"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, February 20, 2015

The India Journals, Ch. 21, Mayapur: The Spiritual Capital of the World

Ch. 21, Mayapur:  The Spiritual Capital of the World

Remember those hippies that wandered through US airports back in the ‘70s, chanting Hare Krishna and seeking donations, and annoying everyone?   I think I saw some of them this evening.

But first…

A long tone interrupts  my sleep.  I play it again in my head, trying to identify it.  It isn't a smoke alarm and, because I have no intention of getting out of bed, donning a life jacket, and jumping into the polluted water of the Ganga River wearing nothing but an over-sized tee shirt and said life jacket, I decree it is not an abandon ship order.

My hand slips out from beneath the covers and pushes the button on my travel clock, the one that illuminates the time.   I open one eye just enough to see the time.  Oh, man, it's way before wake-up call for the day.  

Arm retracts, eye closes.  I replay the sound.  It resembles a combination of a throaty fog horn and a locomotive wail.  I'm still trying to identify the sound as I slip into sleep.

We spend the day on board ship as we are making for a downriver venue as quickly as possible.   Morning fog delayed us and again we are in danger of being too late for an excursion onshore.

A bamboo raft, probably used to haul goods to the bazaar in Mayapur.

The time is almost 5 P.M. when we anchor in the Ganga River at Mayapur and transfer to shore on the country boat, and that’s pretty darn late to be making a shore excursion because the sun turns orange at 4 P.M. when it dips in the smog/smoke/fog layer that blankets this country.

Four in the afternoon on the Ganga.

We are on shore and our destination is ahead of us.   This is Mayapur, deemed by many as the spiritual center of the world, but especially for the Krishna movement of Hinduism.

 An extremely loud Krishna ceremony is taking place right there, LOUDspeaker and all, along with the usual spectators that have come to see the foreigners.   And as usual, photos are taken all around.

Note how my travel companions are not taking photos.

This is part of the ceremony.

The guides lead us up a path with sand so soft it feels like the finest ground flour beneath our feet.   There are a lot of places in the world that would covet this light beige sand.   Without the cow dung that dots it, of course.

Our pleasant little walk in the sand comes to abrupt end when we make a left turn and find ourselves in yet another bazaar, dodging buses and cars and bikes and carts and motorcycles and people.  All of India must have come to Mayapur for their holidays.

The ubiquitous golgappe (called phuchka in West India) cart.   A thin, crisp flour shell usually filled with mashed potato and chickpeas, dunked in tamarind water.   A popular street snack.

There's a lot of noise as we walk through the bazaar and I almost miss hearing the sound that had awakened me this morning.    Now I think I know what it is.  It's a recorded tone of the call to prayer for Muslims, played over loudspeakers.   I'm surprised because I thought the muezzin sang the call from the top of a minaret.   I guess the tone is played because it carries farther.   Mayapur, though the site a large Krishna population, also has a large Muslim population.

The temple under construction.

Another temple in the same complex.

What the finished temple will look like.

All the "don'ts."

I think this building is a hotel.

We take a circuitous route through the bazaar and around the construction site of what will be the world’s largest International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temple when it is completed, to a smaller Krishna temple, where we have to leave cameras, cellphones, shoes, and the little Vodophone sets that we use to hear our guide.   A crewman from our ship takes possession of the verboten items and we leave our shoes under a sign that reads DON’T PUT YOUR SHOES HERE.

A loud and enthusiastic Hare Krishna parade, complete with a fellow playing a harmonium and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, is marching by as we go through security and into the temple where our senses are overwhelmed with color and sound and the intense devotion of the worshippers seated or prostrated on the floor.  One one side of the building are booths selling books and other items related to Krishna.

Naturally, donation boxes were plentiful and easily found.

