Oh, the colour, the spirit, of India!
Honestly, the sort of things I got away with in India would be impossible in Europe; and trust me, I’ve tried to crash weddings in England… and failed.
Bangalore is a city of colours and flavours, and I was keen to taste as much as I could.
I made many good friends during my time in India; Minu was one of them.
We met as fellow English teachers and shared the same, slightly warped sense of humour,
and a love of laughter. We shared stories of religion and spirituality, as our tuktuk swerved,
darting through the traffic and wonderful chaos of this great, historic Indian city.
It’s great to be shown round be someone who not only knows the area, but also speaks the local language
(as there are so many languages in India – it’s harder to find friends like these than you’d think…)
And of course, making friends native to the country you’re in is undoubtedly one of the best ways
to not only see behind the veils of tourism, but also ensure you don’t get ripped off!
One thing I love about the Indian people is that they really take time, go out of their way,
to welcome you, to show you round their city, town, area; even their home
– fascinated by your stories of travel, life; and home – the Western world.
She’d lived in the city for many years, and now it was Minu’s turn, to walk with me…
I wanted to see temples, temples and more temples… thankfully Minu was very patient, and obliging,
happy to cater to the whims of an aesthete (not always so easy, I assure you).
We went to the Bull Temple.
We entered, the priest gave me a blessing, which I can’t say felt entirely ‘holy’, but viewing such a magnificent temple first hand was quite something. I’m always interested to experience local customs, and traditions – spirituality aside, that’s all they are to me: rituals grown-up through ages of organised religion, tradition; doctrine, yes, but not The Word…
The statue of the Bull was enormous! The idols all around the temple building were stunning, awe-inspiring, littering every available space, baring down upon the viewer below much in the same way the enormous statues of St. Peter’s in the Vatican do, another place that is full of so many earthly riches… I took my shoes off, and climbed up into the pillared hall whilst the priest wasn’t paying attention. I took a moment to sit against the cold stone, to reflect on my journey, and to just be thankful for everything this global pilgrimage has brought me this far – all the faces, places, tokens given of heart.
A silence much more holy than the blessing…
As you can see the priest was rather busy…
Some really beautiful gardens surrounded the temple, a very peaceful, simple place.
I much enjoyed watching the other temples goers, coming in for blessings, sitting around under the sacred banyan trees which were just so beautiful I had to touch every single one I saw.
Of course, no matter where you are, whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan, Druid etc.
a true peace can be found within. A free, much more real connection than any way of tradition,
or ritual, can bring… at least this is what I’ve found. My most holy moments are always those spent alone,
giving thanks… no matter whether it’s by sea, tree, in church, temple or under mountain: the Voice speaks.
We were just leaving the temple complex when this little tiny puppy came running out of no-where, right up to me, jumped straight into my arms. Gorgeous little tike! If I stayed in Bangalore longer I would have no doubt kept it. I couldn’t bare to see it running around by the edge of the busy roads… Reminded me so much of my time in Agii Apostoli, Greece.
Another soul met on the journey.
The colours, sounds, smells, flowers, spices, faces
– a kaleidoscope of stimulation for my western mind…
A huge cow was wandering round the bazaar too – probably trying to find food.
The locals kept slapping it, or shouting at it which made me quickly indignant, and so I helped guide it back to the road ~ where it belonged (might sound crazy but cows spend their lives wandering up and down highways and road sides in Indian cities – one of many unsaid rules). I don’t judge, however, life is much harder for these people than for me – most of the locals cannot afford to be feeding somebody else’s cow… but I’m not a local.
We went for a traditional Indian “thali” on one of the many occasions I got hungry during our times wandering the streets of Bangalore. There are plenty of excuses to get hungry in India… thali is one of them.
Don’t be afraid to ask for seconds… or thirds.
Probably my favourite temple we visited was along the Kanakapura Road, in Basavanagudi.
A modest temple, simple in design, with a huge courtyard set in the middle.
It was the use of the natural elements around that really enchanted me.
How I loved to take off my shoes, walk through the cleansing fountain, and wander…
Round by the side of the temple, down some steps, I found a couple of Banyan trees – वट वृक्ष – aalada mara in Kannada, the language of Karnataka and Bangalore – the trees sacred to Hindus, and among the largest trees in the world. EVERY tree is holy to me – and my time spent walking barefoot under these sacred banyans and the little shrines around them is simply unforgettable.
Feeling their aged bark, their great roots beneath my feet, trying to sense the magnetic energy between them.
I always feel as though time stops when I sit or lay beneath a tree. One of God’s/Life’s (same thing) many simple blessings so many overlook, or forget about… remember climbing trees as a child? I never stopped…
This is LIVING, people. And it didn’t cost a thing!
I didn’t need a tour-guide, map, TripAdvisor, or an iPhone to tell me how to smile and enjoy this moment.
I wouldn’t trade this for a selfie by the Taj.
