This weekend (November 12) was a Baha’i Holy Day, celebrating the birth of Baha’u’llah (the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith). It also marked the 25th anniversary of the Baha’i Lotus Temple in New Delhi! There are 7 such temples around the world (with an eighth currently under construction in Chile), and they’re designed to be places where people from all backgrounds can worship and commune with God. Each one looks different but all have nine sides and nine entrances, representing nine major religions. I had seen the temple near Chicago which was amazing, so I was excited to see this temple in New Delhi in person as well! My supervisor at Search had ok-ed my taking the day off from work (Baha’is don’t work on certain holy days), so on Friday night I flew up to New Delhi and checked into the Holy Cow Hostel, a cute hippy little place that only cost $9 a night, score. Saturday morning I took an autorickshaw through Delhi’s streets, which were not that much different looking than Mumbai: 1,345,974,673 cars-buses-autorickshaws-bicycles-carts-motorcycles all fighting madly for a path through the traffic, little shops selling chai, snacks and anything else you could imagine on the side of the road… I can tell I’m getting used to India’s craziness because I took the 4 or 5 near-miss-encounters with other vehicles almost nonchalantly 🙂
Anyway, I was dropped at a side gate and after registering, I rounded the corner and got my first glimpse of the temple. I had seen many pictures before and had always found it beautiful-looking… but I was totally unprepared for how utterly stunning it was! It’s called the Lotus Temple because it is shaped like a lotus flower, and its snow-white frame really did seem like it was rising out of the earth, majestic yet so gentle. A lot of emotions hit me as I slowly walked up the path towards the entrance and entered the silent high-ceilinged interior: the beauty itself wrapped in a peaceful and reverent atmosphere brought me to tears; the calm stillness as I prayed and meditated meant that I could have sat there all day; and I also felt a strong surge of love, the same love you feel when you are home. I don’t know which state, country or continent life will take me to as I begin searching for jobs in January, but I won’t forget the feeling of belonging that struck me that day.
Eventually I came back to earth haha and looked around me. There were so many people of every shade of the human rainbow, and within minutes I had made friends from Namibia, Greece, Norway, Iran, Nepal, states in India I hadn’t even heard of before (like Sikkim, near the Nepalese border)… in total over 5,000 people attended the event that weekend, hailing from more than 60 countries and every state of India! To see so many people, from an array of countries, cultures, classes and races coming together brought this quote to life:
O Thou Provider! The dearest wish of this servant of Thy Threshold is to behold the friends of east and west in close embrace; to see all the members of human society gathered with love in a single great assemblage, even as individual drops of water collected in one mighty sea; to behold them all as birds in one garden of roses, as pearls of one ocean, as leaves of one tree, as rays of one sun.
I met up with some Baha’i friends from Nagpur, and together we made friends and caught up with Baha’is we already knew. We became really close to three youth from Iran. Their realities were totally different from ours: as Baha’is, they are among several religious minorities who are being denied the right to education and freedom to worship in Iran. One girl, 19, was expelled from her university despite having good grades and good behavior; she then attended the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), an educational initiative Baha’is set up so Iranian students could get college education… until a few weeks ago, when the homes of 39 BIHE professors were raided and seven were arrested. I had heard about this incident and asked her if she was still taking classes. She said she still had online lectures, but all her labs and in person components were halted. Another girl, also 19, was admitted into a university, because that particular small school didn’t ask what religion she is. But she matter-of-factly told me that she could very well get through all 8 semesters, then at the last minute be denied a degree: it’s happened to many of her friends. They can’t even conduct spiritual education classes for children (like the ones I did in Malawi), because they could be arrested.
The fact that our friends knew full well the challenges (including that it will be very difficult for them to get jobs), that many people they knew were in prison purely because of their beliefs, that despite the international outcry from governments, intellectuals and human rights groups (click here to learn about one such initiative) there wasn’t a clear end in sight, yet they were still patient, composed and had a great sense of humor… all this amazed me. We sat on the grass and talked through the afternoon, as sunset fell, and watched the stars and moon shine onto the temple’s glowing canopy. I also unexpectedly ran into two Baha’is I’d met in the US and Malawi, such a small world.
There were some amazing cultural programs showcasing several varieties of Indian dance. There were classical Odissi dances, with each movement of the hand and stomp of the foot careful and controlled. There was dandya, with men and women in multi-colored costumes lightly leaping around with glittering sticks that they’d touch together… there were dances from Sikkim, from Rajasthan (men with curly mustaches wearing red turbans! Did I mention how awesome it is that many older women and men in India like to dance?!)… and finally, the Bhangra from Punjab!! If you’ve never been in a hall filled with Bhangra music, 1. Please go find one, your life will be infinitely better once you do 🙂 , 2. The music is so lively that ANYbody and everybody can’t help but dance! Combine Bhangra’s inherent awesomeness with 5,000 Baha’is and you get one heck of a dance party 🙂
The next morning there were a few more talks but mostly more time to pray in the temple and hang out. I sadly said goodbye to my Iranian friends, telling them how in Marathi people usually say “yete”, which means “I’ll come [back]” instead of goodbye. After a few things that took longer than I’d planned (goodbyes to everyone and their family, haggling over an autorickshaw, delayed shuttle bus, etc.) I missed my afternoon flight back to Nagpur, and since my new flight was the next morning, I ended up coming back downtown for the rest of the evening. So my friends were happy that the “yete” turned out to be true 🙂
After some adventures with the public bus system with my friend from Nagpur (thank goodness at least one of us spoke fluent Hindi!), we met our Iranian friends in a bazaar. I’ve never seen any space so crowded—for a good half an hour we had to w-o-r-m our way through masses of people! The shops themselves had roofs / were inside, but all separate from each other, and with the dozens of vendors wandering the lanes, it had that unique feeling of an outdoor market. My bargaining skills were put to the test (I don’t mind asking for a fair price but I find it SO hard to haggle over 10 rupees [20 cents]!), I think I’m slowly getting better haha. Compared to the dull, sterile, quiet ambiance of a typical American mall (I’m just a bit biased), the on-your-toes energy this place required and bestowed was really cool.
So that was the whirlwind trip to Delhi! Looking forward to seeing more of the city when I head back in December!