Of course, just our luck, we arrive at the Ashram within a few days of a nine-day festival for the nine iterations of the Goddess Durga – the Navratri festival. So: food, dancing, music, henna on hands and feet. Yes please. Our co-host, Shree, is a certified girly-girl so she is our guide around town (such as it is) to the local jeweller and tailor, getting us kitted up and fitted out with party dresses, rings, bindi, anklets, and arranging for a local girl to come do our henna.
At Satsang, Shree tells us stories of the Goddess Durga and her ass-kicking ways in that colourful, witty way that Shree has, making spiritual study like an evening at the movies. Durga (Sanskrit for “the invincible”… she rides a lion after all, obvi) teaches us that being a courageous and intelligent woman is super most of the time, but if you need to pull out your inner Kali (another Goddess, covered in blood and wearing a necklace of men’s skulls that pop’s out of Durga’s forehead) to get shit done, then that’s ok too.
Navratri culminates in a big weekend-long party under a colourful tent constructed in the front courtyard of the Ashram. We “practice” a traditional dance with bamboo sticks (read: are given sticks and prance around on the lawn for 10 minutes out of sync with each other then are declared “ready” – sab kuch milega!) and perform this in front of 300 guests, and Guruji. It actually goes much better than expected, much better than you are probably picturing.
One of my photos (below) and one of Marc’s (above) are published in the Patrika paper – pretty cool (are we professional now?) and Marc, Kate and Shree are mentioned by name. I am not. #India.
The most memorable moment of the weekend occurred during the ritual/prayer at the Goddess temple in the ashram. In the week leading up to the festival the whole temple was meticulously cleaned top to bottom, repainted, and decorated.
Guruji sat up on the entrance to the temple, and we all gathered below. Everyone was in what we would call their “Sunday best” – even Ramuji, usually in his gardening clothes, was dressed up with a super-fine rainbow turban that he let Marc try.
And I saw this man, whose picture is now my desktop wallpaper because I love his fabulous attitude, studly sunglasses in the shade and magnificent moustache (you can see Ramuji on the left there).
I was invited up into the temple while Guruji started his mantras so that I could take some photographs for the Ashram. I’m not sure how to explain how special this was. I can’t find the words – magical? amazing? there’s nothing that can explain it. I was just drinking it in, trying so hard to commit every moment to my mental camera (uhh… memory) forever.
Then we were invited up to sit with everyone while Guruji chanted another mantra. Each phrase ended with “swaha” at which time each person took a pinch of a mix of sugar, ghee and coconut and threw this into the fire along with any “baggage” you were ready to literally and figuratively burn away. Then you could also offer gratitude into the fire, attracting more of the same by thanking God/universe/whatever for what you have been given so far.
We all chatted about it later – each of us were thinking the same thing: the chanting is repetitive, you are almost lulled into a trance, thinking about all the crap you can throw in the fire (d-bag old boss, I throw YOU in the fire, health issues I throw YOU in the fire, mean thing that chick said to me I throw YOU in the fire) and then each of us thought “how many more iterations of the chant are there?? I can’t think negative shit this whole time and waste this magical moment!!” and started putting in positive intentions.
At one point Marc and I turned to each other and locked eyes (how romantic) and in story-book fashion communicated so much to each other in a split-second moment.
This is all worth it
This is life changing
What a special experience
Aren’t we lucky
Pukhraj had the go-pro (he would never miss a chance to do so) and it turns out the moment is caught on camera… one of our most precious photos ever.
The last day wrapped up with a group selfie on the steps to the temple. Another keeper!