Wednesday, September 22, 2010

nothing, or everything, sacred

We toured various Hindu and Buddhist temples on our last day in Gangtok (where I also ran into a guy who'd been working at a newspaper there but was leaving the following day to start a local editor job at Patch in Missouri). I've always felt out of place in eastern houses of worship; they're formidably adorned and beautiful, vast spaces with ritual objects, protocols and rules I don't know. I do know visitors are supposed to remove their shoes, remain silent, put away cameras and generally express reverence, which isn't difficult for adults in spaces where the deities are huge and shimmering.

Toddlers, however, are another story. Cayden is boisterous, enthusiastic and curious, and the sight of a room full of novel objects spurs him to explore. In the first temple we visited, a Hindu space dedicated to Ganesh with a shrine at the top of some white marble stairs, Cayden instantly approached the gate separating the shrine and tested it to see if it would let him at the "elephant." Any adult acting like that would elicit a glare, but Cayden is adorable, and people flock to hold him and give him high fives everywhere we go. So in this case, as other visitors watched, the man minding the temple reached over the gate and handed Cayden a prasad, or ritual offering (in this case a sweet, grainy laddu), and a banana from Ganesh's offering plate.

"He's taking food from the gods now?" I asked, as the temple's fellow visitors chuckled. (I didn't know that prasad's are later eaten and said to contain the god's blessing.) Prati continued to chat with the man and I fed Cayden the sweet, spilling its orange grains all over the pristine marble floor. Everyone was unfazed by the ruckus, and the man reached over and took laddus and bananas for Prati, Blonde Kim and me before we left. We came in, disrupted the temple's tranquility and left blessed by the gods.

Our next stop was a the Lingdum Monastery, a large, colorful complex that was quiet and vacant in the afternoon rain. Our quartet climbed the steps to the plaza outside the main temple. We heard drumming and chanting in the distance and followed the sound to a small side room where a young monk sat, pouring over a prayer book, marking his progress in one hand and keeping the other free to beat a drum or ring a bell. Kim sat to meditate, I sat beside her to observe the room, and Cayden toddled up to the man and began banging on the drum, not quite in proper cadence with the chanting. The oasis of chanting was overlaid with a clanging, thumping, screeching chaos, and I looked apprehensively at the monk, hoping we wouldn't follow our Hindu blessing by being booted by Buddha.

But the monk thought the whole thing was funny. Every time Cayden beat the drum with his tiny, plump hand, he gave himself a quick round of applause and exclaimed "yay!" while standing in front of the young chanter, who grinned without breaking stride.

When we walked around to the main temple, there was a sign requesting silence. But we were the only ones there, and talking to a toddler is quieter than not paying attention to a tadpole who sometimes screams when he's bored. So we showed him the Buddha and the wall adornments, letting him run through the aisles. A monk came in when he picked up a bell and scolded him. Then Prati asked him a question about the temple's statues, and he stopped mid-explanation to take a call on his cell phone, never returning to impart the  rest of the information. Meanwhile, Cayden was loud and squirmy, but he was also entranced by the golden Buddha, and fully enjoyed the space, albeit it as a new playground to explore as opposed to a house of worship. And (sorry to be making the point with so much cheese, but said baby is cranky and we need to turn the laptop into a Sesame Street machine) the fact he brings so much joy to all the people he encounters is arguably just as holy as maintaining silence for a deity that probably couldn't help but smile himself.


  1. You are a good writer, and a lover of children. Both very admirable traits.

  2. Thank you, good sir.