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|India – Spring 2007
Journal 15 - March 18 - 19
Within the last 48 hours, running on maybe 7 hours of sleep…The last 2 days have been a blur of last minute shopping, internet, and packing in Delhi as we were getting ready to head to villages of southern India the next day. The 4:30 a.m. wake-up call came too early of course, but the rumor of fresh banana bread and muffins (a rarity) and the excitement of long anticipated “south” for something got most of us up and raring in a timely fashion (as opposed to India standard time fashion).
Stepping off the plane in Calicut I noticed two things: heat and humidity. Only a week ago with all my layers on, surrounded by the Himalayas, my fingers were too numb to type. Now, surrounded by dense palms, it is too sticky to search for internet. We pour sweat just sitting still!
After traveling for hours via bus, shuttle, plane, shuttle, plane, and bus, our day was just beginning. All over the southern state of Kerala, Theyam religious festivals are occurring. We boarded yet another bus and drove to a remote village to catch a glimpse of the celebration which lasts about 3 full days, lasting all day and night. We walked through a jungle-ish terrain until we came to a clearing bustling with activity. Thirty pale-faced strangers showing up made quite the stir even ending up in the newspaper. The villagers were so welcoming, making conversation, pushing us to the front to get a good view, even offering us their own seats. We were presented with dye to dot our foreheads and with a “mystery” snack served on a banana leaf. Dancers were getting dressed with their faces and bodies painted, people were cooking food in huge kettles, little stands selling kids trinkets and jewelry…Everyone was busy doing something.
Sitting there (sweating, swatting bugs) I was amazed at their beautiful rhythmic traditional drumming and dancing. About 10 men (only later did I realize they were men) in grass skirts, long black wigs, richly ornamented costumes, and body paintings danced with bells in their hands and around their ankles. Other men with flames encircled them, and Lord Shiva performed an ancient dance with his bow and arrow after finishing with blessings. These elaborate festivals tell stories involving both traditional Hindu gods as well as village heroes.
After several hours, we left to grab a late-night dinner and a few hours of sleep before venturing out to the festival again at 3 a.m. for more drumming and also fire, torch, and stilts performances. Although tired, hungry, hot, and sweaty, I found the rituals very intriguing. Since arriving in India, we have witnessed and experienced many religious affairs that have challenged me to examine both my religion and those of others and try to make sense of all of these faiths which claim to be “right.” Mine is “right,” theirs is “right” to them. To some they all are “right” while others believe none are “right.” Religion is just so complex and its effects are far-reaching…among devout followers it is he single most important thing in life…it is real to each of us…but the times, names, gods, stories are different.
Yet, I’m amazed at the similarities that have been noted through our studies. Themes of love, wisdom, simplicity, non-violence, meditation, right action, etc. There is a lot of insight and wisdom/knowledge to be gained by exploring various religions. I’m just continuing to grapple with the idea of there being a “right” religion…because Christianity boldly says Jesus is the only way to get to the Father…yet, I just can’t fully believe that…And if so- sad because billions of people of different religious groups who are loyal, devout…much more so than myself, a lukewarm follower (the most detested of all Christians)…and those who don’t believe as we do are damned to hell??? If this is so, I struggle with God and Christianity which I know because basically, people would be predestined eternally due to demographics- where you are born and who your parents are…social economic status.
[Sarcasm] Lucky me! Born into a white, middle class family in the USA. The “right” religion…everyone else is a heathen and are destined to the fires of hell. I don’t know if I can believe in such an exclusive faith…yet, there are many beautiful things in Christianity, like no caste and “karma for the dharma” and ability to pray anytime to God and that everyone who believes can enter the kingdom of heaven (not restricted to the monks, etc.)…so I struggle to try to assimilate and accommodate these things…and have faith- that somehow by God’s grace I will see all my brothers in eternity: Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jains alike.
These are just a few of my scattered thought from the past 48 hours.
- Julie Denlinger