India will be the last I will be offering in India, only because I hope to offer yoga retreats to various areas.

I can’t capture the entire trip with these few photos, but hope to give you an idea of the beauty that is INDIA (in this case, South India).  I hope the photos will be of interest and lure you into considering joining me in January.  Or perhaps the photos will offer you an opportunity to do some armchair travel!

South India Tour with Daily Hatha Yoga takes place January 2-January 18, 2018. I am happy to announce that this trip is definitely happening.  Registered participants are already purchasing their flights.  Registration is open through the end of August 2017 View Full itinerary

Periyar Park is a reserve for the Asian elephant.  How I love this park and the elephants living there!  In the evening, the elephants in the park gather at the edge of the lake to get their fill of fresh water.  We watched them from our boat, from the middle of the lake.  In this photo, a baby is coddled and protected by two females.  The next day, we visited the park again in the early morning.  Three naturalists from the park guided us on a walking tour.  I never imagined I would walk in elephant territory, but my group and I did just that.  We got pretty close (at least I think we were close!) to these massive and lovely wild creatures.  Seeing them was thrilling!

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The photos in this blog are not in chronological order of the tour.  The photo below was taken in Mumbai, at the start of the trip.  Mumbai is not considered South India, but it is where we fly into and is a short flight to two of our destinations: the UNESCO World Heritage historical caves of Ajanta and Ellora.

Mumbai is vast.  It felt like a cultural center to me, lively and thriving. I loved visiting the Taj Hotel and the house where Gandhi lived for a while.  I was fascinated by his personal library, which still sits intact in his home.

IMG_0428The people of India are bighearted, friendly, beautiful inside-and-out, welcoming, and the children, in particular, are adorable.  Seeing the children and their proud, loving families is a great joy to experience in India:  L1340459

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L1340599Below: School kids enjoying Shiva’s Butterball (as this boulder is called).  You can see a path worn on the stone surface where the kids are playing.  The worn path is most likely created from thousands of years of kids sliding down, as two of the school girls are about to do.

L1340576When I think of South India, I think of the numerous ancient stone carvings of the temples.  Mahaballipuram has impressive stone carvings, as do the caves of Ellora and Ajanta.  It is a singular and unforgettable experience to walk among such massive carvings!

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L1340313During the journey, we stayed in some wonderful places.  The most unique overnight stay is on the houseboat in Kerala.  We relaxed and enjoyed being rocked by the waters.  The rooms are deliciously cool thanks to the air-conditioning (I don’t really like AC, but so appreciated the comfortably cool boats!).  In the afternoon, we got into smaller canoe-like boats and floated along smaller river ways to see the many houses and people living along the banks of the river.

L1350299L1350279We attended Kerala’s signature performance and classical form of dance, drama, and music called Kathakali.  It is an art form that is more than 400 years old.  Below you can see one of the Kathakali performers.  We had our own intimate and private performance. On this day, we all wore our new colorful Indian clothing.  In the second photo below, you can see our festively dressed group gathered around one of the actors from the Kathakali performance.

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12933011_1348191141863221_6997846868358269616_n-1And lastly is a photo of Maria.  We did a South Indian cooking course with Maria in her home kitchen.  I discovered Maria on line and asked Arvind to please include a cooking course with her.  After a little hesitation (Arvind had never met Maria and didn’t have much of an idea of what the experience would be like until he further researched), Arvind agreed to include Maria’s cooking course in the itinerary.  The food was some of the best we had ever eaten in South India!  She appeared to be a magician, an alchemist of sorts, as she blended her spices and demonstrated how to put the various dishes together. To top off the experience, her husband sang Hindi love songs from various movies for us as we ate our delicious dinner.  As we ate, serenaded by Maria’s husband George, Arvind’s head swayed to the live music.  Between bites of food, Arvind sported the satisfied smile of a Cheshire cat.

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  • Click here for a link to see incredible on line images of the Ajanta and Ellora caves.
  • It is so difficult to fathom how the stone sculptures and caves were carved, that some people have theories of an advanced civilization being involved in making them. Though I do not subscribe to this theory, it is fascinating to watch the following video clip to see how intricate the temples are at Ajanta and Ellora. View video
  • View one of my most popular blog posts on India: 10 Reasons Why I Love India
  • This trip is organized by Spiritual India Journeys.

PART II is coming your way next: Rajasthan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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