Published: April 13th 2011
April 13th 2011
Havan with marigolds
The eternal flame burns...
It took us close to a week to really get over our jet lag and regain our energy. Gobind Sadan was the ideal environment to do so with its low-key, nurturing ambiance. Half way through our 10 days there, we began to feel at home and part of the community rather than invading foreigners.
For most of our time there, 5 pandits had arrived from Rajasthan to celebrate the 9 day festival of Durga, the Hindu goddess who single handedly vanquished the forces of evil and restored balance to the land. Our morning duties at the eternal fire (havan) coincided with the pandits prayers and thus, we were swept into a mind-altering daily ritual that included chanting while vigorously feeding the fire with the blend of 36 herbs, seeds and spices. We were also anointed each day with red "paint" and rice on the 3rd eye (forehead). Flowers were a wondrously beautiful part of the rituals, whether they were draping the havan building everywhere or we were showering Durga with them. After several days of participating, we became confident with our part in the ritual and no longer needed to be invited. The pandits, as everyone who calls Gobind Sadan
home, were delightfully inclusive and welcoming of our participation, so that we were able to drop the fear of being intrusive quickly. The language barrier did not pose a problem in Sacred Space. Brian actually became quite friendly with the pandits toward the end of our stay, and we have an open invitation to Bikanar in Rajathan!
As we had more energy, Mary asked us to spend some time with 2 beautiful brothers, Brakash and Rajesh, 14 and 11, so that they could practice their English. These boys were utterly delightful! Earnest in their desire to learn, we had such fun getting to know them over our 3 visits together. We were so sad to leave them just as we were all settling in. In addition to working with the boys, we also took 2 afternoons to pick up litter. Apparently, Americans are the most willing to do this job, and we were no exception. It was highly satisfying to see the results of our labors, even though we know the accomplishment is likely quite temporary. When we return to Gobind Sadan, Holly would like to organize a community project that might make a greater long-term difference. One of
the residents of Gobind Sadan was highly encouraging of this idea, saying that people simply need to be educated in new possibilities.
We made a couple of trips into Delhi for banking and internet access and were always relieved to return to Gobind Sadan. The urban experience here is unbelievably intense and certainly not for the faint of heart. Traffic and poverty abound relentlessly. Poor people set up primitive housing (tarps are common) in just about any environment, from sidewalks to the construction areas under the new elevated Delhi metro system (which is, apparently, making a huge difference in navigating across the city). The contast of "millionaire" mansions and the destitute is simply all part of the Delhi landscape.
Mary was so right in encouraging us to come in April rather than May. The heat is beginning. We've felt the change in just the few days since we arrived. Nights continue to be comfortable. The heat likely prolonged our jet lag recovery, along with the trip to Agra so soon after our arrival, but with the help of electrolytes in our water and less food, we eventually bounced back. For several days we limited our participation to havan at 10am and 10pm, resting otherwise.
One late afternoon when it was cooler, Mary gave us a further tour of Gobind Sadan which turns out to be even larger than we had imagined. Just down the hill from our guest house area is the original center of Gobind Sadan. When Baba Virsa Singh founded the ashram in 1968 there were no buildings at all. It was amazing to see the fruits of 40 years of development. The main complex includes a variety of housing for different budgets, a bookstore, and a new park in the making. There is also the original havan there that has been burning continuously since 1968 (the one we attend was built later). There is an air conditioned room where sacred texts are continuously read and stored. In addition, there is a beautiful shrine to the master of Baba Virsa Singh's master (2 generations), as well as a shrine to Durga which is deeply mystical. Other inspiring teachers such as Jesus have been added to the shrine. In the Sikh tradition, "langar" is offered 3 times a day. Langar is the tradition of feeding people, anyone who shows up (rich or poor), in an egalitarian environment that transcends the caste system. Anyone may be serving food or eating food all together on the same level. There is no charge for the food. Here at Gobind Sadan, 300 people are served 3 meals daily. The gigantic caldrons and mountains of potato sacks were amazing, as was the giant chipati oven which, we were told, is extremely hot work. We met many people as they went about their business winnowing chaff, attending havan, sweeping, preparing food, and generally doing seva. Everyone we meet feels happy and joyful to be part of the Gobind Sadan miracle.
When we left Gobind Sadan yesterday morning, we felt so sad to be leaving our new friends and community. Our desire to return for extended time is great. We look forward to ways to contribute to this vision for a possible future after returning to the USA. The community represents an important model for resolving seemingly insurmountable social problems.
These latest entries are written from Khajuraho after 2 days of travel and negotiating the intensive pressures of the world outside the ashram. Apologies for their lack of cohesion! We'll continue after we have settled into our exciting adventures experiencing the 1000 year old temples of Khajuraho...