Category Archives: religion

temples, holidays, festivals

A really, really big Shiva

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When we got up for our adventure this morning, Kaden said, “Promise me you are not going to add anything extra on to this trip!” I do have a habit of doing ‘just one more thing.’ She’s on to me. I’ll only agree to the original plan!” So we stuck to the plan today—see the six-story high Shiva, look for art supplies and have a nice lunch.

I was stir crazy and ready for an outing. Yesterday was Ugadi—the New Year celebration in the Deccan region of India—south Central India. The traditional calendar of this region starts the new year at the beginning of spring. All schools were closed. People headed out of town. The driver took the day off. We were stuck at home. Not so terrible except the day before I was home all day as well with a head cold. For 48 hours, I had hoped to be lazy. But the television as usual had nothing on it. I read three books, emptied my email inbox, and took a nap each day. I was ready to get out of the house.

So off we went to find the six foot tall Shiva. This temple was not an ancient, historical relic like others that we had visited. Rather, this was like an amusement park holy site. The place seemed brand new. To enter you had to wander through several craft stores (which much to my delight had incredibly cheap prices).

We then reached a ticket booth where they advised us to buy the six in one ticket so that we saved money. Sounded like a racket, so we said no.  Ahead of us was indeed a six story Shiva, all done up in bright colors and plastic perhaps, with a fountain streaming out of the back of his head.

Shiva is the creator and destroyer and we learned that day that you pray to Shiva to control your anger.

  

To get to Shiva, we had to navigate a series of activities. Pay 60 rupees to put 108 coins in successive bowls while chanting the manta, “Om namaya shiva.” We skipped that.

Buy Prasad as an offering to the Gods. We did that and saw the woman smash the coconut for us and give it back to us. We walked up some steps.

Then they told us to buy a ticket to get down to Shiva, but it was through what seemed like a Haunted House. It was a dark cave in which we crowded a foot bridge, took little twisty turns, and walked up and down steps. Kaden chose to skip that part. I took Carson. The focal point was a stalagmite made out of ice that you were to touch for good luck (like an upside down icicle). The ice felt nice and cool on a hot day. Imagine my surprise when I told my mom about what we found and she told me that the ice was to represent the linga of Shiva. As in, please touch this phallic projection of the God. What????!!??  Turns out that often Shiva is only presented as a linga and not as a full God.

The kids then asked to throw a coin in the fountain for good luck. The sign said to chant “Om Namah Shivaya” seven times before chatting the coin. Carson did so and threw in his coin. Kaden threw her coin and it missed. She wanted to go get it and try again. But since the coin was offered to the God, my mom worried there would be quite an issue if Kaden went crawling for the coin. So she found her another one.

The temple had several other activities, such as pouring milk, going into another cave.

Everything was written on English placards. The Temple seemed more like a “how to” set of Hindu activities than an actual place to worship. Plus, you could take photos if you paid another fee.  True temples do not allow photos.  But, the kids had fun. And the shopping was good.

We then made a stop at MG road to an Art Supply store to get Kaden some supplies for her Science Fair Project. This shop was our third try. Kaden wanted a tri-fold board to display her project.  After trying the Office Depot in the mall, the Reliance store and now the oldest book store and art supply store in town, it is clear that trifold displays do not exist in Bangalore. So she bought a couple of thin boards of canvas and we hope we can keep them together.

Then we headed off to lunch. Kaden insisted that we had to eat at the restaurant where Uncle Kinjal walked into the glass wall. I was less than excited about this plan since I had just eaten there a few days ago. In fact, we had caused a bit of a scene again there during our last visit. My parents and I had limited time to eat there since we had to rush back to the kids’ school for Kaden’s soccer game. There was a huge IT conference happening at the hotel.

 

I had forgotten my phone at home, and our fabulous new driver was unable to park at the hotel. He didn’t know I was missing my phone and was awaiting my call around the corner. We couldn’t find him. He wondered why we weren’t calling. My mom got in such a state that she asked the hotel to hire us a car. I finally wandered out of the hotel gates and found Shiva. Meanwhile, the air conditioning had since broken and he had called another van to come to bring us home.  We had to transfer our packages and the new driver said, “Please buckle up. I will get you to that football match!”

So fast forward to our most recent visit. The doorman recognized us from a few days ago and said welcome back. We walk into the restaurant and make a big fuss about wanting a table by the window. Carson is starving. He starts toward the buffet and heaps a big pile of rice on his plate. Kaden bursts into tears. This wasn’t the restaurant she had thought. She had confused this restaurant with the Taj West End where they had the best ice cream in town. She didn’t want to be here at all. She didn’t even like the French fries here. We had to leave.  With her grandmother present, we did indeed leave. Carson left his plate of rice sitting on the buffet. And we slunk back to our car.

