Goddesses of Gondol

Gondol is a tiny city in Gujarat that made up our next stop. We visited a tiny temple that made up in popularity what it lacked in size. Visiting was no simple occasion; a back courtyard held a stage decorated in images of politicians who visited the temple for campaigns and prayers.

 

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The script is Gujarati, and says “Bhagvan Ishu”, which means “Lord Jesus”

Shri Bhuvaneshwari Ma was the deity who reigned supreme here, and the upper portion of the temple was dedicated solely to her. Parts of the lower portion of the temple were dedicated to many iconic figures in Hinduism and South Asian culture. On one wall, Rabindranath Tagore’s face smiled down along with Siddhartha Buddha’s as Jesus prayed along side them. This hallway led to my favourite area of the temple, which was dedicated to Bhuvaneshwari Ma, Shiva ji, and other incarnations of the Goddess.

Everything is related in Hinduism; we are all part of the same soul that is contained in different bodies. This is part of why Hinduism has so many Gods and Goddesses. They are all incarnations of the absolute Brahman, or Paramatman. Humans too are a part of the Paramatman, and house smaller portions of Atman within transient bodies. The Paramatman manifests itself in forms like Gods and Goddesses, and us, human kind. The wall of Goddesses was in vivid colour, and vivid detail. In the centre of the room was a shivling with Maa Bhuvaneshwari sitting against the linga. The Goddess represents the energy of the Gods, and without her, he is but a mere corpse.

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Indian culture has many issues that stem from patriarchal belief systems, which is strange considering its love for the Goddess, usually figuring as “Ma” (mother). While many adore the Goddess and pray to her fervently, they do not treat the real female form with as much respect. To critique this juxtaposition, a campaign was run by Save our Sisters that portrayed the Goddess as an abuse victim. This highlighted the idea that we would never abuse the Goddess, and yet abuse women, the incarnation of her form. Indian religion and culture offer disturbing realities about our hypocritical natures.

The Goddess and the female form share similar duties and rolls when considering Hindu mythology:

These empowering aspects of Hinduism can be a defining force in feminism, both in India and around the world. Paying obeisance  to Bhuvaneshwari Ma and the Goddesses of Gondol can help us learn that the female form deserves the same respect!

 

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Sarangpur, Gujarat

At 3am in the morning, we arrived at our first destination. We were in Sarangpur, Gujarat.

The night was still dark; tiny moths fluttered around the single light in the Shri Hanuman Mandir compound. Few people were around, and those that were remained huddled around the lone chai stall to keep warm. 15° may not seem cold, but in Gujarat it was a Winter temperature. The chai drinkers were cloaked in shawls, and wore toques and scarves tied around their heads to keep the chill away. I kept my nose covered and concealed with a blanket; I had begun to feel the beginnings of a cold.

We brought two vehicles on our trip, the bus and a car. After the pilgrimage was over, our family was going to continue on to the Sasan Gir Forest as the bus began its way back home. While we waited for the bus to arrive, we booked a room to rest in.

On a walk back to the Dharamshala- we were in light jackets and shawls because while the sun was shining, it wasn't exactly warm.
On a walk back to the Dharamshala- we were in light jackets and shawls because while the sun was shining, it wasn’t exactly warm.

Large temples like the Kashtbhanjandev Hanumanji Mandir offer resting places for pilgrims called Dharamshalas. They aren’t hotels of course, but sparsely furnished rooms for devotees to stay in. When I wanted to take a bath, I had to fill a bucket of hot water from the hot water tap down the hall. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hot enough to stop the Winter chill from permeating my skin and reaching my bones. That cold was here to stay! When the sun began to rise, I watched Sarangpur come to life. The all too familiar sound of “tempo” trucks began, and the light let me get a better look at the compound.

Our parents and kakis from  our village pose in front of the Kashtbhanjan Mandir.
Our parents and kakis from our village pose in front of the Kashtbhanjan Mandir.

The Kashtbhanjandev Hanumanji Mandir and a Swaminarayan Mandir are located within the same area. Hanumanji is “the monkey God”, famous for his strength, and devotion to Lord Ram, an avatar of Vishnuji. He is most notable for his role in the Ramayan. The temple is known as a place of healing, and is popular among pilgrims. A second dharamshala was being built while we were there to house the many that stay there. I can understand why the temple was popular- it is absolutely breathtaking. After the bus arrived, we walked a gravelly and unkempt path from the dharamshalas to the temples. Store and stall owners hawked their wares at us as we passed by.

Check out the intricacy!
Check out the intricacy!

