During Durga Puja, one Indian mother handed us a story her 14-year-old boy wrote about his first trip to Kali Mandir. It is well written and a truly inspiring story. It’s tough to grow up in America when you have been born into an Indian family. Kids grow up with American values yet their parents expect them to fully embrace Indian culture even though these kids had never lived in India and never experienced the holy land’s mystic glory. The author of this story never mentions Ma, but it’s quite clear that he got darshan and a very special blessing from Sri Ma Dakshineswari Kali.
Essay by Advaith Rai
“Do we have to go?”
Sitting in the back seat of the car was my 10-year-old self, shivering against the gentle chill inside. It was October; the first signs of winter shone across the cloudy sky. The house was only a few yards away, yet the biting cold outside made me reluctant to leave the little shred of warmth I had made for myself.
“Come on, we’re already here, let’s go,” my mother said sternly from the seat in front of me. I still wasn’t ready to move, but the look on her face stopped me from arguing any further.
“Yeah, let’s go!” my little sister said impatiently, echoing her mother. My sister loves to be like her mother. Sometimes, exasperatingly so.
“Alright, I’m coming,” I mumbled. Freezing wind rushed into the car as I opened the door and stepped out. It just looks like an ordinary house from the outside, its white frame and maroon tiles weathered from years of being close to the California coast.
At first glance, it looks no different from the dozen or so other houses lining the rest of the block. The more perceptive might hear the gentle sound of chimes emanating from inside the house – or notice the two brass murtis standing on either side of the door as if guarding the house from evil spirits. No shoes are allowed in the temple. I pulled off each shoe, placing them near a dozen or so shoes of various sizes and gingerly stood barefoot on the icy floor.
We stepped past the doorway and into the warm glow inside. The simplicity of the temple surprised me. I was accustomed to the standard Hindu temple, large expanses of area with miniature stone idols of deities scattered throughout the building and a dozen bored-looking priests reciting mantras they’ve obviously said hundreds of times before.
Instead, the temple appeared to have been built in an actual house. If it weren’t for the small shrine on the far end of the room and the three white priests sitting next to it with a small group gathered around them, I might have thought this was just someone’s house.
I looked again at the people near the shrine. Sure enough, all of the priests seemed to be completely Caucasian. I looked to my parents, and saw they were as astounded as I was.
It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with this. Religion is universal after all. But, after so many years of going to temples and seeing only Indians, it was difficult to imagine that anyone else would take an interest in Hinduism.
Yet there they were, singing, praying, laughing, blue eyes sparkling in the soft candle light. When I looked back to my family, I saw that they were kneeling on the rug with the rest of the group. I sat down beside them and looked to the people in front.
One of them, a tall man in traditional clothing, started playing the tabla – a small drum with skins on each side. He was completely bald except for a small tuft of long, brown hair in the back, Brahmin style. Not the best fashion choice, but I admire his loyalty to the faith. Another man, this one slightly muscular, with golden-brown dreadlocks, started singing.
As the pooja progressed, I felt a change in the atmosphere. It was almost as if someone had switched on a light in a dark room that I had been lost in my entire life. I guess that’s why they call it “Enlightenment.” I didn’t feel like a Hindu, an Indian, a human being or anything else I had previously used to distinguish myself from others. I was only a single part of an expansive universe, a tiny droplet in an endless ocean working harmoniously with others to create a single wave. Despite the impunity of my actual power, I didn’t feel my existence was small or unimportant. I may be a single part, but I am an essential part like every other single piece without whom everything would have collapsed into a state of chaos.
From the moment we are born, human beings spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out why we were born in the first place. Most of us look at jobs and success and think that if we do these things well enough, we might finally accomplish our goal and be indefinitely content. This is why so many people strive for wealth, fame and power as if racing to the end of a rainbow – each one wanting to be the first reach the pot of gold. Yet, just like the rainbow, these are illusions. The more you run towards it, the more you realize that the rainbow isn’t getting any closer, and the gold you were so desperately seeing had been with you the entire time in a small pocket you had never bothered to check properly.
I felt a strange relaxing feeling come over me as if I had finally come home after a long time. For the first time, I could say that I was completely happy. I hadn’t gotten something expensive or had won anything, but I didn’t feel like I needed any of those things. I simply felt glad to be alive and sitting there.
They didn’t talk much about gods of myths. Instead, they spoke about us human beings and the life we had. For once, my religion was easy for me to understand. Hinduism wasn’t about myth and magic as I had thought. You didn’t need to believe in a God to be Hindu. The essence of Hinduism is love. Love is the most important force in the universe. Without it, everything is meaningless. You have to love everything, no matter how seemingly unimportant, as you might love God. After all, if you believe everything was created by God, then shouldn’t everything and everyone have a little bit of God in them, too?
It wasn’t what they had said that had particularly affected me. Something about the room itself was different. It was as if the entire room had suddenly become a giant magnet of positive energy.
My parents slowly got up and stood, and I knew that it’s time to leave. I pulled myself together and forced my numb legs to stand. I looked at my mother and, by the smile on her face, I could tell that she felt the same way I did.
I took one last look at the temple and stepped outside. The wind was still chilly when we left but, for some reason, the night air seemed warm to me as I walked back to the car.