27th Feb 2012
Jagdish temple, Udaipur, Rajasthan
This evening I was taken with some singing and the sound of drums while feeling strangely compelled to buy a marble statuette of the Hindu deity Ganesh, always depicted as a human with an elephants head and a bowl of sweets in one of his four hands. I'd stood in the street earlier today as a woman delicately carved them in a niche, just off one of the back streets in the old town of Udaipur.
I was drawn to the sound of the music like a heathen moth to a spiritual flame and after wandering the narrow streets, with overhanging balconies decaying above me, I found myself standing in the middle of all the traffic, gazing up at the Jagdish temple with it's 79 foot spire reaching up to the heavens and covered in superb carvings of dancers, elephants and musicians.
In the rear, was a four armed idol of Vishnu, preserver of the universe in the Hindu religion. The idol, carved from a single black stone, was adorned with garlands of fragrant flowers and cloths of saffron, gold and yellow. Smoking, perfumed incense sticks smouldered at his feet.
A man began to sing with a voice that would make the greatest of crooners green at the gills and a boy aged no more than seven or eight began to play an elliptical shaped drum with the hands of an expert percussionist. Others joined in with miniature cymbals, some played like castanets, and several of the men took it in turns to play a large flat Celtic style drum. The left hand and fingers beat around the centre of the skin and the right wrist held it upright while the fingers of the same hand clicked and drummed along the upper edge producing a fantastic sound. The crowd then clapped and joined in with the singing, sometimes one or two of the men would shout and randomly stand up, throwing their hands up and then bowing to the idol. The leading vocalist would change tone, alternating between loud and soft, whilst the others sustained the core of the melody.
The Sunday service, in my experience, remains a staid, grey and bland affair with little emotion. A monotonous and almost obligatory style of worship as opposed to the gaiety and colourful abandon that, here in India, is a celebration of the Gods. The reverence and respect is still wholly apparent but it is a vibrant, musical and happy occasion and I have to say it is the most moving religious spectacle I have ever witnessed.
I have never experienced anything like this before and do not know quite what to make of my emotions or my thoughts. Am I religious? Is it inherent in all of us, though we invariably deny it until we lay on our death bed hoping that if there is a God or an afterlife that we have earned enough merit for the coveted place in an eternal paradise? I guess this is for the individual to decide but I feel calmer for the experience and more at one with the world than I have for a while. Perhaps it is merely my state of mind at this moment in time, caught up in the atmosphere of a world that is entirely new to me or perhaps it is just the heat.
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