So, finally after an overnight journey by train and a very long drive by car, we reached Bhuj. This small country town came to attention after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, which occurred on January 26 – India’s Republic Day. It’s also is a cultural and art centre for the Kutch region. We wanted to attend The Great Rann of Kutch festival. This is a three month long event, filled with music, dance and handicrafts. We also wanted to have a look at the White Desert, even if is nothing much there but a salty land. Apparently, on a full-moon night it looks silver (not like we were planning to stay there at night time).
But for a start we decided to visit Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. It is a very beautiful and famous temple, which was built straight after Vaishnavanand Swami and saints visited Kutch in 1822. It took about a year to build a temple and Swaminarayan himself installed the idols during his visit in 1824. But unfortunately, during the earthquake the old temple was badly damaged. Since this sect is very rich and has worldwide followers, they could afford to build a new temple nearby from marble and gold.
The beauty of it is indisputable. In my opinion the Delwara Temples in Mount Abu are a little bit more beautiful, but this one comes very close.
And now is the very exciting story. While we were walking around, admiring the temple and participating in pooja (service), a group of ladies in red appeared from nowhere. They were swiftly moving towards the idol’s “enclosure”. We were totally amused. Who were they? What will happen next?
My curiosity was ignited to the point that I came and asked them for a photo. These women did not speak English, but my pantomime was quite self-explanatory, and they posed for me. But I have to mention that they were curious as well. My companion Sangeeta was quite often mistaken for the foreigner. Imagine their surprise, when she repeated my questions in perfect Hindi!!!
These women – Sadhvi or Samkhya yoginis – chose a very hard life for themselves. Their religion is a more fierce form of Hinduism. They believe that God is supreme, has a divine form, is the all-doer and is completely independent. The Sadhvis are wives of God, therefore they can’t get any emotional attachment to anybody (men, kids and friends). They look after the idols in the temple and read scriptures all day long. Since their lives are so secluded, even the visit to the temple is like going to the movies for us. They are not allowed to touch anything or anyone (men in particular). In case if they accidentally touch anybody, they have to have a bathe immediately. In the worst case scenario – touching a man – bathe and no food for 3 days. That’s steep, isn’t it?
Anyway, not to offend anybody we developed an interesting procedure for taking photos: I put my camera on the floor and one of them would pick it up and take photo. Then she had to put it on the floor and I picked it up. The same goes for books or drinks. No touching means NO TOUCHING.
After we took multiple photos (on their phones as well), the ladies asked us if we would be interested to visit their quarters, which were just behind the main temple. Apparently, their Mahant (guru) was running a teaching session for the newcomers, who decided to join their sect. Of course we were interested. I think we were running in front of the sadhvis there.
On arrival we had to sit in the corner and wait for the lecture to finish. In the meantime we had a lot of women coming and talking to us (mainly to Sangeeta, due to my lack of Hindi). In about half an hour we were invited to appear in front of the guru. She was an elderly woman from Somali, who was basically running this sect for ladies. She looked weathered and wise. We sat in front of her and she started questioning us. Surprisingly, she concentrated on Sangeeta and not on me. I was even upset a bit, because she never said that I was blessed or lucky. Maybe because my face was full of doubt and scepticism?
The Guru advised us to stay away from men as far as possible, concentrate on our spiritual life and be good in general (what if my “good” is different from their “good”?). As soon as the Guru found out that Sangeeta is happily married, she changed her tune and said that in this case she had to treat her husband as God and wash his feet (What???). Then I asked about a husband being an alcoholic or a cheater – what then? Still treat him as God? We never got an answer to this question. This type of behaviour is obviously outside of the scope in their scriptures.
Then to my horror someone brought us two glasses of white liquid, which they referred as nectar. Without any doubt Sangeeta swallowed her drink. I was terrified. What is this? Maybe there is some sedative? Or glasses are just dirty? Million thoughts a minute. I politely refused. But everybody kept insisting. They said it’s milk with almonds and honey. But they did not know that I am very suspicious by nature and came from the family of doctors. So I refused very firmly and we left it at that.
Seeing how far they progressed with converting us, one of the Sadhvi suggested to Sangeeta to drink water from Gurus hand, which would mean that my friend would accept this Guru as her Master. When I heard that, I decided that I would kill Sangeeta before she drank anything else. Luckily for both of us, Sangeeta said that she needed some time to think and more information before she could do that.
This young lady came all the way from the UK. Her parents are Gujarati and she spent her childhood in a temple in London. Eight years ago she decided to join this sect in Bhuj. Her parents did not mind and she left. She could speak perfect English and it was a great relief, because I could ask all the questions directly without waiting for the interpreter. Our conversation was very interesting. She told me that her two brothers were also at this temple. They are Saints (I thought to become a saint should involve a bit more than just simply arriving to a temple). The Saints live separately from women and she never sees her brothers at all. When there is a chance that the men COULD see a woman, they wear a sort of a bag over the head and look down at their feet. This sadhvi (above) translated a large book of scriptures from Gujarati to English, and we were presented with those books.
They also gave us a box of Prasad (sweet treats) and we left the temple.
I was also specifically told to repeat two special words “Shree Swaminaraya” 10 times every morning and “JAY Shree Swaminarayan” every night before sleep. (Obviously, they noticed some faults in my mortal existence). Then everything will be great in my life. I am waiting now.
P. S. Here are 11 Niyams that represent main rules for all followers of this religion. From my point of view they are very much the same for any religion. (Maybe just numbers 2, 5, 9, 10 and 11 are a bit out. What do you think?)
1. Do not harm any being.
2. Do not touch other women. This does not include relatives.
3. Do not eat meat.
4. Do not drink alcohol.
5. Do not touch widow women.
6. Do not commit suicide under any circumstances.
7. Do not steal.
8. Do not make false accusations.
9. Do not insult deities.
10. Don’t eat food from improper sources.
11. Do not listen to speeches or Katha by those who have turned their backs on God.
And here is the link in case you would like to have a peek on the temple – live stream from Bhuj.
Music: Swaminarayan,SABKE KARAN SWAMINARAYAN…….-He Nath by Shree Swaminarayan Temple,Kundaldham 08