As I was leaving the temple I noticed this little person, nestled up in the corner by the great temple doorway. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, and just had to take her photo. I asked Minu to ask her if it was okay, and the lady smiled, nodded, and I took a couple of shots…
I cannot get the image of her ‘Mona Lisa’ smile out of my head to this day. I just felt like she knew something, she could see something. It was a kind, but a knowing smile. Perhaps it was an age thing, her old and I young? Perhaps we the wisdom I admired in her face was the youth she admired in mine? Or perhaps she had simply never had her photo taken by a Westerner before, found it novel, or was humbled? Whatever it is, it will surely stay with me.
Directly opposite the temple, across the busy road, you’ll find Basava Ambara.
We stopped here for tea, enjoyed the peaceful gardens and the old British house…
Whilst I nipped off to the loo I discovered the place is also houses an antique and handicraft store – and a handsome one at that! Little details of beauty, much to be seen. Aladdin’s Cave would be envious. I certainly was…
Apart from the giant wooden peacock, the stained glass, rich silks and muralled walls,
I was particularly taken with this pendant, and asked to try it on.
Unfortunately the shop keeper couldn’t undo it; she was straggling away to get it apart and I thought she might break it so I asked her to leave it. Alas… again, I walk away with no earthly treasures.
Now, upon our visit to Bangalore’s largest and most famous temple, the ISKCON Temple, our adventure really began. I was somewhat jaded that not only was there an entrance fee, but the security confiscated my camera, even though there was no prior warning at the ‘ticket office’ – what sort of temple has a ticket office? Anyway, I only went in in the first place to take photos, so got a bit angry and MIGHT have threatened to sue security if they lost or damaged my camera…
We walked around, Minu bought me a nice orange scarf from the temple shop – a sacred cloth that I still carry.
A couple of Indian’s from the north came up and started asking me about the temple, and about my time in the city; I told them a bit about my journey so far, whilst Minu giggled taking pictures in the background (I have no idea who they thought I was). We had a ‘free’ temple lunch – a rice dish served in a dried leaf. I’m not going to lie, the lunch was the best part…
After collecting my shoes and my camera, we left the temple, and I can’t deny I felt a little deflated, and was starting to remember all the negative comments people make when they visit a glorious city like Venice, stick only to the squares and places where the tourists are, and complain there are too many tourists…
Although I did spot this sign as we left which DID make me happy –
We crossed over the road where I’d spotted yet another temple (Minu sighed) and sat outside, not really sure what to do. I sat with my back against this stone obelisk. The temple was shut and we couldn’t find a way in. I spotted what I thought was another entrance and sent Minu to investigate. “There’s a wedding going on,” she came back saying. My heart sunk – another closed door then… “They said we can join in” she finished. What!?!
Well, the rest is history…
We walked down some steps into this huge space beneath the temple – there were people everywhere – all the colours and sounds you’d expect from a Hindu wedding. Immediately an elderly man came through the crowds and approached us, explained he was the father of the bride. He seemed delighted to shake my hand. I was delighted to shake his! He took my bag and showed me to a seat – wouldn’t let me carry or do a thing – he kept saying how much of an honour it was that we’d turned up, and how important it was to welcome me, this guest, from the other side of the world.
Well, as you can imagine, I was rather blown away by the reception. He kept bringing over various members of his family – his rather ancient and beautifully dressed mother for one – over to meet me. Everybody was shaking my hand, giving me little gifts, thanking me for showing up. I felt like I was in some magical dream!
Next minute someone planted a dot of red powder on my head, and Minu and I were walking on stage, ready to get a photo with the bride and groom. They clearly had no idea who we were but smiled anyway!
Then, after being introduced to more happy relatives, I was lead downstairs to the dining hall. We all sat down on long tables, and a load of semi-naked men came round, putting little handfuls of different foods onto these huge banana leaves. Of course, I was starving, so tucked straight in, eating with my hands like everybody else. Didn’t have a clue what half of the food was, but ate it all anyway. More and more food came, more and more relatives came to be introduced to me – I smiled so much and shook so many hands I was starting to get profound jaw and wrist ache. But, gosh it was a wonderful ache!
Honestly, I was treated like royalty. These beautiful people couldn’t do enough for me. Such a kind-hearted, gentle folk. The warmest welcome I’ve ever felt! It was such an honour for me, and it seemed to be an honour for them too. A classic exchange of heart and culture. So fulfilling, warm and loving. This truly is The Way…
This is but one of many times I was shown the true colour of the Indian Spirit – and what a spirited people!
Here I am with the father of the bride, and his sons – one of the family!
I became their brother and son for the day – and to say I was honoured really would be an understatement.
As the father said – “your coming is a blessing – we must welcome you, show the love, as one of us. This is God’s love for us all – and what we give, we receive… It is all divine and no accident.”
Another beautiful page in the Diary of an Aesthete…
Wherever you are, whoever you’re with,
Be Happy… Jx