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Finding spirituality in India

Caddie Nath
summit daily news
Special to the Daily
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There are thousands of temples in India.

They sit atop mountains and at the center of bustling cities. Some more closely resemble ornate palaces of marble and limestone than houses of worship in the western sense. Some are dimly lit, unpretentious structures that simply provide the locals a place to leave gifts for their gods.

One temple in the southern coastal town of Pondicherry is home to a beautiful Asian elephant named Lakshmi, who blesses her visitors with the tip of her trunk. Another, in the heart of India’s capital city of Delhi, is constructed in the shape of a lotus flower.

As an American and a Catholic, I was raised to think of the house of God as a cool, quiet place of reflection and reverance. But nothing about India is quiet and in the summer, nowhere is cool. And though I hiked Himalayan mountains, waited in endless lines in the sweltering heat and traveled the entire country to remove my chapals (sandals, in Hindi) and kneel in dozens of beautiful, ancient and unique temples, I couldn’t find divinity anywhere.

I’d made the 7,500-mile journey from my home in Colorado, to my father’s family’s nation of origin fully expecting a life-altering experience to knock me over at the airport. India, I was quite certain, was a land of unavoidable spiritual awakening, where foreigners find self-realization and natives celebrate the sunrise every morning on the Ganja. That is, if books were to be believed.

But it wasn’t that easy for me. When I first arrived in Delhi, all I could see was filth, corruption, inescapable heat and unimaginable suffering and poverty. There was no humanity, that I could see. There was no beauty, and, no matter how hard I looked, no divinity.

So I began chasing temples. Where else would I be more likely to find the grace I had once expected to hang in the air in India? But with each one I visited, though I always appreciated their beauty and distinctive character, I felt more frustrated, empty and confused.

Then, four weeks into my visit, I visited a temple buried in the woods outside Chanai, in southern India.

I arrived at night, and found the temple at the end of a row of merchants, selling religious necessities from makeshift stands by candle and lamplight. I bought my flowers and other gifts to offer to Ganesh, Shiva and the other Hindu deities I would encounter inside the temple and waited my turn to enter. The mouth of the little temple, which was just a single room, buried underground, was built to look like a dragon, with a staircase descending down its throat.

As I waited, lost in my own thoughts, I was approached by a tiny little boy, who probably lived nearby and for reasons I will never understand, found me particularly interesting. It took him a while to work up the courage to come close enough to talk to me, a feat I’m sure he didn’t realize the language barrier made impossible. He stared at me for sometime, probably trying to understand why I was so rude as to only speak to him in the gibberish English must have been in his ears. Finally, he made the first overture of friendship, offering a single word in Tamil. It might have been hello or his name or a question. I have no idea. Unable to respond, I repeated the word back to him.

His face lit up. This was an excellent game.

He then yelled something in Tamil, and I, eager to continue our unlikely friendship, shouted the same sounds back at him. He then jumped up and down in a circle with excitement and I, again, followed suit.

This continued for a few minutes, until finally my turn came to go into the temple. Realizing that I was leaving and our game was ended, I watched as he raced across the yard to a nearby hut as fast as his little bare feet would carry him.

And just before I descended into the mouth of the dragon I heard him tell his mother the story of our meeting and the game that followed, reenacting each bit of our interaction for her.

I couldn’t understand one word of his story, but in his voice was something that crosses linguistic, cultural, geographical and religious boundaries. Joy. Simple, sweet and so disarmingly familiar.

The Hindus believe that divinity lives inside each individual, that God’s true domain isn’t the four walls of a temple or a church. It’s the human heart.

It took me a month in India, prayers at dozens of temples and five minutes talking with a little boy whose name I will never know to realize that they are right.


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