One of my favourite parts of Hinduism is the elaborate beauty of the religion. The temples are carved in spectacular detail, establishing years of rich religious history in a single wall span. This is in direct contrast to the simplicity of the religion as well- sometimes temples are nothing more than a low building with a crude sculpture or two. The real spiritual beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Patels on Pilgrimage

At the heart of the lived religious experience is the yearning for other places- as if in the centre of the heart there resides a void of Godliness that can only be filled by one thing. This is pilgrimage. It is akin to wanderlust, but on a wholly different playing field.

Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Al Haram Mosque and Kaaba Saudi ArabiaMuslims thirst for the holy city of Mecca, Catholics may yearn to see Vatican City. Hindus, which is what we are, don’t have one exact place to refer to as a home away from home. Instead. we have multiple mandirs and sites of importance, each surrounded by rich religious histories.

In Gujarati, we use the same word to refer to both travel and pilgrimage; travel around India usually means pilgrimage! Yatra or Jatra  is what we call it, the use of y or j being a dialectal difference. This year, we wanted to travel around Gujarat to learn about our own province.

The tourbus.
The tourbus that was rented for the trip. 

My parents wanted to give everyone the chance to receive blessings and go on pilgrimage, so they hired a tour bus to take 50 people on our trip. Word spread from village to village- we had a few people come to ask us if we had space for them as well. Pilgrimage, belief, and faith play a very important part in the Hindu psyche- there is so much fulfillment after prayer. I was immensely proud of my parents, as they were giving so many people who wouldn’t have the opportunity or income to go on pilgrimage the chance to do so. We had children as young as six, and elderly ladies who believed their last wishes had been fulfilled. It is truly beautiful to see how faith brings so many together.

On a cold December’s night, our bus arrived around 10:00 pm. The air was chilly, the village silent. The bustle and noise started once someone spread the news that the transportation had arrived. It caught like wildfire from there. We helped load luggage, and settle everyone into their seats. People from the village came to see us all off- we were a huge crowd in the village circle. As the bus was filled, I remember looking at the stars and naming constellations with our neighbours. Our pilgrimage was off to a beautiful start; at times noisy and chaotic, and then peaceful and sublime.

We were off to our first stop: Sarangpur!

I’m in Love with the Coco.

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The West has suddenly become enamoured with coconut oil, something the East has been using for thousands of years. Me? I’m more interested in eating them!

A few of our trees covered in coconuts.
A few of our trees covered in coconuts.

We’ve got a few trees in our backyard that always seem ready to give. When it’s time to have the coconuts dropped, we call over one of the young men in the village for his help- he climbs these palms like nobody’s business. He does it free-handed, and clambers into the leaves above the coconut bunches. Since coconuts have such thick skin, he tosses them down to the floor. We have very little casualties, with only a few coconuts cracking on impact.

Young coconuts beginning to grow. As they get bigger, a few will fall off to make room for the ones that are growing larger.
Young coconuts beginning to grow. As they get bigger, a few will fall off to make room for the ones that are growing larger.

We might’ve dropped over 100 coconuts during our trip, though that is a rough estimate. I was drinking 1-3 coconuts a day, and definitely wasn’t complaining. A fresh coconut tastes nothing like the water we get in cans and bottles here in Toronto. The fresh coconut we get here don’t compare either, quite frankly. Our coconuts are sweet, and have a distinct flavour- the palms aren’t watered at all except by the rains during the monsoons. It’s hard to enjoy them in Toronto when you know what they’re really meant to taste like!

Dried coconuts
Dried coconuts

One of the tastiest parts of the coconut is the meat, best when it is still young. After drinking a coconut, we’d crack them open and spoon out the delicious flesh. During different stages of coconut growth, you find different thicknesses of flesh, which gets thicker as the coconut ages and eventually dries. As coconuts are indigenous to our culture, their stages of growth have different meanings in our language (Gujarati), and many other Indian languages. The flesh is known as  “copru” when it is at its thickest, but not yet dry. We use it as food and in prayer. When it is at its driest state, with no water left in the coconut, it is called “vati”. This is the point at which the flesh can produce coconut oil. We sometimes just eat the coconut at this point, as it is extremely nutritious. In the south coconut oil is used in cooking, and it is used in hair all around India.

When buying coconuts from a seller on the street, there is only one thing better than quenching your thirst-watching the way they are cut! Check it out below:

 

Down by the Watering Hole

We’ve walked many miles in our travels in order to see as much of India as possible. Our steps have led us shopping all over Navsari, Mumbai, and Surat, and we’ve even climbed step after step while on pilgrimage in Girnar and its mountains. We’ve soaked in the scenery, the smells, and the sites of the country in sweeping glances. The only place our feet led us time and time again was our beloved taraav; the pond or watering hole.

The taraav; pond or watering hole.
The taraav; pond or watering hole.

