Marvels and Mysteries of India, read the ad in The Senior Times. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to be part of this adventure.
Having traveled very little in my life and quite content in my comfort zone, I had no qualms about embarking on a voyage to discover the other side of the planet, even at my age.
Here was an opportunity, to be part of the parade, and above all, not to miss out. Arriving in Delhi — a city of over 10 million inhabitants — we met our Indian guide Rahul, who had been waiting for us at the airport for over three hours. We were a group of 20 and Rahul took charge.
We were going to visit north India, in particular, the state of Rajastan, bordering Pakistan. It means Land of Kings.
Traveling in an air-conditioned bus, we passed through large cities and the countryside. To get to the desert, we traveled by jeep and also rode camels. By the time we visited castles, palaces, mausoleums, temples, and fortresses, we were familiar with much background information, as our guide had told us stories from the area’s rich history.
I was fascinated by the stories of maharaja, maharani, of princes and princesses, and the Moghul invasion. I felt I was in the midst of the marvels of India. During the journey I tried to stop and savour, as much as possible the experience of being in Delhi, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Dechu, Jodhpur (the Blue City), Udaipur, Pushkar, Jaipur (the Pink City and capital of Rajasthan,) Agra, and the holy city of Varanassi.
For Hindus, family is primordial. The legal age for marriage for a woman is 18 and for a man, 21, and it is more a marriage between two families than a union of two individuals.
Rahul, our guide, taught us that India is a large country and Indians consider each other as brothers.
He said: “We don’t care about what happens in our home, but we worry about what happens at our neighbors. We do not live for ourselves, but for society. We don’t say ‘me’ or ‘I’, we say ‘we’. Since we are here, we must enjoy those who surround us. We live for our traditions, our customs.”
Non-violence is one of the most important tenets in Hinduism. Hindus are a welcoming people and I always felt at home and safe even in big crowds, in bazaars or at the camel market. Culture shock was not something I experienced in India, but rather upon my return, at the airport.
When my friend of over 30 years came to pick me up I wanted to give him a hug as a gesture of appreciation, but he backed away and said, “Don’t touch me.” What a disappointment!
The life within a community, being interested in others’ welfare, a whole country living like brothers and sisters, comes much closer to my values than the individualistic approach to life that is common here.
Painting miniatures has long been a favourite art form, painted by daylight in order to prevent artists becoming blind. The colours are from vegetable sources mixed with gum Arabic. They use two kinds of brushes, one made of one squirrel hair and the other made of the eyebrow hair of camels, extremely silky.
Gods and cows
Hinduism includes 33 million gods and goddesses. All that is, is sacred. Even for colours there are gods; god of red, god of yellow… There is no Supreme Being for Hindus but Shiva is one of the most respected among all the gods.
Portrayed as having many arms, the symbolism is that Shiva is able to do many things at once. According to Indian mythology, a cow was born at the same time as Shiva, and so became sacred. The life of a cow is considered to be more important than the life of a person outside the Caste system.
Cow dung, mixed with straw, is used for fuel and cow urine is used in various medicines. In India, plastic bags are forbidden, as cows may be hurt eating them. On the road we noticed a woman with a cow. Rahul explained that she was selling grass, which passers-by bought and fed to the cow.
In this way the buyer does a good deed, a concept essential to Hinduism. They are good to the gods and the gods are good to them in return. This is their philosophy.