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The colorful Indian microcosm

Diana Pascu
Diana Pascu
TRAVEL ESSAY / In search of a self away from the corona pandemic. In India, the western structure is turned upside down. Instead of crying for food and clean water, the homeless masses sing mantras and throw flowers to their idols to forget the hungry…


As I write this, I'm sitting on the ghats – the stairs down to the Ganges River – in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, one of India's 28 states and one of the most populous areas in the world. We are in a half-closed scenario; on weekdays we can move freely from seven in the morning to eight in the evening, but we have to stay indoors on the weekends, as India is high up in «Corona Immunity Games »for the second year in a row.

I once saw a beggar on an Indian train, a young boy who had had both arms and legs amputated – beggars make more money if they are crippled, and thus they are intentionally maimed in childhood. This boy caught my attention for this obvious reason, but also because he had one of the most sincerely happy smiles I had ever seen, and because the T-shirt he was wearing was in strong colors: «Nr. 1. WINNER. »

It made me think of success and happiness, it reminded me of the lucky and "blessed" people of the rich and educated West who are so unhappy in the social and economic heaven, who always compare themselves with their peers or with unreal Insta influencers. They walk down the street completely isolated from their fellow human beings, look down at their mobile phones and listen to the headphones, with suicidal expressions marked on a clean and physically healthy face. Yes, life is not so black and white, one is not happy to have the natural four body parts intact. It's more complex than that.

The teachings of the Sadhus

It is now over a year since I traveled through India, in search of myself and away from the corona pandemic. I had the surreal blessing of spending the first six months of pandemic hysteria in Himalayas, in Gangotri, a village 3500 meters above sea level at the foot of the Gomukh Glacier, where the sacred river Ganges originates.

For the record, all rivers are sacred. I learned this and much more, also about hygiene and immunity from the best sadhu (religious, ascetic and holy people in Hinduism and Jainism) – who explained that loving and respecting yourself and your environment increases your vibration and resilience so much that no virus will ever be able to enter this temple that is your physical body.

Ashrams that feed and huser thousands of homeless women and widows in need.

There are five elements in the physical universe: earth, water, air, fire and gas – respect these and you will respect yourself. This is the very definition of health. Your gut / stomach is not different from the river bed, your lungs are not different from the plant life on this planet. And your brain is just an organ – do not confuse it with your mind, which is just like the atmosphere of the earth, which comes from every cell in your body, from the ice to the toes.

One of India's holiest and poorest places

In the fall, when the snow began to fall and the ice cap expanded and reached the caves we lived in, I left the Himalayas and traveled 6000 kilometers south to Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, on the banks of the holy river Yamuna, the birthplace of Krishna and his heart, Radha.

This is one of India's holiest and poorest places, despite its popularity with the famous and wealthy ISKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) movement. Because of its millennial association with Radha, Vrindavan is home to hundreds of ashrams that feed and huser thousands of homeless women and widows in need.

When an Indian woman marries, her husband and family become "responsible" for her. If the husband dies, especially if the affected families are poor, the woman is sent back and forth in the family, and sometimes she ends up in Vrindavan to ask for Radha's help. The women can be seen in dozens of large groups on their daily trips early in the morning at Vrindavan parikrama – the round road around Vrindavan.

Such large, enclosing circles are a tradition in many sacred Indian cities, which since ancient times are surrounded by circular roads called Parikram's, where monkeys, cows, dogs, peacocks and other wild and peaceful animals live. The roads are lush green and colorful with countless flower and fruit bushes, fig trees as well as many small temples, statues and graffiti. Here is neither graffiti as insulting, nor pornography, it's all about Ganesh, Durga, Shiva, Krishna and Kali.

Blessings and poverty

People travel from all over India to walk these parikrams, meditate on the gravity and transience of their existence as well as contribute money to the ashrams – and receive divine blessings at the same time. It is a successful social system that does not address the cause of problems, but which treats the symptoms quite effectively.

The cleaners, the animal keepers, the tree caretakers, the temple security guards…

There are many people living in poverty, but not nearly as many as people in the West imagine. The middle class here lives like the elite compared to western middle class standard. Many people do live on the streets, but they are all a useful part of a social network that covers their basic needs and survival.

