A pilgrimage through India:
This article is a compilation of thoughts and conclusions that I came to on this pilgrimage.
It’s been 3 years since I made my first trip to India when I spent 3 months touring around some cities in the north of the country: Delhi, Rishikesh, Varanasi, Jaipur and Dharamsala. The main purpose of that trip, besides tourism, was to practice yoga and give myself a little idea of where this ancient and millenary practice comes from.
Three years later, I have my second encounter with this incredible place. This time around, the purpose of the trip changed; I was there to immerse myself more in the philosophy of Yoga and Vedanta.
One of the main differences is that this trip was a pilgrimage and not a tour, We traveled in a group of around 40 people from different countries with the guidance of our Vedanta teacher. It’s called a pilgrimage because we went through different cities and important temples, taking Vedanta classes every day, meeting some Swamis who belong to the Vedic culture and participating in the pujas and other ceremonies and rituals.
This pilgrimage started in the southeast of India in a village called Mahabalipuram in the state of Chennai. The temple we visited here is dedicated to God Shiva and was the first Hindu temple which I had the opportunity to enter. It was a very different experience of what I was used to. Hindu temples do not resemble the Christian churches much. To be able to get in you have to remove your shoes and wear long pants, and sometimes you have to go through security. You cannot help but feel the powerful energy of some of the old temples! I got goose bumps when I listened to the prayers and mantras that were being recited by the pujaris (people who are in charge of doing the rituals every day). Hindu temples are places with very little light inside, most of the mantras they recite and rituals they do we have never seen or heard of before. These temples are a place were devotion flourishes at 100% and many of the people come to receive the blessings of the gods every day. There is not only one image or statue of God but hundreds! They can be represented in human figures or animals such as Ganesh, the elephant looking one. Why is it that in Hinduism there are so many Gods? In reality it is not that they have many Gods, their way of representing something as great as the creator of the whole universe is represented in different forms, each one with different qualities of the same God represented in different symbols: Gods and Goddesses that are part of the same form.
In Mahabalipuram you can also find ruins of temples with more than 3000 years old that are definitely worth visiting.
Second stop, Tiruvannamalai:
Birthplace of one of the most recognized and influential contemporary spiritual teachers of our time, Ramana Maharshi. Here we visited the ashram of Ramana and we were fortunate to be present on a very important holiday in India, the Shivaratri. Unlike other holidays Shivarati is celebrated at night, but during the day you can witness several spiritual rituals of puja and children reciting mantras; it was so impressive to witness.
We also walked to the mountain cave where Ramana was living and meditating for years, there we had an incredible view of the city where you can see the main temple from above. This was one of the temples that made the biggest impression on me for its architecture and its size, the temple of Annamalaiyar, which resembles pyramids that rise in the middle of the city.
In my trip through northern India 3 years ago I did not get the chance to enter a temple and witness how thousands of Hindus come to pray and meditate with such devotion. In fact, I haven’t had the opportunity to see temples are still up and running for hundred of years like this one.
Third stop, Madurai:
After a very long trip in bus we reached Maduari. In India there are hundreds of buildings, monuments, palaces and tourist things to see as the beautiful Taj Mahal, but there is nothing to compare with the great majestic and beautiful temple of Meenakshi Amman.
This temple fascinated me and by far it is my favorite! It is so big, has so many deities in its immense structures, has so many paintings and mandalas, has so many colors that we were all amazed, has very long corridors like labyrinths where you can see all kinds of sculptures of mythological creatures like lions with dragon bodies or demons, and has murals that are so long that a camera is not enough to take a full picture.
In the center of the place there’s like a pool with a sculpture of a beautiful and huge lotus flower, and if someday you go out there, do not hesitate to try one of the delicious snacks that are sold inside the temple in the small food stalls, hehe yes, there are food stalls inside some of the temples!
This temple is truly a work of art, the four highest towers are located in the direction of the cardinal points and are meticulously detailed with small figures of the deities, each one painted by hand with different colors, so perfect and so impressive that our “modern” buildings fall short in comparison.
It is worth visiting the temple at night also because there are fewer people and the lighting of the place is so fascinating that it feels like you just landed on another planet.
Great Meenakshi Amman
Fourth stop, the ashram:
An ashram is like a spiritual school in India where people go to study different things like the sacred texts such as the Vedas, sanskrit classes, yoga classes, meditation, daily rituals such as puja and in some cases there can be a work exchange.
The ashram we visited was the ashram of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the teacher of our current Vedanta teacher.
We had the privilege to take some classes with the current main teacher of the ashram and other resident Swamis. I have never stayed in an ashram before and get a glimpse of how life is like in there, a complete dedication to study and contemplation.
One would think that you go to an ashram to relax and be comfortable, a place where we will find inner peace without distractions we have in our cities. However, when we got there and spent a few days we realized that it is certainly not what we thought. Life in the ashram is really austere, there is no Internet, the beds are hard, and there is no food a la carte, you eat whatever is served, and bath or a shower? Better learn how to bathe with bucket and a bowl before getting there!
It is actually an excellent opportunity to get ourselves out of our comfort zone and grow personally, without distractions, without comfort, testing our inner strength and our desire to grow spiritually.
It is very important to know what are we studying and where it comes from, who are the teachers that have preserved this spiritual culture and try to find someone who is competent and well prepared to transmit this sacred knowledge, someone who has belonged to a school of tradition, because the path is very long and can be confusing. Spirituality, yoga, Vedanta, Ayurveda…etc. are not studied in a self-taught way. It is absolutely necessary to have a trained guide/teacher who has already been on this path much longer than you.
Conclusions of the trip:
The practice of Yoga as we know it today is one of many Sadhanas (practices) that purifie us, but it must be accompanied by other practices such as meditation, external and internal cleansing, the study of texts, chanting mantras, rituals, karma yoga and so on.
About Karma Yoga:
Karma yoga is not to give yoga classes for free or for minimum donation, nor to do selfless service. Karma yoga is the attitude that I have every day towards life and all the things that happen to me, with family and with all my relationships, at work, in society, etc. Always trying to act in the correct way based on ethical and moral values.
On the stages of human and Dharma:
In Vedanta there are stages in human development and it is important to know and to recognize what is your stage and what is expected of you in that particular stage.
Personally I am in an important transition in my life, going from the stage of being a young student to becoming a man, a man who is more ready to be of service to the society, and a man who is ready to create a family, what a task!
Going through this transition made me realize that this stage can be one of the most challenging stages but the most gratifying at the same time, it’s when you truly begin to reap the fruit of all your preparation thusfar. Becoming a family man is not an easy task, it requires a lot of work and maturity, and although fear is present, I believe that situations are presented to us so that we learn and grow, in the end, who is prepared for this? So here I am welcoming this new phase of my life!
Knowing this, it helped me to relax and realize that there is no rush to get anywhere, that I do not have to go to a cave in the Himalayas to find anything, that I do not have to look for special experiences, as a flower grows in its due time with the necessary care, we also grow and develop with time and with the necessary care, so relax, keep preparing and enjoy the ride!
This is where the Dharma truly comes in, to dedicate ourselves to doing what we are meant to do with the best of our effort and always rooted in ethical and moral values. This means that if I am a student I focus on studying, if I have a job I try to do my work the best I can, if I am a father I commit myself to give a good example to my children and give them what is necessary for their own growth and development, if I am a husband I behave as such, and so does everyone with their own obligations.
What I share in this article I share it from the heart, without trying to give sermons or teachings to anyone, I’m only sharing my experience and my vision.
I hope you find your own way at your own pace and that it gives you peace of mind.
If you have any comments please feel free to share it!
Hope you enjoyed the read.