Day 138 – Ajmer and Pushkar

Rupali and her sister, Megha, had let me sleep in their air conditioned room last night as it was too hot in mine. It is mid-morning and already sweltering as I practice in my bikram-like room. I’m halfway through systematic relaxation when Rupali knocks at my door. We are going to Ajmer. I have an hour to get ready. I eat some fruit, silently praying for this banana to fulfil me entirely so that I can fast for the rest of the day.

There is a famous mosque at Ajmer, which is about 2.5 hours away. Apparently if you pray at this mosque, your prayers will be answered. Whilst I don’t believe in spiritual guarantees like this or plenary indulgence, it has sparked my interest and by 1pm we are driving out of Jaipur and through desert-like country.

As we approach the town, it is decided that we will go to Pushkar first, which is another half an hour past Ajmer. Pushkar is famous for having the one and only Brahma temple in the world. Brahma, the creator of the universe, the key divine being who first chanted the sacred syllable OM, once sat on the banks of the Pushkar lake and meditated for 1000years. Here he sent his son Narad to fetch his wife so that they could perform the ritual puja together. Mischievous Narad, however, made sure that his mother turned up late. Brahma grew impatient and instead asked another woman to join in his meditation. Although, I wonder if this is a euphemism for something else, because when Brahma’s wife finally turned up, she was so angry that she put a curse on him in which no more than one temple would ever be erected in his honour.

As we make our way through the main market, we head first to the lake and the small Shiva temple here. There are stone bathing pools surrounding the lake, which is said to be certain death as it is so deep. Men in loincloths, women in colourful saris and children in shorts are all bathing and standing about in the water. We buy the small basket of flowers and take it to a Pandit, who performs the puja for happiness. This puja is said to remove the karma of past lives and of our families. Rup and I each sit down on the cool marble steps leading to a pool that is filled with floating flowers. I clean my hands with the holy water, dabbing my eyes, ears, head and heart and then the pandit leads me through the Sanskrit prayers. He asks my name and gets excited when I say Elizabeth as there is a ghat named after Queen Elizabeth II; “That one there with all the cows on it!” I pray over the flowers, throw one over my shoulder to get rid of the past karma of my family and then he drapes the strands of maroon and yellow thread over my head. He hands me the coconut and packet of sugar balls as he tries to gently coerce me into donating a substantial amount more than I have and I tell him again and again that no, I don’t have that much, not even in Australian currency. I’m still holding the coconut when he finally concedes and with a forgiving smile ties the thread around my right wrist. He tells me I am free to sit and look at the view. I ask about Brahma meditating here and he says that actually all the gods have come to this lake at some point in time and that the mountains surrounding this lake resonate with the energy to answer all prayers. When I leave he tells me that he hopes I will return with my husband one day.

Next we visit the Brahma temple. There are many marble steps so with her broken foot, Rup decides to sit down in a jewellery shop. Walking barefoot up the red carpet, i notice a Sadhu sitting beside a small red Hanuman temple playing the high pitched flute I once associated with snake charmers. But this man is playing only out of devotion. His eyes are closed in blissful ecstasy as he offers his musical prayer. In the centre, behind a small gate surrounding the stone effigy of Brahma, a pandit stands handing out small parcels of sugar sweets for offerings as he talks on his mobile phone that he has pressed between his ear and shoulder. Devotees ring the huge brass bell, waking up god so that he can hear their prayers. I watch as people bend down to touch the floor and then their hearts, then join my own hands in prayer and chant the only prayer I know with Brahma’s name in it. It has been many days since I was in a temple and once again, I feel the energetic resonance that comes from praying in a holy place. When I am done I move to the side where a painting depicts the many headed, white bearded Brahma with the “other woman” as his wife looks on. In the lower half of the picture Narad, Ganesha, Shiva and other gods stand as though approaching a circle of Sadhu’s around a transparent fire. It is a beautiful and powerful image that reminds me of a Diego Rivera mural in the story it depicts. On the way out I notice two small shrines in marble, one for Lord Indra, who rules over heaven and Lord Kuber, who is apparently the lord of riches.