On days when the sun beat down relentlessly and we found ourselves with nothing to do, we would walk on over to the taraav to sit down and chill out. For us it was a place of beauty, with lily pads and lotus flowers floating on its quiet waters. Cranes skimmed the surface of the pond with powerful wings as they landed noiselessly in the water. When the water begins to lessen during the dry season, buffalo come to feed on the tender grasses that grow in the soft mud. When the pond is full, it serves as many things for the people of the area.

Weaver bird nests hang over the water's edge. This is a clever way to try to keep other animals away from the eggs, though the long entrances to the main section already do so.
Weaver bird nests hang over the water’s edge. This is a clever way to try to keep other animals away from the eggs, though the long entrances to the main section already do so.

Water isn’t available whenever one may need it in our village. It is rationed, and comes in the morning around sunrise, and around 5-6 in the evening. We are usually able to fill multiple steel matkas, which last us through out the day and then some. It’s hard getting used to this when things in Toronto are so different. You begin to realize the importance of water when you’re waiting for it to arrive so you can have bath water the next day. Since water was rationed so often in the past, the taraav was the place to do the laundry.  We used to make trips with the villagers to do the washing when we were younger, always excited to dip our toes in the water. The steps are wide because of this- women sit on little stools and scrub their clothes on the area around them.

The patterns on stray cats are beautiful- something we would pay ridiculous amounts for in Canada.
The patterns on stray cats are beautiful- something we would pay ridiculous amounts for in Canada.

The recent wealth of Gujarat has made it so that our village doesn’t have to use the taraav to wash their clothes as often. People are beginning to purchase washing machines, and we are rationed more water at home so doing laundry there is easier and more plausible. It is strange to see a place that was once so important to livelihood in the village becoming akin to a tourist attraction for people like us- a place for a girl like me to play with a curious cat. My uncle once went for a swim in the taraav as a child- he nearly drowned. He only lived because a woman washing her clothes was able to pull him out of the water by his hair. Now women like her are not there as often. Still, the taraav is important for many, as noted by the times we had to leave it for others. We once headed back home because a group of men, likely workers in the area, came by to bathe. On another occasion, mourners arrived with a newly widowed woman who was to be bathed in the water- we weren’t made to leave, but this was not a ritual we were keen to be a part of. And of course, some women still come by to complete the day’s washing.

The taraav is the perfect place for a photo-op, and the village is the perfect place for me to throw all fashion sense to the wind.
The taraav is the perfect place for a photo-op, and the village is the perfect place for me to throw all fashion sense to the wind.

I can remember hanging newly washed clothes on the wires in front of our house one day. I don’t know whether it was the brilliance of the sun or a new laundry soap, but it seemed the clothes that were washed in the taraav shined brighter than those washed at home.

“Hitting all these 6s off these throws”: The ICC Cricket World Cup

With the flick of a bat, the ICC Cricket World Cup trophy fell to Australia for the fifth time in the history of the cup. Australia took the match in style with a four on their last ball, and managed to take out an undefeated New Zealand team with ease. Though New Zealand smashed their competition up until the final match, even beating Australia in their round robin group, they were not able to take the cup on Australian ground at the Melbourne Cricket Stadium. They’ll only have to wait another four years to see their chances again, as we wait on the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup in England and Wales!

Our Father needs no prompting when it comes to telling everyone he used to be a medium-fast bowler. The second we pick up a cricket bat, he's there with the ball waiting to tell his story!
Our Father needs no prompting when it comes to telling everyone he used to be a medium-fast bowler. The second we pick up a cricket bat, he’s there with the ball waiting to tell his story!

We grew up around  cricket like other kids did baseball. Our Father, uncles, and their Gujarati friends all played in a small Toronto cricket league, and many a night were spent watching cricket on television through pay-per-view. We attended annual cricket party picnics, and played the game during family reunions. It was hard to sit through six hours of play when our parents and their friends watched the game, but the older we got the more we began to cherish the sport.

Like New Zealand, India also had a flawless run in the cup until they came to their demise against the winning Australian side. We prayed for their wins, and definitely trash talked our friends and their teams as India powered through everyone. Alas, Australia left us speechless. This was definitely not the case 4 years ago, when India was crowned the winner of the cup. We screamed, we cheered, we watched as Indian Godsend Sachin Tendulkar was paraded around the stadium. Hosts India and Sri Lanka battled it out then, just as hosts Australia and New Zealand did now.

Sarita having a ball during our impromptu game. We got creative- the steps served as our stumps!
Sarita having a ball during our impromptu game. We got creative- the steps served as our stumps!

The last match of the 2011 World Cup had us experiencing thrills and chills. Our relatives came over around 11 pm, hands full of Tim Horton’s donuts and French Vanillas. Since the game was in India, their day was our night. We watched throughout the night, anticipating and worrying about an Indian win. We couldn’t take our eyes off the tv- we even brought our indoor grill to the living room so we wouldn’t miss any action while eating. We ate tandoori masala paneer kebabs as we watched India beat Sri Lanka.

