26 January 2009
Republic Day - India
Quo Vadis - Tiruvannamalai
Vanakkam ("greetings" - "welcome") ~~~
It's been harder to find convenient computer and internet access here than I thought, mostly because I haven't had much time, and partly because we are not in a major city. Tiruvannamalai is a mecca for many spiritual seekers, many of them from the west. You see a lot of aging hippies walking the streets. They seem to blend in (or think they do).
More about Chennai...
After visiting the Park Town Mission School in Chennai on Saturday, we toured the city and had lunch (the big meal of the day in India) at an authentic south Indian restaurant. Pure heaven. We ate with our fingers (with the right hand, of course; the left is reserved for other things). Handwashing areas are always provided, and the manner of eating is clean, graceful, refined, and efficient. Because I know south Indian food pretty well and watched my grandfather eat with his fingers, and because I'm a good actor, the group seemed to think I knew what I was doing. Then I glanced over at Joseph, our helper from the field office of LPGM, and saw his tidy plate with a petite mound of food only at the very center. Mine looked like a cyclone had hit it.
On to Tiruvannamalai...
The van drive from Chennai to Tiruvannamalai took much longer than we had realized it would, but it was wonderful to get out into the country. My heart began to beat faster as it dawned on me that I was looking at the kind of countryside in which my ancestors had lived. I could imagine Gramps joking with the guys at the roadside shrines and stands. Road travel in India is everything everyone told me it would be. I took some videos which might just make it into an Omni Theater for their frightful 3-D. Horns of every sort, motorcycles, bicycles, auto rickshaws (yellow and black 3-wheelers; driver in front, passengers in back), vans, trucks, semis, pedestrians, and yes, the proverbial cows in the road....even on the national highway. The horn-honking, by the way, is not an angry gesture. It simply says "Here I am" or "On your right" or "Just passing through." The weaving and swerving is, as Lica (sp?) our Danish hostess here at Quo Vadis puts it, a "dance."
We stopped at Gingee Fort, an ancient historical site. I may return to spend more time there next month. It was while there and finding that one of the hills is called Krishnagiri Hill that I realized I was not that far from the area of the Naumann sites. I'll be visiting them later, but the idea that I was so close gave me goosebumps. Someone thrust their cell phone at me in the van and said, "Call you mother!" I did. "Hi Mom. Guess where I am?..."
Saron Church and Boarding School for Boys
Yesterday we worshipped at Saron Church, where Pastor Japathy Daniel has a boys choir gleaned from the hundreds enrolled in the school. The choir boys wear white shirts and sit in the front, just below the chancel, facing each other ala Anglican choir stalls. The remainder of the boys were on the floor around them - and outside on both sides of the building! - in their green uniforms. Pastor Japathy presides while seated on the floor at an electronic keyboard in the chancel. With skillfull small improvisations and intonations, he leads the singing of the liturgy and hymns (and here's the very significant part) - in Tamil and in traditional native musical style. No German chorales here, at least not on the Sunday we visited. As it should be! The church was filled, and we sat near the front as honored visitors, but as truly part of the worshipping congregation. The congregation was very serious and reverent. No applause - at least none that I recall - and no disruption in the liturgy except for some brief announcements. Pastor Japathy Daniel presides with grace and an authoritative but pastoral presence. It "works," and works really well. The singing is astounding. He preached - mostly in English - about healing and about the openness of the healing love of God in Christ for all people, especially the downtrodden. Somehow he managed to work in Obama, "our visitors' newly-elected president!" I had been appointed to coordinate our group singing something in the service and was nervously wracking my brain for something we could all sing and sing well - "Jesus Loves Me?" "Amazing Grace?" Gordon Olson had given me some copies of "With One Voice," and I surreptiously thumbed through it during the start of the service. Then, during the sermon, it dawned on me. At the appointed time, we sang "There Is a Balm in Gilead." I mentioned to the congregation its connection to the sermon and its African American origins.
After the service, there were firecrackers, singing and dancing tigers in our honor as we made our way in procession - hundreds of mint-green-clad boys alongside - to the school. After refreshments, we were seated in the shade by the courtyard stage, and an elaborate and carefully orchestrated and choreographed programme followed, with songs, dances, and speeches. Afterwards, we presented each boy with a gift from LPGM - one at a time, each hand-off shot by a photographer! We toured the campus and those in the group who sponsor boys (or brought greeting from members of their churches who do) met their sponsored child. And everything I've heard about the children of India in these boarding schools is true as well. They are bursting with love and joy. They are hungry for affection, but not in a desperate sense, and they are eager to return it, much-amplified. It is an emotionally fulfilling (and draining) experience. I know I will encounter it again when I go to the Bethania Kids homes in Nagercoil and Kodaikanal later in the trip.
Lebanon Home for Women
Among other things, in the afternoon we lunched at and toured the Lebanon Home, another LPGM-supported program. It is a compound with lodging for abandoned and divorced women and includes fields of rice, onions and tomatoes, but most significantly a beautiful weaving hall, where the women sit a looms and make beautiful towels, tablecloths and other linens which are sold in the States and elsewhere as a source of income. We are bringing tons home. Jane and Doug Koons live in the main building, along with the manager of the Home and his wife.
We are soon leaving our wonderful hotel across from Quo Vadis and will be going on to see other LPGM-supported libraries. Last night we joined in the weekly meditation in the Quo Vadis meditation hut. It was some much-needed reflection (including about 10 minutes of silence).
I didn't expect to see so many dogs! They're everywhere. They're tame, but not necessarily anyone's pet, per se. All animals are everyone's "pets," I suspect is the philosophy. The India Times the other day included a news story - complete with photos - about an apartment building manager who was arrested for attempting to drown some kittens!
We saw our first monkeys today at the temple. The temple - now there's another long and emotional story. We had special access to the inner sanctums. More on that some other time.
Photos - many, many, many photos - forthcoming.