By the time we enter Ajmer again the sun is setting and clouds are gathering. A rickshaw has to take us toward the centre of the town where the mosque lies but he asks far too much so in a huff of refusal, Rupali limps away as though to walk there herself. She shouts back over her shoulder in Hindi and I understand only the word “shortcut”. Knowing she is probably in pain already from her awkward hobble, I run to help her and finally the rickshaw circles back and agrees on a much more reasonable price. As he drives us through the narrow alleys barely wider than the vehicle we are in, a gentle sprinkle darkens the stone ground. By the time he parks and hands us over to the guide to walk barefoot the rest of the way, it is raining steadily. We stop to get a plastic bag for Rup’s leg and when I ask her if she wants to turn back she cries, “no! We can’t come this far and not go on!”

We make slow progress through the narrow streets, entering secret passageways and stone doors. By the time we stop at an ancient doorway to get Rup a sarong (being more Western than Indian, she is wearing a short dress and needs to cover her legs), the rain has turned into a torrential downpour. We huddle behind the immense ancient castle doors but it is Rup who finally decides to press on. As people crowd against the shops, we pass through alleys getting soaked by the waterfall that is being funnelled down the plastic awnings. In utter admiration and love for this girl I laugh as Rupali drags us on, hobbling through the rain in a strange mix of devotion and stubbornness. When we get to the mosque, a beautiful sky blue and lime green archway welcomes us. Within the main area, the ground is flooded to ankle height and with her plastic bag already weighted with water, Rup simply makes her way around it, never stopping or slowing down. There are children sliding around the wet marble on their knees an bellies as adults stand in silent worship under archways and awnings. Rup tells me it is lucky to be rained on, it means god is with us. I say maybe he will miraculously cure her fractured foot and she laughs in delight even though I can see the pain in her face. In the mosque, we stand before the yellow doors waiting to enter as the prayers are chanted over the loudspeakers. For a moment I close my eyes and remember the river Muara in Padang, Sumatra, when we would enter the river at high tide just when the early morning prayers were beginning. I look around and notice that of the three clocks only one is working. One, shaped like an anchor, is stuck at 9.51 with the second hand bouncing on the sixteenth second, forever bowing toward the centre room. When the doors open we flock in with a mass crowd, jostling and squeezing our way through this tiny room. The scent of the roses being crushed underfoot envelopes us as our guide leads us through the prayers and then gives us a handful of roses to throw to the centre. We then eat three rose petals as he tells us that the upper wall and ceiling is plated in gold, the lower walls in silver and that the green velvet, gold embroidered cloth hanging above us cost 2 lakh. Moving back outside, someone has stepped on her foot but Rup again approaches the crowded door to make her wish on some red and yellow thread and tie it to the door. As I step forward with my own, a priest pushes my head back in what I can only hope is a blessing as I tie up my own wish thread. On the way out, another man offers Rup a wheelchair but then our own guide tells her that people with no legs come here and manage fine without a wheelchair. Knowing there are more stairs than flat areas anyway I tell her we should just go.

Outside the mosque, before we descend its marble steps, i look out into the street, filled with a growing mass of people. The crowd is even more dense out here beneath the hanging coloured lights. Are they all here to worship? By now it is pitch black and the tiny cobblestone alleyways are lit only by flashes of lightning. Knowing Rup is in pain as she doubles over with each limping step, I insist we try and carry her but she only let’s us do so for a short uphill climb before demanding to be put down because she can manage. The priest thanks us and is grateful that we have arrived before a festival begins tomorrow as we would not have been able to get in through the crowds. More than today? We could barely move as it is.

Driving home I realise we haven’t eaten all day and I remember the prayer I did over the banana, hoping it would keep me sated all day. I feel like I could continue my fast until tomorrow but when both Rup and I rubberneck the Dominoes sign, I know we are thinking the same thing so we pull into a bakery for pizza and paneer pastries. I had forgotten how good puff pastry can be! I’ve never been good at fasting.

As we drive on I am reflecting on these pilgrimages people make. We come to India or go to Mecca or walk halfway across Europe all for a sacred building that offers some kind of spiritual loophole. I have no doubt that these places resonate with a special morphic field. Perhaps it is the millions of prayers that have happened there already or perhaps a divine presence does get stronger in places like that. But I also believe that prayers can be answered just as effectively under a tree in a backyard, over a banana or even on the loo. I believe god is within, and it takes as much determination and devotion and stubborn courage to close the eyes and turn the gaze inwards as it does to trudge through muddy water and push through crowds. Could I have figured this all out at had I not come to India?  I’ll never know. The truth is that even though I know the journey to enlightenment must happen within, I will never stop searching. Whether I’m visiting a temple, a mosque, a mountain or a river, in closing my eyes for meditation I have opened my heart to the world and everyday it offers me new beauty and wisdom.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: