I always try to do these posts in chronological order, but I just had too much fun on Tuesday to not start sharing it now. I will backtrack after a few posts…..
When I found out that Michael was going to be busy the entire day of our first day in Pune, I contacted my friend Nupur and asked for suggestions of what I should do. She sent out emails to her Pune connections and they sent back an amazing array of sights to see. However, one of them suggested that I contact a private tour company, Chalo Heritage and Nature Walks (http://www.chalowalks.in/Default.html).
I emailed them on Monday, asking about a Tuesday tour, worried that I was too late. They responded quickly and said that they could take me out on Tuesday morning and even organized to pick me up from the Guesthouse on the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research campus.
The company is comprised of a couple, Jan and Rashid Ali. Today, Rashid was to be my guide.
He began by asking questions about me and my interests and then transitioning into information about his family and about Pune in general. Naturally, our first topic of conversation was the traffic. He said that there is one rule for driving in India…..if there is space, fill it!!!
We drove into a part of the city and found a parking place. As we left the vehicle he said that we would not be returning to the car but would be riding in Auto Rickshaws if that “was ok with me”. I told him that the only problem was that Michael would be jealous if I got to ride in one without him!!
We walked a small distance and entered into a quiet, park-like area. Here Rashid began to show me the breadth and depth of his knowledge!! He told me that approximately 80% of Indians practice Hinduism. He described it as a flexible religion with three main gods (Brahman, Vishnu and Shiva) but many, many lesser gods who represent various aspects of life.
Temples are built not only to worship these gods, but also saints as well, and that we were standing in a temple built to honor Jangali Marahaj (Lord of the Jungle). The story is that he was a giant of a man (over 7 feet tall) who had a wrestlers build. He practiced “hath” yoga and acquired many other powers thru that. Unfortunately he used his power for evil purposes, playing tricks on people and ensuring that everyone was scared of him. One day he tried to play a trick on Swami Samarth (a Swami is on a higher spiritual level) but the Swami caught him and convinced him that he should use his stature and power to do good in the world. He was sent into the jungle to meditate and when he emerged, he was a changed man. The temple is built in the area that is believed to be the jungle where this change occurred, although now the city has encroached so there is not much jungle left.
It is said that Jangali Marahaj was born as a Muslim but then converted to Hinduism so this temple is used by both religions. It contains his tomb which is a Muslim burial rite rather than cremation which is favored by Hindus.
….and each person who entered would ring one. They had a mesmeric tone, deep and resonate and Rashid revealed that the bell is rung to begin the meditative process within the worshiper. The tone resembles the “Om” chant that is used in meditation and the resonance and vibrations of the rung bell encourages the meditation. I will say that I listened to the bells in a different light as we continued.
….but also a relic of his footprints. You can see a metal box at the bottom of the photo and this is a representation of the actual relic. Once a year the relic is placed on a special carrier and is walked thru the city (called palkhi procession). This is an artistic representation of that event…..
We spent a few minutes just watching as the worshipers came thru the temple. Some would lay hands on the tomb, others would kiss it or place their head on it. Always walking clockwise around the shrine, they would touch various items in the room, including the oil lamp (which is said to have been burning a LONG time….I cant remember the exact number of years) and incense tower….
They estimate that this was built in the 8th century, making it the oldest structure in Pune. After gawking at this overwhelming accomplishment, we walked down and behind it and into the Pataleshwar cave temple that was also chiseled out the rock.
The pot above the linga is filled with water and there is a tiny hole that slowly drips water onto the flowers and linga below. And yes, there was a LOT of incense, accounting for the haze in this photo.
We strolled along the back of the cave thru a tunnel that had small places of worship strewn along the walls (you can see the orange powder on the right).
Once again, the worshipers would enter the temple and always walk clockwise around the back of the shrines and back to the front.
It is surmised that this was because of seismic activity that left a LONG crack in the back wall. It was, however, very interesting to see the change from unfinished to finished and to see how much detail had been carved into the finished rock…..
There is a bull statue in the foyer of the temple which is said to have two special characteristics. It is a fertility god and couples trying to have children are known to rub the testicles of the bull.
His second power is that he can reduce penance that an individual needs to perform. To glean this blessing, you cover one of his ears and then whisper into the other one.
Rashid said that if I looked closely, I would see that these “special” areas of the statue would be smoother and more highly polished. It reminded me of the toe of the St. Peter statue in Rome.
We exited the temple and stopped at a tree that had a shrine set up under it. The tree is called the Ficus religiosa (Sacred Fig) and is often associated with Hinduism and Buddhism. I did some additional research about the tree and found this comment…. “As an interesting fact, the leaves of this tree move continuously even when the air around is still and no wind is blowing. This phenomenon can be explained due to the long leaf stalk and the broad leaf structure. However, religious minded people in Hindu/Buddhist religion attribute this movement of the leaves to the fact that “devas” or “gods” reside on these leaves and make it move continuously. “
As I waited to take the photo, a woman laboriously climbed up the steps, worshiped at each of the stones, walked around the tree (clockwise of course) and then wobbled down again.
As we exited the temple compound, Rashid pointed out a tree called “Ficus bengalensis” (common name Indian Banyan tree). Some people also call it a “walking tree” because it grows outward from an existing tree, making it look like it is moving along the ground.
Most of the trailing roots had been trimmed off before they could reach the ground so that the tree wouldn’t “walk” any further!!
Rashid also told me that the Ficus seeds have a waxy coating on them and will not propagate until they have been ushered thru a bird’s digestive juices to break the wax down. This ensures that the tree has a wide dispersal. (Michael would have loved this stuff!!!)
As we walked across the street to catch a rickshaw, Rashid gave me spot-on directions for crossing the street. He said to “walk like a cow”, without looking to the right or the left but just straight in front of you!!! I know that I will NEVER accomplish this feat because I am always looking at what is coming at me!!!
The Rickshaws are basically a 3 wheeled motorcycle with a small cab attached. They are driven using handlebars rather than a wheel. In India they are a ubiquitous yellow and black and are notorious for helping to fill all of the “spaces” along the road.
I commented that one rickshaw in front of us had passed about 2 inches away from a car and Rashid’s answer was the “two inches is plenty of room”!!!
At one of the lights, there were students with signs urging safety on the roads with this one pertaining to wearing helmets on motorcycles.
It tickled me that he was standing in the MIDDLE of the road to encourage safety!!!
OK….enough for this post…..more to come!!!!