We woke up and had breakfast with the village family, at least now it felt that way after spending even just a few days and meals together. The now dried kutki was ready to be bundled and weighed. While the men took care of that business, Renee (the woman from Trinidad) and I painted the Dunagiri Foundation logo on various items like buckets and scales. We took photos and said our sweet thankful good-byes.
It was another three hour or so drive back to the place where we spent our first night in the mountains. We didn’t get there until dinner by the time we left the village. It appeared there was a buzz in town as we arrived, passing women on the street looking even more dressed up than usual in their colorful glittering saris. And a buzz there was! Indians apparently really like to celebrate their festivals and on occasion someone will arrive in a town to honor a diety and create an impromptu festival where everyone can gather. We had arrived back in town on just such a night!
After dinner, the five of us including our kind guest house owner host, walked about fifteen minutes to a part of town where a celebration was taking place at the Narayani temple, an embodiment of the goddess Lakshmi. All we needed to do was follow the sound of the amplified chanting, even if our host didn’t already know where to go. The celebration would have been super easy to find!
A Babaji from another area, dressed in the typical orange clothing with long dreadlocks and kind eyes, was leading a puja in the area where the temple was located. It was a Narayana Narayani temple created 1200 years ago by Adi Shankaracharya! We were immediately invited into the puja tent when we arrived. This was an aspect of India I knew I’d eventually soon find — as I’d heard pujas and and ceremonies to honor God in all forms was commonplace in India. The five of us joined the Baba and his small group of men to sit in a circle where flowers and other offerings were displayed and the smell of incense strongly burned. We were kindly offered prasad to share, peeled apples dipped in spices and bananas topped with sugar.
When we were next offered a metal cup which I thought would contain chai, I was surprised to see a white lumpy liquid inside. Ut oh, I thought. I had just read an email from a fellow yoga teacher in the States that said she never ate or drank any dairy while in India. Hhhhhhhmmmmm. I watched my new friend Renee’s face also look concerned while her boyfriend happily accepted and drank the drink as I watched her place the cup behind her seat. My friend leaned over to tell me it was a sweet drink and the lumps were bananas, a common form of prasad. I watched him drink it and her sip it as well when her boyfriend told her to worry. I figured, I’d follow my friend’s lead who took precaution only when necessary and trusted my probiotics would do the job if necessary. Down the hatch it went and with it any fears. All good! And tasty too!
After declining an offer to share a chillum with hashish with the Baba though Tashi chose to partake, eventually the five of us left the tent. The atmosphere outside was one of exuberant celebration with many gathered to sing while the harmonium was played. The crowd gathered appeared particularly filled with children of all ages, chanting their little hearts out.
Our arrival created quite the stir of activity, being the only non-Indian faces in the group. At first, I appeared to draw particular attention as my friends from Trinidad could possibly pass as Indian. I was the only true white person around, besides Tashi but he always seems to have a way of blending in. A few children immediately approached to ask my name and a few if they could take photos with me. One of the older girls who turned out to be thirteen spoke English quite well and appeared to thoroughly be enjoying her opportunity to practice. It was all quite endearing.
Machel, the singer from Trinidad, was quickly offered the harmonium to play, likely as a result of our local host’s prompting. He graciously sat down and before you knew it, had the entire crowd of people singing a part-English call and response song about love followed by Jai Krishna, Jai Radha. Almost every phone was shining its light on him to record this lively impromptu concert that must rarely take place with a Westerner leading the charge in this fairly remote Himalayan town. It was a super sweet meeting of two cultures through music and sound, a language we all have in common.
After the “concert”, my Trinidad friends and I were invited to pray and make offerings to each section of the temple dedicated to Nataraj. We were then invited to partake in even more prasad, including a sweet porridge we were given a small leaf to eat with as a spoon and even dahl if we wanted. Had we known the amount of food we were going to be offered, we could almost have skipped dinner. Even the water they served was hot appearing to have been boiled, enabling us to quench our thirsts.
The highlight of the evening came at the end of the night when all of the amplified music and loud off-key singing came to a close. While waiting for my friend and the host to say their good-byes to the Baba, a blind man that had been around for the evening was given a drum to play. He ended up having the most lovely voice and broke out into a few incredible songs, the best music I had heard in India yet. Such a pleasant surprise! And a precious gift to us all at the end of the night.
On the walk home from the gathering, my friend commented that the hashish hadn’t actually made him feel high, rather clear and present. Interesting to hear. According to him, many of the Babas who are Shiva devotees use hashish regularly. It’s something I plan to stay clear of on my journey, regardless of how clear it could make me feel. I’ll take the clarity of presence at this point in my journey and enjoy the activated field of India herself to intoxicate me. I have already noticed a profound activation on being able to remember my dreams since I’ve arrived. Looking forward to sleep now… and continuing that ride.