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Recollections of a Rover “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization…” -Robert Louis Stevenson-

The Mandir of Memories

SOUTH AFRICA | Tuesday, 26 May 2015 | Views [166] | Scholarship Entry

It’s a still, cold night in early August, and I’m huddled outside a brightly-lit Hindu temple.

I’m just a spectator who wants to take part in the annual celebration of Lord Krishna’s birth, Krishna Janmashtami.

With the weight of a self-dubbed title, “The Christian Intruder”, hanging over my head, I walk in with a weakening confidence that was already fragile to begin with.

The darkness fades behind me as I enter into the warm colours of red, yellow and orange. Lively embellishments dance across a scene of grandeur.

Up in front are the deities—statuettes adorned with garlands for the occasion— who watch as trays of offerings are set before them on the altar. In the corner of the room, an elaborate cradle stands inconspicuously in the corner, a representation of baby Krishna. It’s not ignored though; occasionally it is gently rocked by children while the elders of the temple kneel before it.

I look on as several treasured customs take place: Aarti, a ritual of worship where lit lamps are offered to the gods; Prasad, edible goods that are given to all who are present; and Raksha Bandhan, which signifies a bond of protection between a brother and sister. To show her affection and bestow blessings upon him, a shy little girl ties the sacred thread, called Rakhi, around her brother’s wrist. In return, he will protect and support her in life. This last one provokes sentiment: my own sibling is on the other side of the world—far, far away from me.

Throughout the night, hymns are sung in praise and worship, with the tunes of musical instruments flowering in the background. There’s a short break as young children gather to tell us the story of Lord Krishna’s birth.

The quiet humming of prayers drift in and out of the room. Despite the endless repetition, their sincerity never falters—they’re sustained by a deep veneration for a long and rich history. Krishna Janmashtami is one of the most revered events in the Hindu calendar, and devout Indian followers have put in the earnest effort to make this a special ceremony.

The thing is, I’m not in India. I’m in a small mandir in Grahamstown, South Africa. Yet here we are, honouring a religion that originated thousands of years ago in a different hemisphere.

A small boy skips to a stop in front of me, scattering my thoughts. His round cheeks and shining eyes smile at me, and he holds up something in his hands. It’s a gift: a bag of undoubtedly delicious sweets.

And just like that, I’m not an outsider anymore.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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