Sun creeps through the blinds and the chants of prayers, which have become our new alarm, ring loud around us. Throwing my tierd heavy body out of bed, into the shower and out the door, I would stand absorbed by the morning routine that awaited my eyes. A stream of red robes, hung off the shoulders of young boys, shaved heads, bare foots as they stood patiently in line each holding out their bowl to collect food from the village. These were young men in training, a right of passage for all boys to enter a life devoted to Buddhism. Once they have learnt the teachings of Buddha and spent several weeks living on the monasteries they may choose if they wish to return to their families and lives or continue to the path of enlightenment.
Buddhism for these people is more than a religion, a way of life. It is integral to their being. It distinguishes their values, their beliefs, behaviours. Like a Holy Communion or Bar Mitzvah, they will grow up to learn the teachings, celebrating their entrance into the monasteries, spending weeks away from their families. Monks wondering the streets is a common site, as people continue to dedicate themselves to the teachings of Buddha. A country adorned by temples. When Looking out to Old Bagan, to the earthy washed landscape of dry baron land, ancient temples take to the horizon. Walking across the land, amongst the temples, there is a sense of calm, stillness across these quite grounds. Grounds that have been respected, worshipped for centuries. It is these pagoda’s and temples where the people spend their time. When travelling you see limited places fro entertainment, cinemas, sports, clubs all limited, if at all. it is the festivals at the temples that people part take in. As a result you notice, how gentle, kind the Burmese are, they are modest and respectful. Despite, all they are subjected to by the rulings of the country, they have faith, they stay true to what they belief in.
A roller coaster of dirt tracks, slipping off the recliner bus chairs, questioning how the bus suspension was still in tact, the cold dusty air hitting your face. The 13 hours spend on our semi sleeper bus to Hampi, one may have thought that the bus at some point transformed into Fred’s dino car, particularly when you step out into a skyline of huge stone boulders, tall trees and eroding steams. As you walk along seeings signs, beware of leopard, do not jump in lake- crocodiles!
Hampi is protected by UNESCO as one of the civilisations it is a world heritage site, with temples and accent ruins. On one side of the river you can explore the ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire of the 7th Century.But take a trip across to the other side and risk being lost for days on hippie island. A row of hostels, sit against the paddy fields and rock boulders. Backpackers, blazing slumped on cushions looking out to the views. Swimming in lakes by day and climbing the rocks by sunset, guitar in hand, spliff in the other. Feeling like I may become James Franko in 127 hours, falling down the gaps, I lept anyway to join the singsong and watch the sunset over the ancient city.
In the beginning there was God. In this case, three Gods, or the trinity. Braham, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer. Together they represent the divine; the comic, the mind and the being; a threefold of nature and function. Just like the good old saying ‘behind every great man is great women’, so is the case here. To create, you need knowledge, so to Braham is Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. For Vishnu to preserve all that is good he had Lakshmi, the goddess of love, beauty and delight. As for Shiva, to destroy that which is bad, he needed an equally powerful partner, Parvati, the goddess of power, destruction and transformation. Across India you will see images of the gods and goddesses everywhere. A country adorned with temples and people who strongly believe in their ability to bring good fortune.
Pushkar is home to the only temple in the word devoted to Braham. It is believed that Braham saw the demon Vajranabha attacking his people. With the lotus flower as his weapon he stayed him, but the petals landed on the ground at Pushkar creating the lakes. To protect this land further from attacks he would perform a Yajya ‘fire’ ceremony, to cleanse the land of evil. To ensure the demons didn’t interrupt the creaming he protected the land creating natural boundaries of the mountains. During the ceremony, he was required to be with his wife, however Saraswati was late, so he blessed one of the cows, turning it to a girl to marry. On hearing this Sur was furious, he had taken another wife. She fled to the mountain top to brew, the spot now housing her own temple. In anger she cursed him, and said that only in this place will anyone ever worship you and there will be no temple in his honour anywhere else. As a result Pushka has now become a pilgrimage in the Hindu culture. Unfortunately for us, we were unable to enter the temple as the priest had sadly died in a road accident that day. However, geared towards travellers, there were plenty of great shops to keep us occupied instead.
If someone told me I would go barefoot into a small room with thousands of rats – that wasn’t a Fort Boyade challenge – I would have told them to jog on. But 5 days in and there I was. The Deshnowk Temple, or rat temple, is devoted to a women. Deshnowk is believed to have walked the Royal state of Bikaner in the 14th Century. They believed her to be goddess-like. Story has it that she travelled from village to village, being shunned away, but the men who told her to leave would die the next day. The people saw this as a warning and believed her to have supernatural powers. Later she blessed a man and told him he would be king. Soon after he founded Bikaner and became King.
So what’s with the rats? Some believe that she called upon the Warriors to fight for her, but, scared, they ran away so she cursed them turning them all to rats. Yet others believe that those close to her who followed her were reincarnated into rats and live in the temple to stay close to her. In particular, the Charn’s, a caste of the community, are strong believers of her story and see her as their goddess. Even today, if they were to get married they would go to the temple to ask for blessing. Amongst the 20,000 rats, you will find people offering milk and food to the goddess, then sharing the food with the rats as a blessing.