My sister called early on the 6th to tell me my dad was in the hospital. I went to sleep that night contemplating the quickest way back to Houston, [bxA] but by morning Missy called to say Dad had undergone emergency surgery and was recovering. My original plan to return to the ashram would put me at least 6 hours further away from the New Delhi airport, but I decided the puja commemorating Swami Vishnu's Samadhi (the day he died) was a good place to be over the next few critical days.
Sajan had offered me a lift in the 2 jeep caravan transporting Swami Mahadevananda from New Delhi to Netala - he came in from Italy for the event. I was totally clueless and a little intimidated to join the caravan of revered Sivananda leaders, but Mathaji had said a hundred local sadhus were going to converge at the little yellow ashram, and I really wanted to be there. Sounded like the best thing to do for Mom & Dad too, since it was just about the only thing I could do.
I met the caravan at the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh and got placed in the very back of the car carrying four priests, in from Kerala to bless the little yellow ashram in preparation for the ceremony on the 9th. I was really intimidated to be in the car with the priests and the flower petals (bags of fresh orange flowers for the offerings). I sat in the back seat in between Manmohan (our wonderful chef from TTC) and one of the younger priests...and I kept quiet. I learned later that the guy with grey dreds is a reeeally high ranking priest, 'the boss...the big boss' Italian Paulo told me. Turns out though, that Grey Dreds is not only super cool, but I'd venture to say a bit cheeky. A few hours into the journey we stopped for tea, but I declined a cup. Grey Dreds came over to me, all smiles and inquired, "no tea? no tea? don't be shy!" I was being so shy. When the tea was served I stood in the circle of priests outside the cafe and began, ever so slightly, to relax. Black Dreds was super cool too. I showed him a photo I snapped of him and he looked at it seriously, stroked his beard slowly and said, "mmmmm....blaaack," then grinned at me. I was totally diggin on their dreds and beards...and being from Texas it was impossible not to think of ZZ Top.
On the 8th, I walked past the asana hall to find the four priests, shirtless, sitting on the ground like happy kids in an art class, preparing the fire pit and creating the, um, colourful powder design thingy on the ground (it has a name and a great story about its meaning). I worked up the courage to ask if I could take photographs of them and they were happy to let me, but as soon as I got my camera, Mathaji assigned me karma duty and I was off...
Italian Paulo, Mahadev, Sajan and I spent the afternoon unbundling four giant bundles of about 250 blankets, and packaging each blanket in a separate plastic bag - a gift for each of the 115 sadhus expected on the 9th, the remainder to go to local school children.
After dinner the crew gathered in the kitchen, under Mathaji's direction of course, to chop vegetables for the feast on the 9th.
We did a puja on the 8th to bless the asana hall and the temple...and I received blessings from Grey Dreds and Swami Mahadevananda.
Around 11am on the 9th, the hundred sadhus (and swamis) started to trickle down the hill to the little yellow ashram.
Puja in the satsung hall...
...and then we served lunch in two shifts. I was passing out the little round sweets to a row of sadhus when Mathaji came up behind me and corrected me, "right hand! right hand. use your right hand." and the sadhu I'd just served with my left hand looked up at me and laughed heartily, "ahhh, yes...use your right hand."
...the women sadhus, who waited for the second shift to eat, started an assembly line to move the food stuffed gift bags into the asana all. Those bags weighed a ton.
...then we passed out the blankets.
...and then I indulged in photographing as many of the sadhus and swamis as I could during the hustle bustle outside the temple after the lunch. They were all so cool and happy to let me photograph them. There were over a hundred of them and only one of me, so I only got photographs of some. Link to this Picasa album for more great faces:
A Hundred Sadhus
Just before the event began, I told Lilaji about my mom & dad and that my dad was recovering from major surgery. She took me by the arm and led me straight to the tea spot where Grey Dreds and Black Dreds were packing to leave for Kerala (they did not stay for the puja). Lilaji told Grey Dreds about my dad's surgery while tears welled up in my eyes. Grey Dreds looked into my eyes then silently walked away, to his bag, and pulled something from a small bag. He came back with a brown dice and told me to shake it, then roll it onto one of the red plastic chairs in the tea spot. I rolled a five. He closed his eyes, looked into my eyes again and did the Indian head wiggle. The head wiggle?!? I don't understand the head wiggle!!! Is it good, is it bad??!!??? What is he saying? He did the head wiggle again, took my wrist, pulled me close and said, "do not worry. your dad is getting better. the medicines is working," Phew, thank goodness. The weight of the world lifted and my worry vanished. Lilaji told me I should/could prostrate at his feet, so I thanked him, kneeled down and prostrated at his feet, touching the bright orange Indian-version-of-Crocs he was wearing.
I spent the day grateful for the Dreded Priests and Lilaji for pushing me toward them (and my sister for keeping me in the loop back home). The ashram often reminds me of my parents Texas size backyard, which my mom decorates with Diwali style Christmas lights year round and my parents spend most nights on the patio, listening to Texas music and Adam Flint music, serving feasts and passing out drinks from the fridge in the garage.
Mom & Dad, I'm thinking of you and looking forward to my next backyard barbecue at the Flint house. Love you!
...everybody's gonna show
for another party on the patio.