Tag Archives: Kali

A Day Trip Full of Temples and Ruins

On July 15, while Lesa was at work and the kids were at school, Jon, Chauhan, and I got an early start and went to visit three sites in South Delhi: The Lotus Temple, The Kalka Mandir, and Qutb Minar.

First we stopped at the Lotus Temple, one of the newer structures. It is an impressive temple for the Baha’i faith, a religion that I have only recently begun to learn about. Sujal and I have some Baha’i friends, so it was particularly interesting to learn more about the faith and to visit this special site.

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We could not take photos inside, so I only have a few shots from the outside. Obviously, it is an architecturally unique building. The inside is rather stark compared to Hindu temples. Jonathan observed that is feels more like a western church (or perhaps a New England church), because it is simply plain on the inside, which provides for a different type of beauty. One thing I really like about the Baha’i faith is how inclusive it is, not merely of people from other faiths, but of women. There does not seem to be the significant hierarchical nature when it comes to gender as there is in most religions. Perhaps I am wrong, but that is what it seemed like in their education section.

Next we went to the Kalka Mandir, a temple to Kali. For those of you who read my earlier post on a failed attempt to visit a Kali temple, you know how important Kali is to me. Visiting this temple was an experieince like no other. For the most part, Hindu temples have been busy but relatively peaceful places. To say this place was very busy might be a serious understatement.

We first had to walk through an older “village” within the city, through narrow roads and a market. Several stall owners were excited to have their picture taken.

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Stall owners closest to the temple sold prasad (sweets for offerings) and other offerings for the temple. I also thought this elderly woman was particularly beautiful.

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Side note: Taking photos of people caused me some mixed feelings. Most people seemed fine with it so long as one asks first and then shows the photo after. I feel like there is a fine line between respect and insulting people. I, personally, tend to not mind so much so long as people ask first. And I am in a number of photo albums after this trip to India.

We could not bring in a camera, so here is a photo of the temple from the outside:

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Note how crowded it is on the outside. As we waited in line, some police (or guards?) came and moved us to the front of the line, claiming they were concerned about pickpockets. We were shoved into a wall of humans swarming the temple priest, quickly giving their offering and receiving their blessings. We each received a fistful of prasad. I wasn’t 100% sure of what to do with it, take it or offer it. I knew to offer some and take some, but I did not realize just how many alters there would be. Each alter was very crowded, and I would not describe this temple as peaceful, as it was very loud with lots of pushing. Yet at the same time, I loved it. When I got to an outer part of the temple, brahmins tied red threads around my left wrist at three different alters. Finally, there was a place for the faithful to tie a red thread and make a wish, which I did. We finally left and had to return through the marketplace barefoot to retrieve our shoes.

Then we headed to Qutb Minar, another Mughal complex built during Mughal rule. It is also a World Heritage site. The Minar itself is an extraordinarily high tower, given the time it was buitl. It has beautiful shades of sandstone and intricate carvings.

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Here are Jon and Chauhan:

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It is a large complex that has the remains of a former university.

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I loved the intricate carvings.

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The next emporor wanted to build a much larger minar, one architects hailed as unreasonable (and like untenable). It was begun but never finished.

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There was also this “marvel” — and iron post that has not rusted for almost two thousand years.

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Finally, we also saw this tomb in the complex.

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A few other miscellaneous photos there:

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I took these last two of dogs, because feral dogs are everywhere. Note all the dogs sleeping under shrubs. I love to pet dogs, but sadly, I could not pet these, because they are not used to humans and may bite. They are also dirty and likely disease-ridden. Everywhere you go, there are dogs — on the streets, in world heritage sites, you name it!

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Welcome?

A bit of culture shock hit me today. I am really enjoying myself here, and yet there are a few cultural aspects that are hard to get used to, particularly what seems to me like rampant sexism.

For example, I smile at people. It is who I am. Yes, I’m sure I look insipid, but that is what I do. Culturally speaking, women should not smile at men here. Yet I smile without thinking, and then I get a disdainful look. I brushed it off, but when I was rejected from a temple today, it all suddenly got to me.

We (Jon and I) began our day out by going to the large temple to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. It is a very beautiful temple. I bought flowers and prasad outside the temple and gave offerings as I went through, and I did pronom to the various gods to which I gave offerings. Priests gave me a third eye with the red powder (they dab a bit of red powder on your forehead). It was a very lovely experience. One of the priests talked to us for awhile, explaining various mandirs. It was a lovely beginning to the day.

Then I wanted to see the nearby temple to Kali, the goddess of destruction. I really like Kali, partly because of the role she plays in Bharati Mukherjee‘s novel, Jasmine, and partly because she is a strong goddess, a female role model to some degree. She is a mother figure in Bengali tradition, though she is also very fearsome. She exudes power. I like this description on Mantra on Net. A devotee of Kali, Ramprasad, writes:

To be Kali’s child, Ramprasad often asserts, is to suffer, to be disappointed in terms of worldly desires and pleasures. Kali does not give what is normally expected. She does allow her devotee/child, however, to glimpse a vision of himself that is not circumscribed by physical and material limitations. As Ramprasad says succinctly: “He who has made Kali . . . his only goal easily forgets worldly pleasures”. Indeed, that person has little choice, for Kali does not indulge her devotees in worldly pleasures. It is her very refusal to do so that enables her devotees to reflect on dimensions of themselves and of reality that go beyond bodily comfort and world security.

So when I went to the Kali temple, Jon and Chauhan came with me. I was wearing a long sleeve kurta, and I had a dupetta on my head. I was also wearing a calf-length skirt. Chauhan went up first, and then Jon. It was I who really wanted to see this temple, and a man came up to Chauhan and said I could not go because I was wearing a skirt, so I turned and left, waiting outside in the sun with some kid asking me for rupees while Jon and Chauhan visited the temple. As I read now what Ramprasad said, I can see more clearly the serious iniquities between men and women here. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some serious iniquities in the US, but when I was rejected from this temple, it made me more acutely aware of the ways I was getting second class treatment. And it made me feel very unwelcome. I realize it is not personally directed at me, but I am an individual, and my experience is my own, so in that sense it is personal.

The disdainful looks (and I have been dressing very culturally sensitively — salwar kameezes, mainly), the direction of all questions, comments, tours, etc at Jon rather than all of the adults and children — they bothered me after that last straw.

I wouldn’t say that it ruins my trip, but it makes me very sad. I am not in the slightest expecting to be treated like a maharani, I just wanted be treated as respectfully as I am treating others. Though I was unable to stay in her temple, Kali taught me a lesson today.

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