Varanasi, page 4 of 4
After the boat trip, which lasted three hours, our riksja driver took us to eat some breakfast in a befriended (with him!) restaurant. He explained about Varanasi and about the Hindu temple tour on which he wanted to take us. He knew exactly what he wanted from life: first earn enough money to buy his own riksja, then buy two more and finely he wanted a secure job with the Government (which he could pay by then), because he thought in the end he wouldnt like so much the riksja driving any more. I can understand that! He took a lot of time to explain us things about India and he didnt want us to be disappointed. He really wanted us to understand and I appreciated that very much. Money was important to him, but he had much pride also and he liked to be seen as an individual. We visited a lot of temples of which I didnt put many pictures on this page, because most of the time you werent allowed to take pictures and when you are, I didnt always feel the picture to convey any of the atmosphere I experienced in this temples.
We saw many different temples; each god had his or her own temple. And each god has also different ways of showing him- or herself, so you have plenty of possibilities. This story doesnt even attempt to give an impression of Hinduism, so please dont be offended when I say some terrible wrong things, but do me the favor of e-mailing them so I can correct myself!
The first temple we saw was the Sree Vishwanath temple. The colors are incredible, pink and white, you would get arrested in Holland only for designing a church like that. The temple is open for everybody, so we enter and we watch with curiosity the jumping up to hit the clapper of the big bell that hangs from the roof. Even very old women, totally warped by old age, try to jump (in vain) to the clapper. We dont have difficulties in tuning in with this behavior and when nobody looks, Jacques jumps (only a small distance to cover) and hits the clapper with full force. Nobody looked, but everybody heard I presume! This will really bring us a lot of luck! We see a lot of long-life-flowers, small orange flowers, which are essential for earning a long life. The gods are covered with these flowers, and also with lots of orange paint and so on, it really looked like idol gods to us!
In the next temple we see again a lot of gods covered with these flowers and people performing all kind of rituals with flowers and candles and small cups with holy liquids and so on. The monkey god is offered bananas and coconuts, gifts that are taken by a couple of holy men who are allowed within the center of the temple.
It wasnt allowed to make pictures in this real monkey temple, the temple which is dedicated to the monkey god. Indians always get mixed up with tourist talking about monkey temples because the tourists see monkeys walking over there, and the Indians dont understand what they are talking about because this isnt the Monkey God! The rituals seem to be very free; you just do as you like. But for sure this is not completely true? I see some praying texts; they look a bit like timetables of the metro of Paris. You can read them aloud (when you understand Hindu that is). However, I think the service is not so rigid as many of our Christian services. And certainly there is no sermon, which is already a big improvement! I always think it very strange when somebody without much (or any) life experience and self-knowledge is telling you how to think and behave. Furthermore I didnt feel expelled, even as a complete stranger and unbeliever I felt accepted, as if they felt even I was having my own private ceremony. Which in a way I was.
Our riksja driver shows us a couple of different Hindu temples, each of them completely different. I am used to churches, of which you have in general two kinds: reformed and catholic. Of course one church is much more beautiful or much older or both than others, and there is a difference between old and modern churches, but the general idea is quite the same. Now you cant say I have grasped the general idea of Hindu temples, but I think the principal idea is that they all are different. I even think I know why: each God is different and so they have different temples. That is also why they have sometimes so many arms and heads: just to show different character aspects. You are not just one being, you are many. And so are the Gods. And then the Gods have also different moods and show themselves in a different way. This makes it rather complicated!
In one of the temples, the Tulsi Manas temple, everything is very serious with dark colors and strict patterns. But when Mass - or however you call it - starts, you hear an enormous cacophony of people praying and bells ringing. Later on we found out they even have an upper floor with animated dolls performing scenes from the Hindu mythology. It doesnt look like Christian church at all (anyway Hindu temples never do!), more like an amusement park like De Efteling (fairytale park in Holland).
The last temple we saw only comprised the map of India in marble relief; this temple was dedicated to Gandhi. In front of the temple we saw some schoolgirls, who were extremely interested in Jacques (and vice versa of course!). Children of the higher castes went to school without much money problems, and these children were in fact the only Indian people with whom we had contacts that hadnt anything to do with money. They were a bit shy, but very curious and liked to meet this strange European people. Jacques, with his white hair, must have looked like a real European Guru! They liked very much to touch him, it is a pity I dont have a picture of that time in Agra (Amber Fort), when he shaked hands with at least two complete school classes, who lined up it seemed just for this purpose! Some presidential ambitions maybe, Jacques??
This concludes our visit to Varanasi. Or really it was concluded by our try to leave the country on our way to Nepal, which took a couple of hours longer than planned. Which isnt unusual at all, and so we didnt worry. Just we had to wait a couple of hours for the bus and we had to wait in a kind of building that would qualify more for demolishing than for finishing it was in the process of being built however I think (for the last ?? years)!
But we got on a bus and had a nice view from the bus directly on the small shops - maximum width seemed to be two meters - and all the booths, wooden structures that looked as if they could break down any moment. Every village had a long row of garage-like buildings next to the road, which were transformed into shops by opening the front rolling shutters. You could get a shave and a haircut, buy anything you want: big bunches of bananas, beautiful arranged combinations of fruit, tobacco to chew on, rolling-pins, colanders, enormous metal jugs, one-time-use-only flower-pot-like thee-cup pottery (sold only by the hundred I think, judging from the huge pyramids I saw), plastic buckets in all existing colors, even some souvenirs for tourist (but not many) and get your clothes and shoes mended at shops with Singer sewing machines and more obscure machinery dating from the beginning of this century or so. People were working, but very relaxed, while talking to passers-by and to neighbor shop owners.