Sunday, September 30, 2007

Long Awaited Trip

I had been planning a trip to Mathura and Vrindavan for the past 2 months. Every time the plan was cancelled at the last moment. So when my friend Vineet asked if we could make it this weekend, I promptly agreed and got tickets booked for both of us.

Catching a morning train has always been a fight for me as a traveler and for my parents who insist on dropping me to the station. Being a Sunday the train was a sell out and we somehow managed way to our seats. The tilting latch on the seats had been broken, so at the price of a normal seat we had a near fully reclining bed. If that was the beginning of a memorable Sunday, we sure were right. Although the person travelling on the seat behind me kept cribbing why was I reclining so much. By gones be by gones, the train journey was smooth and was interspersed with a stale omlette breakfast and some ultra strong coffee to gulp it down. Never the less, the train reached on time despite all the stoppages.

Just like most stations in India, Mathura station is not much of a pretty sight. Jumping and scooting our way out of the platform we finally reached the main gate of the station building. Here we were met by a number of auto and taxi drivers trying to lure us into plying with them. Finally we struck a deal with one auto driver to take us to both Mathura and Vrindavan, across all the temples, and back in just Rs. 350. Not a bad deal indeed!!

Vrindavan is about 15 km from Mathura city and the temples there close for an afternoon siesta for the deities at 12:30 pm. So we decided to head straight for Vrindavan. During the journey, our auto hit a few bumpy patches of the road, and I think that’s when it hit upon me to write about this trip. Those pot holes do have an effect!! Then a bee flew into the auto and we had to get off to avoid getting stung. Well, nothing much else happened during balance 15 minutes of the journey.
As soon as we entered Vrindavan, our friendly auto driver and guide took us to the Glass Temple (or kanch ka mandir). The main shrine is built in glass and is a sight to be seen. Skirting our way through people trying to sell Lord Krishna photographs we entered the temple. There was a beautiful setup of Lord Krishna holding the mighty Goverdhan Mountain on his index finger. Post clicking a few pictures and acting like tourists we bought a 3 rupee ticket and entered a small cave which had beautiful models of Lord Krishna's life and times.

Once out of the kanch ka mandir, we headed of to The Katyayni Devi temple. The temple is located slightly off the road through a small alley into a big grand courtyard. As per our guide, Devi Katyayni's hair fell here. Before alighting from the auto, we were advised to secure our camera, bags, and mobile phones due to a severe monkey menace. We did the same and visited the beautiful temple. Some of the pictures we clicked are shown here.

Soon after we drove to the Gobind Dev temple. The temple had so many monkey’s that I was asked to remove my spectacles before entering the temple. Nearby a monkey snatched a bag from someone, thus proving the caution by our auto guide to be true. Inside the temple I just clasped my hands, as with the absence of my spectacles, there was nothing much to be seen, except for what seemed from a distance to be the deity. Also, there were a lot of shouting monkeys. Afraid of them we soon left and drove of to Bihariji's Temple, also located in a small alley with a near stampede like situation.

Just outside the temple there were vendors who were applying sandal-wood paste on the foreheads of interested devotee's. Keeping in mind the weather and balance of the journey, we avoided that. Instead we decided to buy Peda prasad worth Rs. 50 per half kg.

Once inside the temple, there was a sea of humanity trying to get the best glimpses of Bihariji’s.
But there were priests close by who offered your prasad to the deity at just about any fee you would be willing to shell out. We paid Rs.20. Near the main sanctum there was a not a place to set your foot on. I stepped back but Vineet managed to make his way to be as near to god as possible. I just walked back to the entrance and got a clear view of the lord.

With our prayers said, we moved back through the alleys to our auto driver to go to the Angrez Mandir or the ISKCON Temple, frequented by a lot of westerner's and hence the local name, Angrez.

Our auto driver was an expert at handling the narrow alleys and roads, through the ever so annoying traffic jams. Enroute, near the ISKCON temple, we started seeing a lot of westerners in Indian clothing.

The proceedings at ISKCON were a little more organized. Although photography is prohibited, no one was enforcing. Result was that we got some very beautiful photographs.

The temple in itself is spread over a large area. We visited the main shrine, the parikrama marg and the shopping center. Bought some beautiful pictures of Lord Krishna. Then came the 30 minute aarti. A memorable event. Hare Rama Hare Krishna chants made it to be a beautiful event. Soon after this the deities would sleep, and prasadam would be served.
Once free from there we literally ran to the Govinda restaurant located in the temple premises. We had a sumptuous lunch at just Rs.50 per plate, and then proceeded for Mathura.
On our way back to Mathura, we stopped at the Birla Temple, which is exactly like its namesake in Delhi. Despite this striking resemblance, we still managed to make the most of the time by clicking photographs like lost tourists exploring Indian spirituality.

On entering Mathura, our now tiring auto driver showed us the Gayatri Temple before parting ways at the Krishna Janmabhoomi. He was a nice man, and was helpful mostly for the fact that he had earned his day's salary through just one customer.