The meal at the Taj West End was delightful though. Carson got his favorite Pasta Bolognese. Kaden ate rolls, French fries and ice cream to her hearts content. And we chatted with a couple from Mendocino at the next table.

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Penn State faculty take on Bangalore!

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Kim and Leticia, my friend/fellow professors at Penn State joined me here in Bangalore for a business/sightseeing trip. They  planned their trip in India to last only SIX days due to commitments back home. Quite a whirlwind tour.   They arrived at 2:30 in the morning.  They met the kids when they awoke for school and then bravely joined me in my yoga class by 9 a.m. Then we headed off to see some B’Lore sights. First stop: Nandi the Bull

Kim and Leti got blessings from the Hindu priest at the Nandi statue

  

We also visited the Ganesh that is supposedly made out of Ghee (butter). But I swear it looked like stone to us.

  

Then I showed them the bats in the nearby park! Flying foxes!

Kim and Leti had the misfortune of being here on the day that my driver situation self destructed. After Nandi the Bull we were to visit Tipu’s Fort and Tipu’s Palace. But  instead, the driver started heading to the other side of town. We gave up on the sightseeing and decided to head to the Taj West End for a delicious buffet lunch at Mynt. Below are two photos from the Taj Grounds.

We then set out to do a bit of shopping. But the driver got lost again heading to Commercial Street–one of the biggest landmarks of Bangalore. We just had time to stop in at our favorite bedspread store.

Back home we spent some quality time with the two new additions to our neighborhood–a one month old Golden Retriever puppy named Angel

And  a three month old Golden puppy named Flash!  We love them both. But quite the different personalities–a newborn and a mischievous toddler!

   

Holy Holi!

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March 8 marks the day of the Holi holiday in India. It is a Hindu holiday that celebrates the arrival of Spring. It is mainly a Northern India  extravaganza. People throw powdered colors and spray colored water on one another. In Calcutta, where my parents are right now, you just don’t leave your house unless you intend on getting doused in color. Here in Bangalore it is more celebrated in controlled celebrations in apartment complexes and schools. Driving into town for some lunch and shopping, we saw some college aged kiddos having fun dousing each other at bus stops and street corners, but otherwise it was business as usual.

Both kiddos learned about Holi in their Hindi classes this week. Kaden can tell you the whole story about the gods and goddesses behind the Holi story.It is a very long story and suffice to say, they tried to kill this woman many different ways and she wouldn’t go down.  Carson can tell you about how the colors used in Holi stand for blood and the bonfires lit the night before stand for the fire in the story.

In terms of celebrations, according to Wikipedia, “In most areas, Holi lasts about two days. One of Holi’s biggest customs is the loosening strictness of social structures, which normally include age, sex, status, and caste. Holi closes the wide gaps between social classes and brings Hindus together. Together, the rich and poor, women and men, enjoy each other’s presence on this joyous day. Additionally, Holi lowers the strictness of social norms. No one expects polite behavior; as a result, the atmosphere is filled with excitement and joy.”

The CIS school were to celebrate Holi on Friday after school. So, Todd and I had to go on a mission this week to find Holi guns. We tried several shops/shacks/counters in Yelahanka. We finally found what we needed at this little hut called Krishna’s Gift and Fancy store.  We bought one water pistol and one pump for each kid. Thankfully, our driver came in to ensure that they shopkeeper didn’t double the price for us Americans!

These are the packs of powder that you throw at one another!

      

Friday after school was time to “play Holi” at CIS. We all arrived to pick up our kids and drive them down the road to the Tennis Academy where the melee began. The kids were to arrive with “clothes that you are ready to throw away, water pistols, a towel, a snack, and a bottle of water.”  At the advice of the yoga moms, I also coated the kids’ hair in baby oil and also covered their bodies in it–these dyes can stain for quite a few days!

They PTO had set up buckets of colored water and lots of colored powders as well that you throw at one another. Kids brought water guns and these big syringes called pichkaris. Luckily we bought both yesterday!  The kids had a blast. Kaden was the last one left standing I think–covered in color from head to toe. She was so busy that I hardly got any pictures of her.

   

  

Me and my yoga mamas– Kathryn, me,  Helen and Anne.

Below: Carson with a direct hit! and me with another yogini–Meena!

      

Hanging out in Jew Town (yes, that’s really what it’s called)

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On our last day in Kochi, we hired a car/driver to visit the historic area of town called Mattancherry. We visited “Jew Town”, the area of town that has the oldest synagogue in India. They didn’t allow photos, but here is a picture from the internet of the inside of they synagogue. The chandeliers were very unusual and the blue tiled floor was beautiful. While this area used to be the largest Jewish population in the country, the synagogue now only has 6 families attending. For some ceremonies, this synagogue must rely on Jewish tourists to have enough people to properly conduct the rituals.

