October 25th, 2011
Kohlapur, a city way off the tourist map and somewhere we decided to drop in on to rest and explore. If I felt like a foreigner anywhere along my trip, it was in this city. As we drove to our hotel started to notice the English signs had largely disappeared and that there we probably more deer in the city than North American Folk like us (you’ll get the reference later). Submerged in a city where language barrier was actually quite a challenge, we hit the market streets the next morning, on the eve of Diwali.
The streets were swarmed with families buying and selling decorations, traditional means for the celebration and offerings. Jewelers, farmers and seamstresses displayed their colorful and not all that diverse goods to the crowds passing by. It didn’t seem like the ideal day to pick for my first true market experience. People participating in public austerities and other calling for attention flew by as I tried to frame a photo in .002 seconds without stopping my feet. My bartering skills, stealthiness and patience were put to test and I loved it.
This sand is used to make decorative designs and signs.
That day, we visited a Hindu temple. Sarah and I went in first, leaving our shoes behind with the other two where they would wait for us while we unexpectedly had an incredible cultural experience. Sarah and I walked into the temple with innocent ignorance planning to appreciate the structure and religious acts happening on the inside, but what we got was so much more. The structure was made of dark textured rock but between the local’s attire and golden decor over select statues, the hallways were alive with colour. We followed the general stream of traffic through small hallways laced with incense and feeling the cool smooth stone under our bare feet. We both paused to take in a beautiful statue carved into the wall of the temple. After a few brief moments of appreciation we were ushered away by an elderly man. With confusion we followed him, and realized we had been blocking the view of a crowd on worshipers behind us. ‘well done Jen, well done.’ I thought to myself. Though the older gentlemen was very gracious with our ignorance and motioned for us to follow him. We did. We talked to him in broken language until another man approached us. This one asked where we came from. When he heard we were Canadian he asked if we were Christian. Neither of us are, so we explained we were hear to learn about and appreciate Hinduism. That man then left and another older gentlemen came by and gestured to us to follow him. Again, we obeyed. He lead us to a line of women and children filling into an area to seat. He briefly explained “pray time, pray time. Come sit.” before disappearing into the crowd. So we sat among a sea of saris on the stone floor and waited. Behind us were the males. When everyone was settled in, the beating of a gong filled my ears and incense filled my nose. The women started to clap along with the gong. We joined in. A young man holding a dish with multiple small flames passed over the statue in circles with the flames and the gong in many directions. A ceremony to honor the female god of the statue we had blocked the view of moments earlier. The loud beating gong and rhythmic clapping abruptly stopped and everyone stood up, and so did we. Walking out the older man from earlier tracked us down and ushered us on. Of course, we followed. We followed him and a handful of people including the young man with the gong. We kept following him, quite fascinated by the happenings we were taking part in. He lead us through narrowing hallways, up a tiny spiraling staircase and into a low ceiling room within the inner workings of the temple. The only object in the room was a red statue of Ganesha and an alter array around him. We stood in a circle, us and about 15 locals and one at a time approached Ganesha, knelt before him and bowed our heads to the base of the statue. The rhythmic clapping and beating of the gong continued. Next, each of us circled behind and touched the back of Ganesha before proceeding out. The parade went on. We were lead back down the staircase and to yet another statue. At this third location and the same ritual as the first repeated. At this point Sarah and I has no idea how long we had been down there and knowing Katie and Mel were waiting for us in the sun, with our shoes…we graciously let it be known that we had to be on our way. With profuse thank yous, we both left in amazement that we got to witness such an intimate event within a local honored temple. When we got to Mel and Katie we hardly knew what to say, because we knew we had just caught a special opportunity that probably wouldn’t be created again as they entered.
I snuck this photo with my Iphone as we sat waiting for something to happen among the local Hindi women. Although potentially disrespectful, I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to remember the experience forever.
Outside of a very odd museum Sarah and I visited that evening was a field filled with deer, peacocks and elk. I never would have thought I would see such a crew hanging out in India. We spent sometime saying hi to them. They were pretty adorable. Especially the little one below. He was very friendly. It felt a bit like home.
On the road again; next stop, Panaji, Goa.