Let us also not forget that the Indian weather is indulgent all year round, while banana, mango and coconut trees grow wild on the outskirts of cities. In a way, it is these people – the cleaners, the animal keepers, the tree caretakers, the temple security guards and so on – who make up the colorful Indian microcosm. This structure has been put to the test during the corona period, where the people underwent various types of closures and restrictions. Humans and animals die of starvation, and the poorest working immigrants have undoubtedly suffered the most.

Warm and overcrowded cities

For me, traveling from the icy peaks of the Himalayas and straight into the hot and crowded Indian cities has been a lesson in human needs. Vrindavan is permeated by the divine love of Radha Krishna, and everyone greets each other with «Radhe Radhe», the name of Krishna's beloved. Often, Indian mythological stories have a secret metaphysical significance. In this case, Gopala Hari Krishna is the enlightened self, the first soul, the supreme one who controls and enjoys all universes, which springs from Him and implodes back.

Man is a strange creature, we are animal beasts with the ability for divine self-realization. To realize our divine potential, to acknowledge that we are eternal, unborn and have an immortal consciousness that experiences life through small mirrors of "me, myself and I" in the kaleidoscope called Maya, we must first have covered our physiological needs and our need for security. Then we can begin to evolve, find meaning in life, belonging, love, respect, and finally we can detach ourselves from what is outside and turn our gaze inward and begin the journey of self-realization.

In India, the western structure is turned upside down.

In India, the western structure is turned upside down, and instead of crying for food and clean water, the homeless masses sing mantras and throw flowers to their idols to forget about hunger and skin infections. It works to some degree, and personal dissatisfaction, feelings of injustice, frustration, and all the other psychological plagues of the materialistic West are minimized – in return, these less fortunate lower social classes get more out of life – not as much as richer and more educated social groups, but more than homeless people living a life of dirt, addiction, violence and hopelessness in the streets of London.

It is a radical acceptance and belief that everything is as it should be, that works – the alternative is to believe in an unattainable social equality. They starve and are eaten alive by lice, but they happily shout "Ram" and "Krishna" in the hope that they will be picked up by the Lord and taken straight to the kingdom of milk and honey. With this in mind, after a few weeks of walking in Vrindavan Parikrama and swimming in Yamuna, I had to leave this social experiment where thousands of people are trying to turn the pyramid of needs [Maslow].

The only thing I could do was to feel grateful to be able to live with the best of both worlds and repeat the Buddhist prayer that reads: May all beings in the universe, set and unseen, find their happiness and be free from their suffering.

In nature and temples to find peace.

Having lived in the Kali jungle in Goa and a few ashram villages in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh I reached Coimbatore and the Isha Foundation, home of Jaggi Vasudev Sadhguru. A slightly apocalyptic scene compared to when I lived and volunteered there a year earlier. Visits were still allowed, but the ashram itself was sealed, and blindfolded visitors were guided through signposts from Adi Yogi's majestic 35-meter-high statue to Linga Bhairavi Temple, into the Dhyanalinga Meditation Cathedral and out again.

These temples attract and emit energy. The science behind them is complex, and you can feel the energy on your body, just as clearly as you can experience a bath after a three-day train journey. We humans have for a year and a half lived in a stressful, panicked reality where reason and madness, truth and lies mix, and participated in a shocking dance of destruction and rebirth, Shiv Tandav. We seek refuge in nature and the temples to find peace.

The Jungian notions of the ego, the superego and id are linked to the Vedic idea of ​​the small self, the atman, and the higher, supreme self, the paramatman.

Later, I reached Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu, deep in the hilly forests of southern India. Tiruvannamalai is known for its intricate and colorful architecture and ancient temples, especially Arunachaleswarar Mandir. I saw Templeone in the distance through the fog of Arunachala. There is no conception of time here, everything flows literally differently, at a speed that is neither slower nor faster than what is possible to judge. It is said that the ground is a physical manifestation of Shiva, and, in the words of Ramana Maharishi, it is also a material representation of the Self. The Jungian notions of the ego, the superego and id are linked to the Vedic idea of ​​the small self, the atman, and the higher, supreme self, the paramatman.

What we modern humans call "us" and "ours" is just a false accumulation of thoughts and feelings and matter that are not real, not true and not eternal. At the heart of this is a black hole called the atman, the real self.

En parikrama walks around the Arunachala Hill, with the usual babies, monkeys, dogs and cows living in it. Walk around it once, twice, three times and you will start hovering over the smells, sounds and colors and reach a place of surreal silence.

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