Adventures in India

This is an open journal of some of the things I see and think about while trying to find a place to live in India. It may or may not be interesting. I make no promises.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Very pretty, very brief

I have been trying to finish the blog entry about the goat sacrifice in Calcutta for almost a week now. Absurd. Must record everything. Must hold on tight. Must use colorful expressions. Must be witty and a little jaded. And Time just keeps on eating us.

This is what happened:I made a promise to Kali Ma almost two years ago that if She helped a friend of mine out of a tight spot, I would go to Calcutta and offer Her a pure black goat. She helped my friend in a big way, so as soon as I could I went to Calcutta.

I then bought a small, beautiful billy goat in Calcutta, after a short ritual of purification, and an offering to the fire god, I said goodbye to the goat, and thanked him for his service. He said, "No problem; my time now, your time later."


The goat ate the wreath of red hibiscis flowers around his neck as the priest whispered a secret mantra into both ears. I wish I had been able to hear it.

When they brought him to the blood-soaked sacrificial area, he tried to bolt.
But they caught him. They always do. No one escapes.

They secured his head between two posts.
A man with a curved sword stepped up, swung it up high and brought it down swiftly on the goat's neck, slicing through it like butter.

Blood spurted, legs kicked.

The priest dipped his finger into the blood on the blade and marked me between the eyes, then marked the image of Kali I had brought, conveying enormous spiritual power into it.

Later they made a rice dish with the meat, and served it with vegetables to the poor. I thought everyone benefitted: the goat's soul immediately goes to a very high plane, and doesn't have to be reborn as a goat again, the poor get food, I fulfill my vow.

Now Murugan (my old Indian friend) and I are in Varanasi, the holiest city in India.Yesterday we sat on the ghats and watched the sun rise. In the afternoon I took a young man to the doctor because he was losing his weight, and we got some medicine. Later we tried to get some lunch, but kept running into tourist hotels that refuse to serve Indian guests. Disgusting. Check with the owner before you eat in one of the touristy hotels close to the water, apparently the practice is pretty widespread.

Later that same afternoon I bought two marijuana candies from the government shop that sells them for worship purposes. I sat down by the river under a stone shelter with some old holy men, bums and tea vendors. People sleeping in the shade, washing in the river, a big bull wallowing his horns in the muck. I share some water with an old guy with arthritic claws I met the day before, and give him one of the ganja candies. He sings a hymn to Krishna.

I then have a conversation with a boat man I know slightly. We talk about God, and the importance of cultivating a deep longing for the Divine. Then somehow we decide to buy a basket of these little leaf boats with marigold flowers and tiny blobs of candle wicks in wax. We will light them on the river tonight. The boat man is 12 years old and looks like Krishna. His uncle is old and grissled, he likes to laugh and has a deep spiritual nature. He will come and help with the lighting of the candles.

I go back to the hotel to see if Murugan is back from his personal quest. On the way I see one of the many babas sitting by the river and talking with a couple of guys. He is wearing bright yellow sparkle pants, and bits of Christmas tinsle at his wrists. His hair is coiled into a top knot, most of his face is painted white, with red between the eyes. I don't understand the words he is speaking, but I like the feel of them in my mind, the way they agree with my heart. So I listen, as the tourists stroll between us, and the cows, and the holy men walk their paths. The baba sometimes looks over at me with large smiling eyes, like we are sharing a privite joke, like it was only he and I sitting here. I salute him and he offers me his open hand as blessing.

I go on to the hotel. Getting up to the hotel is like climbing an Aztec pyramid. Long ancient stairs from the river, then a long fetid tunnel where holy men sit and offer you their blessing as you try to side-step the shit and move around the cows and goats, then more stairs, then tiny twisting stone paths hundreds of years old. Once I am gasping in the lobby, I still have three floors of steep climbing ahead. So I just ask the desk clerk if Murugan has returned, and he says he doesn't think so. So I begin the steep descent back down to the river.

When I pass the mysterious baba again, I sit down for another session. It is about this time that the marijuana candy kicks in. The baba is sitting there radiating unconditional love. He is always smiling and laughing as he walks around the ghats, but not in a kooky way. This is why I think he is a real baba. If you have tasted God, it must make you really, really happy. So I close my eyes and drift inwards on a drug/devotion-induced trip into this moment. Then there is a sudden long blast from a conch shell, Lord Vishnu's weapon to dispell illusion! It does the trick. The baba begins chanting, something about Love being the only reality, waves on an ocean returning to the source, a song from the heart. I also heard something about drunkards trying to find to meet the vinter, but after that the chant became slurred.

Then the baba stopped chanting, and looked at me. I bowed to him and he motioned me over and put both his hands on my head and began blessing me, moving his hands all over my head, massaging here, pushing between my brows, and he is murmuring something under his breath that sounds exactly like the gentle cooing of a mother trying to comfort a frightened child. I give him 50 rupees and he just looks at me. Then he says, "For the guru you give one rupee." I only had a two rupee coin, and he took it. Then he gave me an even stronger blessing, and it felt really great. I touched his feet in reverance, which was the traditional thing to do. He looked bored.

I went back to find my young boat guy and his worldly wise old uncle, it was getting close to our agreed 5:30 boat excursion. They had arranged for a huge basket of the little flower/candle leaf boats, so we cast off and the boat man threw all the fiber of his 12 year old muscles into pulling the oars.

The river was very calm, swallows filling the air with happy acrobatics, people bathing, bells ringing in the temples, loud-speakers softly blaring a holy hymn to the Mother, or the latest hit from Bollywood. It is easy to imagine this city down through the centuries. The great holy men who have lived and taught here, the people who come here to die. The main burning ghat is right next to the hotel. I look out my window at night and see the smoke rising from the burning pyres. Walking through the tiny, twisting streets, one often has to step aside for a procession carrying a silk wrapped corpse on a bamboo ladder, winding its way down to the burning ghat chanting the glories of God.

One morning I saw the corpse of a tiny baby bobbing in the shallows.

The feeling I get walking around the bathing ghats and the small temples by the river at twilight, is the same feeling I used to get when I was going to have a sleep-over. There is a peaceful feeling of exubriance, a calm joy. So the uncle starts lighting the leaf boats and setting them down into the bottom of the boat for me to place in the water, and say a prayer. At first I am praying for friends and family, but then realize that doesn't fit in with the purpose of the project. So I start praying this prayer, "May all beings be happy and freed of suffering." I figured that covered it.

The boat man is gently pulling us through the dark, placed water, and we are leaving a chain of flickering lights behind us. On the shore 5 priests conduct an elaborate ritual in honor of Mother Ganges, with the swinging of tiny burning Christmas trees, and the ringing of many bells, and the beating of many drums. Classiical Indian ragas fill the air as the eldest Brhamin chants the mantras over a loud speaker.

We look back at our tiny prayer flames flickering precariously on the ripples. It is very pretty. The last blush of crimson fades as the sun sinks behind the city, and the puja ceremonies are picking up steam. A hundred candle flames sparkle on the river. I think about the prayers that went with them; would they do any good? Impossible to know for certain. But here on this river, at this time, we have all made something very pretty, even though very brief.

Photos will be posted soon


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