Wednesday, 7 May 2014

... Crouch With Tigers, Hide With Dragons: Hinduism 101

Today there was some time for a little bit of R n' R before heading to the hustle and bustle of "the City of Life" Varanasi via the overnight train from Jhansi. I even managed to sleep in until just after 9am! That, for me, is a lie in.

A sunlit breakfast in a palace whilst trying to wrap my head around Hinduism was a great way to start the day. I'm not even sure I made a small dent however, as there are 330 million gods/goddesses. It is one of the oldest religions and yet has no founder/central authority. Basically Hindus believe in Brahman, who is formless, eternal and the source of all existence (everything in existence emanates from it and will return to it). The gods/goddesses are only manifestations of this phenomenon. Hindus believe life (as we know it) is a circle thus you are born again and again (samsara). The quality of each of these lives depends on your conduct/actions (karma) in the previous. If you have good morals/ behaviour (dharma) then you have a better chance of being reborn into a better life. If you have bad karma then chances are you're coming back as a slug or some other animal form. Liberation (moksha) from the cycle of reincarnation can only be achieved in human form.

Brahman has three main representations: Brahma, whose role is seen during the creation of the universe; Vishnu (the preserver or sustainer), who is associated with "right action" and it is said the Ganges flows from his feet; Shiva is the destroyer to deliver salvation, without whom creation couldn't occur. Other prominent deities are the elephant-headed Ganesh (good luck/fortune) and the monkey-faced Hanuman (physical strength/perseverance and devotion) who participated in Rama's war.

By the time I appeared to have got my head around all that it was time for lunch. The palace has a mango orchard not far from the grounds and today's lunch was not only served up there but cooked/ prepared there too. Even the mango chutney was prepared on a slab of stone with rounded stone like a mortar and pestle. As authentically local as local can be, I was soon eating okra & eggplant curries, a dal and mango chutney off a plate and a bowl made of leaves using my fingers and roti. To finish off there was a delicious serving of kheer (rice pudding). It was all amazing.

After a 3+hr-sometimes-a-little-hair-raising-ride back to Jhansi train station I was sitting in the waiting room pretending to be enthralled by the cricket on TV. The train wasn't due until 1015pm and I was almost an hour early. Waiting on the platform provided me me with same sights as Agra's did the other day except with the added "bonus" of lots of rats. I think though after having seen some of the most unsanitary looking things since I basically set foot in Beijing I have become desensitized. I'm not yet sure whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. Although, 20 minutes after claiming the train was arriving and no train at the platform, I was kind of glad that the stench was not churning my stomach. Never mind "what has been seen cannot be unseen", there's also "what has been smelt cannot be unsmelt" (if there be such a word). At least inside the train, once it did arrive, my bed for the night appeared to be clean, I didn't have to fight for my prebooked seat/bed in tier 2 AC and I'm about to be cocooned in my sleeping bag liner with my trusty ear plugs without having to move for hopefully the next 10 or so hours at least!

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