Our cousin Akash was ready to cheer on the Indian win!
Our cousin Akash was ready to cheer on the Indian win!

The celebrations didn’t end for Indians once the match was over. Instead we went to party on the streets at Albion and Islington. Hundreds of proud and happy Indians turned out for the celebrations. We waved flags along the sides of the roads, and others drove their cars around honking in joy. The party from the street flooded over into parking lots, and I can remember doing garba as fireworks went off. We met tons of Indian families, and we all had one thing in common- our team won!

Albion and Islington is one of the South Asian hubs around Toronto. Parties were also taking place in Little India, on Gerrard Street.
Albion and Islington is an intersection that serves as one of the  South Asian hubs around Toronto. Parties were also taking place in Little India, on Gerrard Street.

Cricket is arguably India’s most famous and important sport. We have movies made about it, temples created in honour of its most established players, cricket is almost a part of our blood. As the children of India get older however, and their world more globalized, a greater variety of sports is introduced to them. For example, Machhad‘s boy’s volleyball team placed first in a Gujarat-wide tournament. One thing remains the same  though, and you can see this as you travel across the country. Cricket is more than just a sport- at this point it’s the religion that binds all Indians together!

We can't wait for the 2019 International Cricket World Cup!
We can’t wait for the 2019 International Cricket World Cup!

Wedding Shenanigans

Our cousin Namrata is a beautiful bride! Colours like orange and red are auspicious in Hindu wedding outfits.
Our cousin Namrata is a beautiful bride! Colours like orange and red are auspicious in Hindu wedding outfits.

A few weeks ago, we sent off some Patels at Play for a second round of India fun. Our cousin was getting married, and they were lucky enough to attend the big fat Indian wedding that occurred. Hindu weddings are a celebration of all things colourful and traditional. Let us share a few memories with you from the ones that have occurred in our family!

Days on days of ceremonies and celebrations make up Hindu weddings. Each of them is grounded in religion and culture, and the combination of both is beautiful. There’s a reason Indian weddings seem to find their way onto the bucket lists of loads of people- we love to share our traditions as long as they are respected.

A bride and groom are drawn into Namrata's mehndi, and Ganesh sits near her wrist on her right hand.
A bride and groom are drawn into Namrata’s mehndi, and Ganesh sits near her wrist on her left hand. Her mehndi took five hours!

One of the most beautiful events is the mehndi ceremony, which only occurs for brides, and is a tradition for many South Asian women who share similar cultures. Our cousin’s mehndi artist started her bridal mehndi with the drawing of Ganeshji on her arm. Ganeshji is the remover of obstacles, and finds his way into daily prayers and moments in our life. We pray to him before beginning auspicious prayers, and every day activities. Bridal mehndi has greater detail than everyday mehndi, and is done on the legs and arms. The paste goes on black, and leaves a rich red dye on the skin that lasts for several days. Superstition states that the darker your mehndi comes out, the more your groom/husband loves you!

My cousin's wedding party making its way down Montreal streets to Shree Ramji Temple Mandhata.
My cousin’s wedding party making its way down Montreal streets to Shree Ramji Temple Mandhata.

Hindu brides aren’t the only ones who get to have fun- the groom’s side does as well! Traditionally, the bride’s side hosts the wedding at their home or village, while the groom’s side makes the journey with their wedding party to the location of the wedding. In Canada, it’s a bit harder to host an entire wedding when you don’t have an ancestral village home (the indigenous population of North America are the only people who can claim something similar) , so we have to switch up tradition and rent out huge banquet halls or mandirs for the hundreds of guests that are invited. A few years ago, our wedding party in Montreal had to party its way down busy streets on the way to the mandir where the wedding was being held. The jaan is what the groom’s wedding party is called; we dance and sing our way to where the bride’s side is waiting, making sure to make our party parade heard!

We partied our way to the wedding ceremony as part of my cousin's jaan!
We danced our way to the wedding ceremony as part of my cousin’s jaan!
We switched out a horse for the groom with some horse power for him instead!
We switched out a horse for the groom with some horse power for him instead!
Congrats to this resplendent couple!
Congrats to this resplendent couple!

Hindu weddings are built on years and years of tradition, religion, and culture. While some things have to change based on where we are in the world, the main events and celebrations have stayed the same. Our cousin’s wedding in India was celebrated with splendour, and the family was able to get back together to indulge in loads of fun- “reunited and it feels so good”! When we’re able to celebrate our culture to the fullest, it’s easy to retain our pride in who we are, and where we come from. Indian weddings rock!