Fulfilling a thirty-year old dream, I was fortunate to travel to India for two weeks at the end of 2016. India was simultaneously foreign and familiar. Foreign in the sense that I have never felt so far removed from my western culture. I was quite unprepared for the continual onslaught of sounds, scents, and sights. From hearing the incessant bleating of vehicle horns to smelling burning trash to seeing people living in dirt by the side of the road, it was difficult to take it all in. Yet the unbridled devotion for Maa that people displayed and the beautifully chaotic atmosphere of the temples were familiar and I found them oddly comforting.
I felt more like myself in India. While our travel schedule was somewhat grueling – we traveled every two days or so – I was surprisingly relaxed for the majority of the trip. Granted, I was far away from my daily routine of meal-making, child-rearing, and other householder duties, but it was more than that. I felt that India stripped away all my pretenses, all my identities, and brought forth the essential “me.” From this place of essence, I was able to (most times) live in the present. I felt like I was a sponge of sorts, absorbing all the experiences that India had to offer – the mystical, the mundane, and even the difficult.
Being in India also provided a historical and cultural context for a spiritual tradition that I have studied for decades. I realize that one need not travel to India to practice Hinduism or the Holy Land to practice Christianity – and indeed I have practiced both without ever leaving the States – but traveling around India gave me a deeper appreciation and understanding of my faith. While, of course, She is everywhere and in all things, experiencing Maa in the land where Her adoration and worship began was humbling and sublime. I understood how, in a tropical climate, the offering of cool water and a fan were hospitality necessities and how those items became incorporated into ritual. And while we were not witnesses to the actual sacrifice of a bull and a goat, we did see their heads being offered to Tara Maa. Suddenly the melon that we sacrifice in our California temple in lieu of livestock took on greater significance.
The ancientness of both terrain and temple sang out to me, stirring up deep connections. I walked the stones where great saints such as Sri Ramakrishna and Bamaksepa once walked; I dipped my hands in the sacred wellsprings at Kamakhya where hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims have immersed their hands; I received darshan from Tara Maa whose gaze has fallen upon multitudes of other yearning souls. And while my ethnic background is not South Asian, nonetheless I acutely felt the current of my lineage, birthed through my initiation and reconfirmed through my ordination, flow through me, coursing stronger than ever.
It was exactly because of this current that I realize that my experiences in India were so much more than me. I was one small lover of Maa plugged into a tradition that spans thousands of years and is comprised of millions of worshippers. Yet by Her grace and mercy, I found myself in Her homeland, as it were, and with the connection to my lineage validated and strengthened, I hope to be of greater service to Her.
Offered in Her Service by: Balipriya Dahl