Hare Krishna

by Berck

The manager of one of the teams in Bangalore has insisted on showing us around this weekend. Yesterday, we went to the Veerabhadra Temple. I’m not sure what I imagined, but it didn’t really fit any idea of “temple” I had in my head.

I don’t understand any religion from a rational basis, but Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a common, familiar structure that I can understand to be comforting for some. Paganism is far removed but has, for me, a coherent literary structure and while I’ve never encountered contemporaneous practice, historical practice seems logical.

Hinduism, from my very first exposure has seemed nearly impenetrable. I suspect this is at least in part due to the lack of effort I’ve put into it, but even its practitioners come across to me as confused. The brief facts I know about Hinduism seem as though my childhood textbook writers picked arbitrary facts that were easy to convey with single words: polytheism, reincarnation, caste-system. None of which make any effort to get any core belief.

And maybe that’s because Hinduism isn’t actually a religion in the same sense of other religions I’m familiar with. From Wikipedia:

Hinduism includes a diversity of ideas on spirituality and traditions, but has no ecclesiastical order, no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, no prophet(s) nor any binding holy book; Hindus can choose to be polytheistic, pantheistic, monotheistic, monistic, agnostic, atheistic or humanist. Because of the wide range of traditions and ideas covered by the term Hinduism, arriving at a comprehensive definition is difficult. The religion “defies our desire to define and categorize it”. Hinduism has been variously defined as a religion, a religious tradition, a set of religious beliefs, and “a way of life”. From a Western lexical standpoint, Hinduism like other faiths is appropriately referred to as a religion. In India the term dharma is preferred, which is broader than the western term religion.

My notion of a temple is thus rooted in my experience with temples I’ve known thus far: Jewish, Christian, Muslim and quite a few pagan ruins.

The Veerabhadra Temple is an odd (to me, but common for India) architectural ruin and functioning temple. The outside is surrounded by engraved, well-worn columns, frescoed ceilings, dirt floors. The frescoes are fading or have disappeared and the figures in the columns are eroding. There is no apparent effort to preserve the 500-year-old structure. Visitors touch the columns. The place is dirty.

On the inside, there are several idols attended to by priests (?). Devotees provide a small donation, and are rewarded with some words, some color smeared in their foreheads, some coconut water, maybe some fruit. I don’t really understand the exchange of fruit, as it seems to go both ways. The atmosphere inside is loud and chaotic and dingy and doesn’t resemble any sort of religious practice as I know it.

The drive to the temple was several hours and it was several hours back. I requested that today we see things in vicinity of Bangalore since we only had one day and it seemed like a city of 12 million probably had some interesting attractions without driving far away.

We started today by visiting ISKCON temple in town, home of the Hare Krishnas. We drove for nearly an hour and got to the temple only to discover that our coworker-guide had blindly followed his GPS to a small subsidiary temple and not at all the large temple we were trying to visit. We removed our shoes and visited anyway. I was permitted to take photographs of the idols.

We then drove for a long while down unpaved “roads” as our guide relied on Google Maps directions to navigate back to the correct temple. Google maps has a very good idea of where there are gaps between the buildings in Bangalore. Unfortunately, it thinks all of them are passable roads, and that’s simply not the case.

We eventually made it back to some main roads, and then after another hour, reached the temple we’d set out to see. Unlike the ancient temple it was built relatively recently. I was not allowed in wearing my shorts and to rent a dhoti to cover my obscene white legs, which greatly amused my coworkers.

The time spent in the temple itself was about 10% of the time spent in the massive complex of gift shops that you must pass through in order to exit. My coworkers were awfully interested in the various tchotchkes, but the perfumes and incense were more than I could take. While waiting for them, various Indians came by and took selfies with me. I’m not sure if they were amused because I was white, wearing a dhoti with a t-shirt, have a large beard, or the maybe the entire package. In any case, I’m probably lighting up Indian instagram.

At first I was glad to be able to walk around barefoot, but India is hot and my poor feet have grown soft since my days of perpetual barefootedness. I’m pretty sure I have blisters on my feet.

After another hour of driving and some back and forth about lunch after I requested spicy goat biryani, we arrived here for lunch. It’s apparently somehow related to this guy. I think.

In any case, the food was served on banana leaves and was quite good. Sadly, the biryani was only available as “medium” spicy, but it was still quite good. Instead of plates, the food is served on banana leaves and no silverware was offered. I’m not good at eating rice with my hands. We had a half-dozen different things, and they were all quite tasty. It was spicy enough to make me sweat, which is a good sign, but then all of India is hot enough that I’m not sure I’ve ever stopped sweating.

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