We also visited the Dutch palace (to the right). It was half under renovation and not really worth seeing. Then we walked around Jew Town, with tons of shops (above). We got some fun treasures including a new Elephant tea cozy, a pashmina, and some gifts. We found a lovely European cafe (below) where we had Swiss Cake and some delicious drinks before continuing our shopping.

  

On the way back to the hotel, the driver suggested that we stop at the Folklore Museum. The building was pieced together with parts of old buildings. The whole museum is the private collection of one man. Very extensive!

   

Lots of statues and great masks for dance and theater performances!

  

The top floor was a beautiful auditorium for performances. Would have been great to see one here!

  

  

Sunset at the Chinese Fishing Nets

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The first night at the conference, I wanted us to head into Fort Cochin to do a bit of sightseeing. I didn’t realize our hotel was so far away from everything! We hired a cab, which was a rather junky car. Air conditioning was an extra 100 rupees or $2). On the way, we saw a fantastic set of elephants along the way though, headed to a big temple celebration.

  

The elephants were beautiful, but unfortunately this temple celebration also included fireworks and cannons that lasted for an hour–at 10:00 at night and then again from 5-6 in the morning–TWO NIGHTS in a room. And the hotel sounded like it was being bombed each night!

When we go to Fort Cochin we had trouble finding our way. We had one of those annoying vacation moments when we’re hot, tired, we are lacking a map and we just are wandering aimlessly down yucky streets wondering what the fuss is about.We did come upon an old Catholic Basilica. As it was Saturday evening, they were holding mass in the local language.  People were spilling out of of the back of the church listening to the homily when we arrived.

When then backtracked to the waters and finally found our way to the beautiful pathway that lines the seashore of Fort Cochin.  The coast is lined with Chinese Fishing nets.

Fisherman lay out their catches along the walk. The adventurous buy the food and take it to one of the huts along the short and have them fry it up on the spot!

  

We were lucky to get there just in time for the sunset.

  

On the way back to the car, Carson wanted to do some climbing in a local park.

Then it was time to head back to the hotel for a fancy dinner on the back veranda.

Houseboatting on the backwaters of Kerala

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It has been an amazing three weeks. Parasailing in Goa, spotting leopards in Nagarhole. And today we sailed in a houseboat along the backwaters of Kerala. We took a three hour journey. You can go for days, and that would have been wonderful if it were just Todd and me. Three hours was just right for the kiddos.

Absolutely beautiful scenery. The backwaters are canals made to provide water to the rice paddies that line both sides of the water.

   

    

We had a staff of three men to drive the boat and cook us a delicious lunch. We requested plain rice, fresh fruit and French fries for the kiddos. For the grownups, we had delicious Keralan food, including really delicious nutty brown rice, a curried cabbage that was out of this world, dal, curd (yogurt), spiced carrots and green beans, and seasoned seerfish.

  

The highlight of the meal was the large prawns that we selected ourselves. The boat made a stop at a fishery and we chose among the fresh catch of the morning.

  

Carson was fascinated by the crabs in one bucket.

     

We made one more stop to see a Catholic church that was over 400 years old. The inside was very ornate with beautiful colors (no photos allowed inside). A woman and a man were chanting inside the church in a way that sounded like Hindu chanting. The blend of Indian traditions and what we expected to see in a Catholic Church was fascinating.

  

We saw beautiful churches, houses, temples.

  

  

People fishing and women bathing, lots of clothes washing.

At this shop we also got some souvenirs for ourselves and others. Kaden got a little wooden Lakshmi for her room (her favorite Goddess). I found a silver and black elephant festooned pashmina. We also got some wooden Keralan bells for our house.

Other than those events, the main task of the trip was to kick up our feet and relax. And occasionally wave at kids along the banks and passing houseboats. Total bliss.

   

       

Schooling, Art of Living style

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As mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I travelled south of Bangalore to visit the premiere example of an Art of Living School. AOL has 175 schools across India, with the goal of providing free, quality education to poor rural children.

The school that I was visiting has been in existence for 22 years. It was the first school started by Sri Sri and is considered the model for all of the others. By Indian standards, it seemed like a typical school. 60 children to a classroom, designed in a traditional format. The children learn Kanada, English and Sanskrit and follow the prescribed state curriculum.  They start at age 5 and go all the way up to the 10th standard. Also, the children who choose to get more education than 10th standard can stay and move on to the 11th and 12th grade pre-university school that is right there on the campus. They also teacher the women especially to be tailors so that if they do not carry on with their education they can have a trade that will earn them a good wage and not have to be servants.

The main difference between this school and other schools is that first thing in the morning these children participate in a meditation for 20 minutes. They start the day with silence and pranayama (breathing). I tried to ask if they had done any studies showing the benefit of beginning a school day with meditation. The principal didn’t quite understand me, but he did say that they have very few disciplinary problems and the kids are ready to learn. I imagine that 20 minutes of mediation makes a huge difference in how the day goes in a school. Heck if we all started the day with 20 minutes of silence and breathing the world would be a different place (so why don’t I ever seem to be disinclined enough to sit in silence, I ask my Quaker self?)

