If you've just tuned in, I'm in India, at the tail-end of my tour. After finally getting some decent internet connection, I'm working through the backlog of travel nectar.
One week ago, on the afternoon of our departure from Sri Mayapur, we all gathered some snacks for the train trip to Puri. At various times of the day one can purchase sacred food, prasadam, that has been offered directly in the temple. Here's one of the dedicated men surrounded by some of the enormous quantities of cakes and sweets prepared in the vast temple kitchens, packing up some bags of fruit cake and crispy khajja for our train trip picnic.
Soon after I took this photo, we bundled our belongings into two jeeps and drove off to Kolkata for our trip to Puri.
Although Howrah station is a little over 100km away, it took us 5 hours to reach. This is not at all unusual, due to to the hellish nature of Bengal roads (with potholes the size of meteorite craters) and the congestion due to too many trucks, too many bikes, poor infrastructure and too many people.
The pollution in Calcutta has to be seen to be believed. The evening air resembled blue fog, with the noise of a thousand car horns adding to the lovable chaos.
Our little group made its way to the platform, boarded the Puri Express and settled in for what turned out to be quite a comfy, albeit chilly, all-night journey to Orissa.
Our first early-morning stop in Orissa state was at Cuttack, the ancient capital.
Here I am, 'bushy-eyed and bright-tailed', defrosting in the fresh morning air after a night of arctic air-conditioned Indian train travel in the famous 2-tier AC style.
A few hours later we arrived in Puri station, our Orissa destination for the next week.
This was our accomodation in Puri, the simple but peaceful Birla Guesthouse.
We were fortunate to be literally just across the road from many miles of magnificent beach. The roaring tides of my last visit to Puri were nowhere to be seen. The sea was calm and contented.
The waters that grace Puri are officially known as the Bay of Bengal, which is actually the Indian Ocean.
The sunrise over the Bay is magnificent, and I spent many an early morning dip splashing in the inviting 20 degree waters.
The sacred town of Puri is rich in cultural and spiritual heritage. Our little team spent many a day touring the various temples of this ancient pilgrimage spot. In each venue, we shared discussion of the significance and history of the place.
This is one of many sacred bathing places of Orissa. Immersion in the cool waters gives one an immediate, tangible peace.
One of my favourite places in Puri was the famous Bhajan Kutir (place of devotional residence) of my spiritual grandfather, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.
In the early 1920's (when the whole area was just jungle) Srila Bhaktisiddhanta (the guru and preceptor of my spiritual master Srila Prabhupada) imbibed centuries of Bhakti tradition to perform many years of intense chanting, devotional prayer and study in this sacred, attractive and tropical place.
This gathering of spiritual strength and grace empowered Srila Bhaktisiddhanta to establish a network of temples and spiritual publishing houses around India, the modern forerunner of what has become known as the Hare Krishna Movement in the modern world, under the expert guidance of his dear disciple (my guru) Srila Prabhupada.
Just outside the kutir was a wonderful goshalla where gorgeous cows and calves live in peace and contentment.
We attended ceremonies in the famous Tota Gopinatha Temple, another wonderful and spiritually potent treasurehouse dating back to the 15th century. This temple featured significantly in the life of the medieval father of the modern day Krishna Consciousness Movement, Sri Caitanya. He spent the last 18 years of his life here in Puri, enraptured in Divine Love.
We heard more wonderful narrations of these pastimes in the cool inner sanctum of this temple, where Sri Caitanya disappeared in the early 16th century at the age of 48.
All over Puri we found saintly devotees, especially widows, who had committed the final years of their lives to blissful spiritual discipline.
Puri is filled with various places of great significance to bhaktas, or devotees. Here's a shrine dedicated to Sri Hanuman, the famous divine monkey devotee of Lord Rama.
And here on a local rooftop are some modern day, less-than-divine Hanuman monkeys. Their black faces, long tails and more peaceful demeanour set them aside from their naughty shorter-tailed counterparts in Navadvip and Vrindavan.
In fact, as I write these words in an internet cafe in Sri Vrindavan, two monkeys decided to have sex on top of an electricity pole opposite, and shorted-out the whole street in a blaze of high-wire coital self-immolation.
Anyway - where was I? Oh yes...
Despite the inevitable modernisation, some aspects of life go on in India just as they have for centuries. Here's a lady cleaning and winnowing rice in a temple courtyard of Puri. The sepia tones add to the mood, yes?
Ok, well there's much more to see of Puri, so I'll publish that another day. Stay tuned!
Posted by Kurma on 17/11/07; 2:58:27 PM
from the dept.