Archive for October, 2008

28
Oct
08

the legend of diwali, festival of light.

Once upon a time, King Dasaratha ruled the prosperous kingdom of Ayodhya.  The King was blessed with four sons from his three wives: Rama, son of Kaushalya, was the eldest boy and heir to the throne of Ayodhya.  Bharat (son of second wife Kaikeyi), Lakshman and Shatrugan (twin sons of Sumitra) enjoyed the strong bonds of brotherhood.  Together the four boys mastered the mental and physical challenges presented by their teachers.

Eventually the King became too old and weak to rule the kingdom, so he named Rama as his successor.  All the citizens of Ayodhya were elated as they prepared for the coronation ceremony.  Second Queen Kaikeyi, however, was jealous that Rama would receive all the glory while her own son Bharat would have nothing.  Kaikeyi began scheming and plotting a way to have her own son crowned king. 

On the eve of Rama’s coronation Kaikeyi called King Dasaratha into her chambers.  She reminded him that he had vowed to grant her two wishes after she had saved his life many years ago.  The king remembered his vow, of course, and pledged once again to grant her wishes.  Kaikeyi then calmly told the King she wanted him to banish Rama for fourteen years and name her son Bharat as ruler of Ayodhya.  King Dasaratha was filled with sadness.  Although he did not want to rob Rama of his birthright, he was compelled to fulfill his promise to Kaikeyi.

Upon hearing his father’s decision Rama calmly accepted his fate and promised to fulfill his dharma (duty) by living out the term of his banishment.  Rama’s wife Sita and his brother Lakshman insisted on following Rama into exile, so the three began their journey south into the wild forest where they would live for fourteen years.

During their long exile Rama, Sita, and Lakshman fought many battles and performed countless heroic deeds.  They cemented alliances with the tribes and animals living in the forest.  Their reputation spread until nearly everyone had heard of their courage and fairness.

Fourteen years passed and finally the time arrived for the threesome to begin their journey back to Ayodhya.  But on the eve of their departure a great tragedy occurred.  Sita was captured by Ravana, the evil Lord of Lanka, and was taken to his lair in his kingdom south of India. 

When Rama and Lakshman discovered that Sita had been kidnapped, they appealed to their friends in the forest for help.  Legions of humans and animals came to their aid, building a great bridge across the sea to the land of Lanka.  In a bloody and violent battle that lasted more than ten days Rama and his army defeated Ravana, Lord of Lanka.

Finally Rama was reunited with his wife Sita.  Together with Lakshman they began their journey north to claim Rama’s rightful place as the King of Ayodhya.  Word of their glorious victory had spread and they were greeted by celebrations in every village and city they entered. 

 The kingdom of Ayodhya had planned an elaborate festival for the return of the King, his wife, and his brother.  The entire kingdom was ablaze with light as every building and home was decorated with lamps and candles.  There was a great feast that included dancing and fireworks.

During the festival of Diwali we remember Rama’s triumphant return to his kingdom.  We celebrate his faithfulness and courage.  As we light candles and hang lamps in our windows, we welcome the light of knowledge and virtue into our homes and hearts.

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28
Oct
08

holiday: gangtok, sikkim.

Gangtok, the capital of the state of Sikkim, is nestled in the Himalayas in northeast India.  

 

 

   The walkway approaching Buddhist monasteries is often lined with prayer wheels inscribed with the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”.  Through the practices of meditation and chanting this mantra Buddhists identify with the Buddha of Compassion, gradually expanding their compassion to include all sentient beings.  Spinning the prayer wheels accumulates the same merit as chanting the mantra, sharing the intention that all beings become free from suffering.

 

 

 

 

Prayer wheels at monastery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            the mall at Gangtok

 

 

 

 

 

 

          

 

Gangtok at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Every morning I awoke to see this woman performing her morning prayers on the terrace.

 

   

 

 

 

    

 

   We bounced along mountain roads, sometimes just inches from a 5000-foot drop.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Tsomgo (Changu) Lake, altitude 12,400 feet.

 

Yes, we rode on yaks.


26
Oct
08

holiday: chennai to chillika.

Mahabalipuram.

 

on the train from Chennai to Bhubaneshwar.

 

 

Sun Temple at Konark.  Reliefs of scenes from the Kama Sutra (“very sexy womens doing sexy acts”).

 

Temple is the shape of a chariot; wheels are also sun dials that are accurate to within a minute & a half.

 

on a boat at Chillika Lake, a large saltwater lake in the state of Orissa.


Irawaddy dolphin.

 

waves crashing at the bay of Bengal.

 

 

 

We drank fresh coconut water on the beach…

 

...and ate the MOST delicious shrimp cooked Bengali-style with mustard oil and masala.

 

On to to our next adventure!

22
Oct
08

the sun.

We finally finished uploading the photos from our trip– all 800 of them.  We’re still deciding which photos to keep and which ones are interesting enough to share.  I’m planning to post some in the next week, along with stories of our adventures.  In the mean time, take a look at sunrise and sunset scenes of the days in Darjeeling.

 

 

 

 

13
Oct
08

postcard from the himalayas.

The computer screen flickers awaiting my commands.  Voices from the street below distract me from the hastily scrawled notes in my journal.  The manager of the cyber cafe adds Hindi film music to soundtrack of my evening.  My muscles ache from thousands of steps up and down the hills of Sikkim, a state defined by the Himalayas in the northeast corner of India.  I’ve managed to steal a few moments from sightseeing to send a quick update on our travels.  When we return to Bombay next week, I’ll upload some of our photos but in the meantime I wanted to write a virtual postcard.

Our trip began in Chennai (Madras) where we visited Sam’s extended family.  Spending time with relatives was a highlight of our trip, as we were received with much love and enthusiasm!  We also celebrated with our cousin as he won the national championship in his division of car racing.

During the twenty-two hour train ride north, I stood in the doorway of the train compartment feeling the cool breeze rush past my face.  The contours of the lush landscape were visible as lightning flashed across the sky like bulbs on a Broadway marquee.     

The Sun Temple at Konark is carved with bas-reliefs of scenes from the Kama Sutra.  Our tour guide pointed out numerous scenes of “very sexy womens doing sexy acts” in the midnight dance.

We rode in a traditional fishing boat equipped with an outboard motor at Chillika Lake.  On a beach at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal we ate freshly-caught prawns (shrimp) cooked Bengali style with  mustard oil and masala.  Sandcrabs darted in and out of their lairs as we sipped fresh coconuts before returning to the boat.

No darshan ’til seven at the Kalighat Temple in Kolkata (Calcutta).  We walked shoeless through dirty gulleys marked with red paan spit, armed with prasad (sweets) to offer the goddess idol for the Durga Puja festival.  We pushed past the crowd of devotees with the intention of participating in one of the largest festivals in the state of West Bengal.  Upon reaching the gate, however, we were told we’d have to wait another hour to get in.  We left.

We have celebrated the last few mornings in Gangtok, Sikkim, with sunrise views of snow-covered Kanchengdzonga, the third highest mountain peak in the world.  The clouds begin to rise after the sun climbs higher, obscuring the peak for the rest of the day, so we woke early to marvel at its exquisite beauty.

Tomorrow we’re heading out to Darjeeling, the main tea producing region of India, where I intend to drink coffee shamelessly.  We’ll be back in Bombay next week, and I’ll post photos and more updates.  So check back in a few days!

love, mb