<<  Rameshwaram, 14-Jan-2013  >>

Holy bathing - passive and active

Rameshwaram - love at first sight: bathing, pilgrims and amazing atmospehere

I LOVE RAMESHWARAM. It was advertised by Samo, who was here few years ago, as one of Tamil Nadu highlights, but I was bit reluctant to come here, because it’s a dead-end sideway and Lonely Planet does mention it, but not overly enthusiastically. I’m glad I decided to trust Samo and come here.

Rameshwaram is an important Hindu pilgrim place, because this is where Rama (the main hero of Ramayana and one of incarnations of god Vishnu) launched his attack on Sri Lanka to rescue princess Sita, with generous help from army of monkeys and bears, under leadership of his good comrade, monkey god Hanuman. Apart from that, Rama worshiped Shiva here, so this is the place where one god worshiped another one – just imagine how much divineness must be captured here. Pilgrims from all over India come here to take ritual bath in the ocean and then in a temple with 22 holy wells. LP says that you can see here India in miniature – from turban wearing Sikhs and tribes from Rajastan (read gypsies) to metropolitan people from Bombay, and they are damn right.
It’s festival of faces and clothes. And the people are even more photography-crazed than in Madurai, so most of the day I’m taking pictures of the people on their request and showing the pictures to them.
Here in Rameshwaram, I finally understood, that there is no better feeling than to spread happiness among people. Taking a photo and showing it so the person is not much of charity or phenomenal good deed, but even such a stupid little thing feels so right and fulfilling, when it puts smiles on all faces around. That’s why I don’t think that I will ever go back to my previous job for banks (or at least that kind of job) – although banking is important and people are bit unfair when they consider the banks as root of all evil, one thing is for sure, the banking does not spread any joy (maybe except to stockholders). You might say that lots of jobs don’t spread any joy, and people do them, but there are only few other jobs (if any), which would be perceived by the public as more vampire-like than the banking.
I originally came here to Rameshwaram for 1 or 2 days, but I’ll stay here for a week. For a while I was considering that I would stay here in Rameshwaram for couple of weeks, but I decided to continue with the traveling, because I want to visit one extremely fascinating place/event (just wait and see), and so in mid-February I have to be in north India. But here is my advice: for your next holiday, skip yet-another-round-of-splashing-around-in- Croatia or that ordinary vacation in Greece and come to Rameshwaram. You will experience colorful and exotic world of happiness. This place is the proof for my belief, that Hinduism is the best religion in the world (or at least from the major ones). For simple reason: instead of frustrating and scaring people with fires of hell and eternal doom, it makes people happy. And what is more important, it creates atmosphere of unity and belonging, I would say it creates communism in its literal meaning, not political: “ism” of community. India is anti-Petrzalka (district of Bratislava where I grew up), where people are packed in densely populated flats, but are isolated into millions of mini-galaxies, flat by flat, every family lives in its own universe, not touching anybody else’s universe. Here, people are packed in even much most densely populated place, but they share one common universe. Life happens on the streets in India. People dancing and singing together (…Pandurenga pandurenga! Pandurenga pandurenga! …), taking the holy baths together, taking pictures together… And while Christian religious music and painting has reached (at least according to my opinion) much higher level of artistic value an complexity than simple chants of Hinduism or naive depictions of Kirshna, what for is such music and painting if it does not spread joy? It might spread joy in American gospel groups, that’s OK, it did spread joy in the Pacific, where I saw people singing in cheerful harmonies on Sundays, but in most of the places, it spreads what? Fear of the god? I know, one might say, that it is art and as such it does not necessarily have to spread joy. It may spread awe, feeling of something higher, or it might be sufficient if it just spreads itself, art is art and that’s it, but it’s exactly this that I dare to doubt here in India. Should the religion be art? When you see people, who might work in IT company, bank, sell souvenirs or clean public toilets as they shout “Om Namah Shivaya” in the holy baths, it just makes you feel good, and you the fact that yesterday night Ave Maria touched your soul with melancholy, is somehow diluted. Didn’t Christianity convert into art-race as it was losing its real religious fundament? Well, as true atheist, what do I know? I guess that Christianity in its more serious days (which I guess still continue in Latin America, or in the Pacific as I saw it) might have created this kind of communism , but in my daily life in Europe, with its faded and empty churches, I just don’t feel it. Here in India, people go to take a holy bath but are smiling and shouting all the time, all the elders are splashing around like little kids and everyone is just happy. Well, the religion which worships phallus (Shiva Lingam) just can’t be wrong!
I took a walk down peninsula of Rameshwaram (Rameshwaram is actually an island, connected to the mainland by a bridge, and by the way I wanted to go back to the mainland by train, which is not going to be possible, because the bridge was damaged by a ship so only the road bridge remains open), which sticks out toward Sri Lanka, and in this beautiful, people-less strip of sand, I stumbled upon abandoned Christian mission, or church or whatever it was. Its altar was still there, behind a fence, but otherwise it was empty, except for a dead hawk lying on its floor. I found this very symbolic for this dying religion, which once, under leadership of hawkish conquerors, spread itself around the world, to places where it had nothing to do – like this lonesome stretch of sand reaching out from the holy Hindu city.