Hare Krishna followers are supposed to empty their minds of everything but Krishna, but there are a number of slackers seated on the floor who turn en masse to stare at the foreigners in their midst.  Without the Vodophone sets, hearing Asif is impossible.  He gives us fifteen minutes to look around, and every one of us makes a discreet but purposeful beeline to the exit, but not before I spot those Caucasians I mentioned before.  

They are wearing typical Indian robes and their heads are shaved except for the very back, where a small patch of short hair is braided into a tiny piglet a few inches long.

As we walk back towards the ship through the bazaar and I hear a very English voice say hello.

Turning, I see a Caucasian woman in one of the booths and when I ask, she says she is from Australia.  I want to ask more questions, ask if the booth is her business or if it benefits the Krishnas, how long she's been in India, and much more, but Asif and the group are getting away from me and they have the flashlights.

Saris on display

The juice maker.

Design on a handbag.

The night shift continues work on the temple.

Boarding the country boat by flashlight.

It is full-on dark when we exit the temple, walk through another section of the bazaar and along the floury  sand, the darkness making it all the more challenging to avoid the dung of sacred cows.

ISKCON site at dark.

More photos of the ISKCON temple site as seen on our way upriver:

Buildings under construction, most likely for apartments or motels.

I tried and tried to get an in-focus shot of the above, but the distance and low light made it impossible without a tripod.  This is a bust of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who spent 11 years traveling around the world spreading the teachings of the Krishna movement.   Arriving in the US in 1965, he found fertile ground with hippies, who were questioning and rejecting the traditional cultural values of America.

Although he gained many converts, the Krishna requirements of asceticism, celibacy, vegetarianism, abstinence from drugs and alcohol, chanting, evangelism were a bit too much for many.   Marijuana was specifically prohibited then, but has become almost a norm today in Krishna ceremonies.  Anti-cult investigations in the 1970s and 1980s took specific note of the Krishnas.

For more information on the Krishna movement, see:   http://www.religionfacts.com/a-z-religion-index/hare-krishna-iskcon.htm




  1. Amazing that you were still able to get into the temple so late into the day/evening after being delayed getting there by the fog. Cap has mentioned that most of the people in Hong Kong do not smile (they are pretty BUSY) ... it is always obvious from your pictures (and my experience) that the people in India DO smile, broadly, often, openly, with great enthusiasm! And, the picture of you with some of the "locals" while the rest of your group passed by says it all ... the Indians love you, as do we!!! Patti and Cap

    1. The whole place was very busy, inside and out. There is also a place outside that is a 24-houor place to worship. Complete with donation boxes.

  2. Varanasi is considered by some to be THE most holy city in Hinduism .. I am not all that familiar with Mayapur. I have no doubts that those in Mayapur so consider it and you did state the Krishna movement within the Hindus. Boy do I know about the morning fog and it affecting trains and all travel. The late afternoon sun in the dusty skies. Too Too familiar. I remain impressed with the quality of your experience. So impressed. Much Joy .. Cap in Hong Kong and Patti in Anchorage .. nice post.

    1. Yes, the Krishna consider it the spiritual center of the earth.

  3. I have my laptop in bed with me this Saturday morning. Without the everyday distractions when I'm on my laptop in the kitchen, I am REALLY enjoying this post. I can't help wondering how you compare this trip to the others you've taken.

    The "Don't Put Your Shoes Here" sign within inches of several pair of shoes. I love it!!

    It's hard to imagine being on a trip like this and NOT taking pictures...but then...aw, shucks...I sure couldn't do it, either, Gully.

    The hippies surely had to let the Krishna practices slip away when they learned that celibacy and abstinence from drugs was required.

    Thanks, Gully, for this post.

    1. Our guides told us to leave our shoes under the sign! The inside of the temple was a large room, something like a gymnasium--high ceiliing, wood floor. The worshippers sat or prostrated themselves on the floor. Vendors around the side sold stuff to raise money for Krishna.

  4. Judging by your photos of on-going construction, the fund-raising worldwide must be going well.