23 July, 2008

I visited Laxmi Narayan Mandir (temple) which is dedicated to various Hindu gods. I had to deposit shoes, camera, bag and cell phone outside and enter having been “physically and mentally” cleansed. The temple is also known as the Birla Mandir. It was built in 1938 and was inaugurated by Gandhi. I read about the meaning and history of the swastika sign and was ironically reminded of other places the symbol was used. I looked at all the murals and read their English captions and the messages were very similar to all religious messages – piety, self-sacrifice, peace, abstinence, wariness of the senses.

The most spiritual experience for me was walking into a God’s room, which had mirrors on all the walls. It seemed to be a pentagonal room. The statue of the decorated god was in it, but when I walked in I seemed to be very much in the center of the small room. I could see myself all around me and, not just that, I could see myself from the side and from the back and from various other angles. I was alone in the room. I moved around to see what I looked like, and it was a strange feeling of detached observation. I was thinking about the idea that the divine is within us…

Once again, there were tourists from Europe and America, dressed in Indian clothes, accompanied by a tour guide, being led through the temple. When I tried to enter the souvenir shop marked “For Visitors from Abroad” the man outside stopped me and said “This is not the temple – it is only for them,” indicating with a look that the items in there may be overpriced. I thought, thank you for making me feel so at home, and left obligingly.

I next went to Humayun’s tomb. Built in 1572 by Hamida Banu Begum, his grieving widow, the tomb is a precursor to the Taj Mahal. It displays a marked Persian influence in Indian architecture. Large quantities of white marble and red sandstone have been used and the tomb is called “Dormitory of the Mughals” because it has over 100 graves. I entered one of the smaller structures on the side which was completely deserted. I climbed up broken steps (which had grass, squirrels and insects on them) and emerged very high up inside an alcove from where I had a very good view. The place was quiet and cool and I could have sat there for a long time.

It was generally very warm but, just as I was leaving, it became cloudy and fat drops of rain began to fall uncertainly. It must have rained only for ten minutes but it was beautiful.

I had been told to definitely see Nizam uddin Aulia’s shrine, so I headed off for that. It seemed a different world. I had entered a Muslim neighborhood. The Muslims here were much more markedly muslim-looking that those in Pakistan: clad in traditional shalwar-kameez, with a white cap on each man’s head, and each woman with her head covered. I was not that middle-aged woman, deep in love and adoration for the saint, here to fulfill her promise to visit him and ask him to cure her sick son. I was not the old couple who had wanted to come here all their life and pay their respects, and today their wish had been granted. I was merely curious and personally, I thought it was a little unclean. Also, the head of the mosque asking me for money didn’t leave a good impression on me. What excited me much more was to see the great poet Mirza Ghalib’s tomb close by. I have always thought that he should have been Pakistan’s national poet, but of course he wasn’t very religious so that’s a problem.

I decided to have food at a small restaurant in that area, and was happy to find the food tasted great and was very cheap. And though it later made me sick, at the time the world seemed like a very nice place.

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