Canal Boat Rides and a Hindu Temple!
This past Saturday we took the kids to Brockport for the Annual Sidewalk Sale, and because I read there were going to be canal boat rides. The canal boat in question was the Rose Lummis, A genuine 1953 Mississippi River Boat. They are normally docked in Spencerport, but this day for the sidewalk sales they were giving 30 minute rides west from Brockport and back. It was great fun! Arthur and Fiona both loved the ride, going under the lift bridge in downtown Brockport twice. We sat in the front of the two-tiered boat with a cool breeze off the water in our faces. On the way back we went up to the top deck, passing several other boats and a few people fishing, and most of that time one of the crew gave a nice little history lesson about the Erie Canal.
We also discovered that the Rose Lummis does “cocktail cruises” in the evenings for adults which go much further. $12.00 per person for a two hour cruise and pizza! (Bring your own cocktail). I think we may get a babysitter some Friday night and take them up on that one!
After returning from our canal cruise in the early afternoon, we got a call from our friend Tracy. Earlier in the week she had sent a link to the website of the Hindu temple near Rochester, with information about a rededication/purification ritual that was going on. I remembered hearing there was a Hindu temple in the area a few years back, but I’d forgotten about it. It sounded really interesting. Then Tracy called and said she was going there and wondered if we wanted to meet her. So we did!
Visiting the Sri Rajarajeswari Peetham was an amazing experience! The temple is located on a beautiful piece of land with rolling hills and woods on East River Road in Rush, NY. The temple itself and the numerous other buildings and tents around it were beautiful. And there were thousands of people from all over the world dressed in the most gorgeous, colorful clothing imaginable. I won’t get into too much description here because there are links to many photos and some video at the end of this post.
Going through the visitors tent and entering the temple grounds was like being transported to India! There were very few Caucasians among the throngs of visitors and devotees, and the spiritual atmosphere of this place was mesmerizing! You are immediately drawn by the smell of smoke and incense and the thrumming sounds of chanting coming from the gigantic main tent where the ritual was taking place. (Had been taking place for the previous 10 days!) Inside this long tent shadowed from the glare of the summer sun there were 121 fires burning in brick pits, each attended by devotees who were reciting the Sanskrit chants several times a day for 11 days. There are speakers set up all around the area so that the chanting fills the air wherever you go. And around the perimeter of the tent are 1,008 vessels containing holy water that absorb the power of the chants and are then poured over the Mother Goddess (Devi) in the inner temple at the end of the ritual. A young man I talked to from Toronto said that this ritual had never been done in North America, and that this had never been done with this many people participating anywhere in the world, even in India! The intent of the ritual is to energize the temple and also to bring peace to the world at large.
Standing outside the tent experiencing the sounds of this incredibly ancient invocation to Shiva, along with the exotic sights and smells and the energy of so many people focusing their intentions was really, really powerful! I soon found myself drifting into a transcendent state of bliss, under the blue heavens among the trees and summer heat and the pungent perfume of smoke. The vibrations of the ceaseless mantra seemed to charge the gentle breeze and seep deep into the earth beneath our bare feet. It made me want to just stay there and listen. And feel. And listen.
But, moving on…
I finally made my way around the ritual tent and Stephanie and Tracy and the kids and I went into the temple. Arthur was a little disappointed that it wasn’t an ancient stone structure with fluted columns and vines growing on it; but instead a modern, rectangular building with a web feed of the ritual on a big-screen monitor in the entrance chamber. The inside was beautifully decorated with tiles and mandalas and sacred pictures. And the inner sanctum was breathtaking! Filled with incredibly ornate golden, clay and stone statues of gods and goddesses and pictures of saints and gurus. There were offerings everywhere of fruits and flowers. Arthur and Fiona were in awe of everything. You can see more through the photo links below. Only pictures can do it justice!
And that’s one of the things I love about Hinduism! It is such a beautiful religion! Being a person who is quite visually oriented, I love the way Hinduism uses the visual arts as a method of transcending the mere physical representation of a deity to experience the infinite diversity of Brahman through all it’s manifestations. The idol is merely a focal point, a device to connect with divine powers that are beyond space and time and form. When I first began exploring a non-Western conception of the divine in my teens, I was influenced a lot by Hinduism. And when I taught myself how to meditate it was primarily through the philosophy of yoga and Transcendental Meditation. The whole concept of experiencing God directly, through looking within, was much more natural for me than what I had known from Christianity, or thinking of Divinity as being ‘out there’ or separate from It’s manifestations. I later discovered that Western religions also have their own ancient traditions of mysticism (Sufism, Kabbalah, Thomas Merton, for instance). I think the major reason I gravitated more toward Buddhism and Taoism was that the Hindu religion is so complex, and the names and deities and rituals are difficult for Westerners (certainly me) to remember, let alone pronounce! Plus, the caste system thing never appealed much to me. But with traditions going back almost 6,000 years, it’s no wonder Hinduism takes a long time to learn and understand!
Still, it’s depth and longevity make it incredibly powerful. And it’s grounding in nature and emphasis on focusing spiritual energy make it very appealing to me (like Wicca and Paganism in general). This particular temple is focused on Devi (Day-vee), the Mother, and all her manifestations. How can I not love that?
Our kids really enjoyed being there, too. This summer has been a great learning experience for them about different religious traditions. Two weeks ago we attended a bat mitzvah in Ellison Park which was pretty neat. But they’d certainly never seen anything like this! Later in the afternoon Fiona had been watching a little girl not much older than herself (and many adults) showing devotion at one of the outdoor shrines. So she would go before the shrine and bow with clasped hands, then touch her forehead to the floor. She did this several times while we sat resting on the grass. She seemed drawn back to the shrine (I think it was Ganesha) many times. It was awful darn cute, but on that day I didn’t have my camera!
The next day, Sunday, was the last day of the ritual. I had to go back, as did Tracy, to witness the end of this momentous event and the celebration and precession afterwards. Several people told me it was really neat! And it was! I took some photos, and Tracy has posted many more better photos than I. Check them out below.