Yesterday I skipped the photographing in the temple and underwent the ritual itself. I took the bath in the 22 holy wells of the temple (taking the bath means, that designated bucket-spiller pulls a bucket full of holy water from the well and then spills is over heads of the pilgrims), and I also took the holy sea bath (probably the most disgusting body of seawater that I have ever stepped into, as hundreds of people bath within 100 meters and many of them lose some stuff in the water, so the visibility is 0cm and you step over some clothes, lost things, and hopefully not dead people, without nothing what is that yucky junk under your feet).
Anyway, after bathing in Ganga in Rishikesh, I accumulated some more Hindu credits, and after I’m finished with visits in all the holy cities of India, to which I intend to go, you can bet that all my sins will be washed away, karma spotless and nirvana guaranteed :-)

In the meantime, I will have to respond for 1 000 000 times to the same set of questions:
Them, pointing at themselves: “Photo, photo!”
Then I take the photo, show and it to them.
Them: “Super, super! Your country?” (“Super, super” is indeed very popular here)
Me: “Slovakia. Czechoslovakia.”
Them: “So-ro-wo-la-kiya?”
Then, someone deeply found of geography explains to all others: “Russia”, which is followed by recognition-full “Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!” (The same story happens to me in USA every time, but in USA they usually say Yugoslavia instead of Russia).
Them: “Your name?”
Me: “MAR-SEL” and then to be polite I usually aske their names and which state are they from.
End of conversation, and here we go with shaking hands with all 20 people belonging to the group.

But best question I got was way back in Mussoorie. One older man looked at me, obviously with his mouth full of important question, but being betrayed by his (lack of) English skills he was just looking and thinking, searching for that magic formula, but then his brain turned to turbo and finally he victoriously asked: “Made in?” :-DDDDDD

Being in India is little bit like being Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall. The beings around you look like almost you, but somehow they are not like you, they are not your kind. Now I’m of course not talking about any racial prejudices, but about those little cultural differences, which when combined, make that alien-in-disguise-like-feeling of something strange going on. So here I am, like leopard among tigers, or glass of brandy in the middle of a rum distillery, Marcel Strbak in the ocean of one billion Indians. But it’s wonderful. I don’t recall (heh, that word again) too many happier moments of my life, than these days in Rameshwaram, among smiling and singing “tigers”. I don’t mean Tamil Tigers :-)

The only thing which pisses me off in Rameshwaram is daily “wake-up call”. When I came back to India, I voluntarily shifted my wake-up time to 5:00, but that is simply not early enough for Rameshwaram. At 3:15 a.m. (yes, 3:15!) the music starts to blast out from the temple to wake up the whole city, and my hotel room is approximately 50m from the loudspeakers so I get the full load. The loudness of the music is so unbelievable, that it would make launching space shuttle suffer major inferiority complex. The music stops only at 6:30 a.m., when I really don’t want to sleep anymore. Aargghhh!!!!

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     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak