Puja at the Ghats
Nearly every Hindu temple in India has a water tank. A tank functions much like a reservoir as it can supply the community with water during times of scarcity but it is better known for accommodating the worshipers with their bathing and cleansing rituals that precede prayers.
The tanks also provide the locals with a water supply for their daily needs like washing their bodies and washing clothes. I love this blend of sacred and profane, another example of Hinduism’s flexibility.
Washing Clothes on the Ghats
Having a Bath
For the Hindus, the sacred water in these tanks is believed to possess many properties to cleanse, heal and release. They come as pilgrims to take a holy dip and be blessed with the assistance of a priest, who doesn’t perform these services for free.
Gathering at the Ghats
Hindu priests have been performing these rituals for thousands of years and charging for their services. When greed is not an obvious motive, this is an accepted practice.
With all the modernization underway today in India, the importance of faith and its dominion is still powerful and omnipresent, constantly reminding me why I love being in India.
Walking the back lanes is always such a different view and experience than sticking to the main street and often comes with unexpected visual pleasures. I shot the following photographs on the same short block in Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
Although this lane wasn’t far from the main street, it offered an entirely different perspective. And a few smiles too.
A Few Smiles
Naturally, along with the smiles, comes curiosity.
Curiosity is good. It brought me to India and to this back lane and changed the course of my life.
Tending the Tulsi
I started noticing Tulsi plants in the courtyards of homes while in south India. I wasn’t aware of them in the north. Maybe because so many people live in apartment buildings in the north and there aren’t any courtyards or the climate isn’t suitable, they aren’t omnipresent. I’ve learned that a Hindu household is incomplete without a Tulsi plant.
Courtyard with Tulsi Plant
The Tulsi plant or Holy Basil, sacred and dear to Lord Vishnu, symbolizes purity. Its name comes from Tulasi Devi who was one of Lord Krishna’s eternal consorts. I read that women typically water the plant but I came across this man tending to his Tulsi plant so maybe this no longer is the case. I’m not sure why but all the pots have square sides. I’ve never seen a round one. Although they are sacred, the plants that I’ve seen have all been quite scrawny.
I am not an expert on this subject. Once I started noticing them, they were everywhere and I became intrigued. I also read that according to ancient texts, the Tulsi is the glorification of the one who helps bring people closer to the divine. Continue reading
Tulsi Mala Artisan
It’s hard to imagine that Vrindavan was once celebrated for its dense forests and known for its groves of Tulsi or Holy Basil because today it smacks of development and urbanization as it continues to attract huge numbers of Hindu devotees of Radha and Krishna who are eager to buy the condominiums that are filling in every inch of available real estate in this sacred town. According to Wikipedia, the ancient name, Brindavana, comes from the “Brinda” or Holy Basil and vana from the Sanskrit, meaning grove in the forest but only two small groves exist today. Just about all the devotees of Radha and Krishna wear sacred beads or malas that come from the Tulsi plant. While strolling the narrow back lanes of Vrindavan, artisans had set up stalls selling these malas in varying lengths and styles. Some of the artisans were right on the street, carving intricate medallions that hung from the strands of these beads.
Back Lane Artisan at Work
Associated with the worship of Radha and Krishna, the wearing of Tulsi beads are attributed with opening the heart, mind, bestowing love and instilling compassion and faith. A classic mala contains 108 beads or half of that at 54.
Detail of Medallion
While visiting Vrindavan, the temptation to buy one of these malas is alluring as their appeal sneaks up on you. The artisans are generally soft-spoken and not pushy, which is unique for India. Few visitors leave Vrindavan without a magical mala of the Tulsi plant, myself included.
Rajasthani Pilgrims in Vrindavan
The twin towns of Mathura and Vrindavan, not far from Delhi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India are extremely important places of pilgrimage for devotees of Krishna and his consort, Radha. Krishna was born in Mathura and spent his childhood in nearby Vrindavan. Devotees come from all over India to exult in the ecstatic nature associated with the worship of Krishna.
As a child, Krishna was playful and even naughty. As he grew he became quite the lady’s man, seducing them with the sound of his flute and his charming and flirtatious manner.
Witnessing for myself, the devotees pleasure at being in the land of Krishna was magical. In this photograph, taken in Vrindavan, the excitement and pleasure of these Rajasthani village women is palpable. Instinctively and without inhibition, they grab hands and share the love. Oh, the beauty, power and joy of true faith!
I noticed this man sitting quietly by the side of the road while walking down a busy street in Rajasthan. He was clearly lost in thought, engaged with what he was writing in his notebook. He didn’t notice me studying him either. I very much wanted to take his photograph but didn’t want to intrude or “steal” the shot. After walking by him and some deliberation, I turned back and asked him if I could. He smiled in agreement, did not change his posture and this is the result. It was a very easy exchange and it made my day.
Indians love to travel. They are visible all over India: going to weddings, making a pilgrimage to a holy destination and on school holidays, just to name a few. For the most part, they travel in groups and aren’t familiar with the concept of traveling light.
While in south India I was taking a short cut through the bus station and came upon two parked buses that caught my attention. They were colorfully painted but beside them you could see entire kitchens set up right there in the station with the tantalizing aroma of delicious meals filling the air.
Open Air Kitchen
Bus Station Kitchen
You can see that these groups are traveling with their own canisters of gas and huge cauldrons. In the south in particular, strict vegetarians are common. Their dietary requirements are very important to them so they bring a cook along and everything else necessary. Make shift kitchens go up wherever possible, not just in the bus station.
A Few Chiles?
No meal in India is complete without lots of dried, red chiles…and piles of tomatoes and onions…and a big smile.
Steaming Cauldrons and Smiles