When I was visiting the 10th grade was taking their ever important 10th grade exams. The principal interrupted the exams for me to come in to the classroom. The students were working on geometry problems. I was so embarrassed to be interrupting! 10th grade exams are EVERYTHING IN India. They determine your entire destiny. I did not want to bother those kiddos!  I left quickly and sent s many positive vibes as I possibly could. At least I was pleased to see that the exams were open ended questions—not just multiple choice like in the U.S.!

After the 10th grade rooms, I visited other 7th, and 9th grade classrooms busy with school work—primarily social studies (learning the rules of local government) and Sanskrit).  Each classroom had approximately 60 students. Very common for Indian schools. Mind boggling if you’re used to U.S. schools.

In each class that I visited I introduced myself very simply. “I am from the United States. I am a professor there. I have come to learn about your school!” And then a couple of times I tried to ask them questions like,

“What do you like about your school?”

“Everything!” they would shout.  (Although in fairness I was standing next to the principal when I asked the question).

“What would you change about your school”   A girl responded, “Everything has changed since I have come to this school.”   That was a powerful moment. Maybe worth the two hour drive through traffic!

The school serves children from 24 villages surrounding the Ashram. I asked how they choose who comes and they said that they do not. They serve any child in the 24 villages who wants to attend. No charge. Busses pick them up. I asked if the parents also receive training, especially in the kriya and AOL meditation. The school sends facilitators to the villages to give trainings to the parents in a form of meditation. All parents of the children in the school have attended these workshops.

The school also serves children from Manipur, a region from the north. The children from Manipur were rescued from child trafficking and brought to the Ashram to live permanently. Most often, their parents had tried to sell them away to prostitution, child labor, other nations, and so on. These children were kept separate from the other children because they were taught as English being their primary language and the other children were primarily taught in Kannada. English was not their primary language back home but whatever their language was, they would not be speaking it much more.  The girls from the “English medium” classes ‘(below) were the most talkative.

“Tell us a story about where you come from!” one said. I wasn’t ready for that, but I told them that Penn State had 40,000 students and that the American football games would draw crowds of 110,000 people. But even though I said American football, they still thought I meant soccer. The principal said, “These boys won the football championship this year! And the girls won national championships in Tae Kwon Do and will go to Dubai to compete!”  Sports are offered at this school—government schools offer nothing.

I could tell that some of the boys were trouble in the English Medium class (aka Northern kids who were almost sold into slavery). It is not a surprise given their experience. But in each class the principal would walk in before me and the kids would stand up and say “Good morning sir!” and salute him! I never saw that in any other school here. But in the English medium class, the boys in the back row were VERY, VERY slow to get up and I could tell the principal was deciding whether it was worth the fight to make a fuss about it. not wearing the uniforms either!

I spoke with the principal a while as well plus a very nice woman who worked in the central office back at the Ashram. The principal had been the head of the school for 16 years. He had lived at the Ashram for 12 and then got married and moved to al local village. I usually can talk to the principal for hours, but this guy didn’t have all that much to say.

The woman was more talkative. She came to AOL right out of college. She had visited the ashram as a guest and ended up staying to work with the schools. She said, “I always knew I wanted to serve.” AOL wasn’t her plan but it seemed like a good fit. She serves as a link between the local schools and the board of trustees. Each month the schools must write a report back to the Ashram (That seems like a LOT of reports. Quarterly would be sufficient if I was in charge). Her job is to synthesize those reports and share them with the board. Plus she is involved in ongoing needs/issues for the schools, which are geographically all over the country. I asked her if they faced trouble finding qualified teachers for all of the schools—an issue for all of India. She said that they prefer to hire Art of Living people. They approach volunteers that they think would be suited for the job and also they train poor people to become teachers in their own villages. They are paid a good salary, she said, but the goal is also to help to change the lives of adults as well who could become great teachers.

I left the school feeling disappointed. While the school’s banner says “Values-based education” I didn’t seem much different other than the kriya. Certainly it seemed to be a “good” school, in that the kids seemed to be much happier than in some of the other schools that I have seen. The principal and central office woman emphasized that the school provides quality education throughout in ways that the government schools don’t care or have the resources to do. The facilities were not much different than the government schools, but the vibe did seem much more positive. I cannot comment on the quality of the teaching.  But I left wondering what more they could be doing they that aren’t doing. Why they don’t try to stretch the boundaries any more than they do?  I get the sense, much like the government schools in some way that the focus is on providing an education to all. Not so much about changing how we thinking about schooling. Although there does seem to be an emphasis on quality here that I do not see in the government schools.