At the Janmabhoomi, my friend played a prank and told an inquisitive on-looker that I was a journalist from Delhi. That gentleman happened to be a priest at one of the temple's at the Janmabhoomi. He took us around with much gusto explaining that what is thought to be the contentious site is actually not the original Krishna Janmabhoomi. He showed us some documents to prove his pitch. We played the role properly by clicking and asking some timely questions which in turn interested him more.
We saw a water reservoir close by where Lord Krishna's clothes had been washed and which had subsequently been rebuilt by the great Maratha ruler Mahadji Sindhia. We saw the prison where Lord Krishna's parents had been kept captive by his own uncle. Our friend, the priest, has been fighting a losing battle to the extent that it has resulted in an identity crisis for him.

Bidding adieu we went to the official Janmabhoomi site. We were advised to deposit all electronic items and eatables at a Government Cloak room. Wearily doing that, we entered the slow queue to enter the Krishna Janmabhoomi site. Here the security was more stern and strict than in an International Airport. The overt display of arms and ammunition was a put off. The frisking could have taken any weak hearted to file a case with the National Human Rights Commission. On the hindsight I feel it was necessary. An untoward incident here has the potential of sending ripples across the country, case in point being the Ram Janmabhoomi issue.
Once inside we went and saw the officially acclaimed birth site of Lord Krishna, which had been destroyed in 1669, and a mosque built on it. There was no idol, just a place where pictures of Lord Krishna were kept to signify importance.
We then decided to leave and did some shopping for the family at the shopping area inside the Janmabhoomi area. After leaving the Janmabhoomi we rushed back to the Railway station, stopping enroute at the Bus Stand. We had confirmed tickets for a night train which left Mathura at 8 PM. By this time we were dead tired and had no scope of visiting the balance 2 temples which opened after 2 hours. So we decided to call it a day.
Since now we had completed most of our journey 4 hours early, we decided to get them cancelled and leave early by bus. The next bus left in 30 minutes, so this left us with a little less than 30 minutes to get it cancelled and return back to the bus stand. We did make to the station in good time but heard announcement of a train in 15 minutes which had seats available. So we somehow bought tickets and were advised that our original return tickets would be cancelled in Delhi.

So friends, after finishing a hectic day of travelling and visiting temples, our day came to end 12 hours after we had started it. It surely was a great time and as Vineet puts it, "we have cleansed ourselves of all the wrong deeds of our past 10 lives". I don't know about that, but it was surely an enriching experience, likes of which one should attempt occasionally to keep some bit of sanity in our other-wise insane lives.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Keep the Faith

Friedrich Nietzsche had once discussed that the tragedy in our lives often is not in the conflict with the times but rather in our inability to postpone them, as they cannot wait. Some things and activities cannot wait for the patient and great men to come in and take their own sweet time to execute. They need a split second decision. And a moment lost once, is mostly a tragedy for the rest of our lives.

Ever since our childhood, we have been told about the virtues of patience. That it is a virtue to be imbibed has been told again and again to ingratiate it into our moral fiber. We have grown to believe that all that is patient is good and the rest is bad. Every time we get angry or frustrated, it is blamed on lack of patience and the influence of modern culture of two-click results.

Patience is often described as the ability to endure waiting and delay without becoming upset, when faced with difficulties. As per Buddhism, it is a perfection which is difficult to imbibe. But when we are faced with multi-dimensional pressures of the modern day life, all these definitions and explanations seem theoretical.

I have tried to build on to my patience levels and have always credited myself to be an extremely patient person. But off and on certain situations take the better of me. I don’t think that is bad, but it sure is a matter of concern.

In the modern business driven times, every thing, every person, and every activity is basis the materialistic benefit it entails. So when faced with a stiff unflinching opposition, one tends to lose control.

When I was getting frustrated at a situation recently, a friend told me that patience was not about passively biding time, but about going on inch by inch, chipping away at the problem. It’s a very romantic idea, but in real life some situations present themselves as a dead end. And that is when such romantic ideas are most relevant but make least sense.

I don’t deny that patience can be good in some facets, but is it always good? Patience with bad choices and decisions that they may correct with time does not seem to be a correct idea. But most teams work on this belief. As they say, to err is human, but to forgive is not company’s policy. Not acting in such situations can cost the team heavily in terms of resources, which as per economic theory are always scarce.

In cases of conflict, one has to determine the right time to act. If the two parties involved might be able to wait a little longer, then it should be done. But if it is beyond that, it is always better to act rather than being patient and appease. This appeasement and wrong judgment resulted in World War 2.

The idea is to set aside the brashness of youth and think quickly on your feet. I read somewhere that most people pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it. So it is important to be decisive and ruthless when acting in such situations. If you know you are right, and the time is ripe, act and remove the problem.

The keyword above was time. And building on this time is patience. So be patient till you can take it. Give the other party due credit and time to correct themselves. Try and empathize with them. Try and help them correct the situation. But if this does not happen, its time to move in boys!

I am hoping that my frustrations over a situation do not prompt me to act fast. I want to give time to the problem, but not too much time to let it chip away at my sanity. Rather I would blow the problem away. Amen!!