As we wandered down the dark, dusty block, filled with neon signs, strange vehicles honking continuously, and people flooding the street, we came across a small, park-like corner.
In the center was a shrine, with bowls of water, a temple filled with statues of colorful Hindu gods, a few people, and a man sleeping on the ground in nothing but a loincloth while surrounded by a small group of people.
As we walked up and sat down on the bench, one of the people around him woke the half-naked man. He had long grey hair, twisted and twirled, that went down to his feet. At his feet lay a giant gold trident covered in a garland of flowers. As he sat up, I was sure he was a Sadhu, a holy man, and the men around him, his followers.
Kevin, never the one to wait around, jumped up and walked over to the holy man.
“Can you give puja for my wife?” I could hear him ask, “Puja?”
The holy man smiled at me as I came over and said hello.
We sat with him for a while, while his devotees ran around preparing something I was unfamiliar with. “Will you do puja?” Kevin asked, again, “For my wife.”
The holy man smiled, and nodded at me, “Would you like tea?”
I hesitated. For mostly sanitary reasons, I wondered how safe it was to drink this tea, but I finally answered, “Yes. Thank you.”
The Sadhu said something to a man next to him, and started a new flurry of activity. There were a few female dogs around us, with new puppies running around them. The female came up and lay by my side, and I found her presence reassuring as I waited to accept my tea. The devotee finally came back with small cups filled with steaming water. The sadhu opened up a plastic bag and dumped some colored powder into the water. Then they handed us the tea.
I took a small sip. It was sweet: a milky chai.
“It’s good. Thank you.”
“Yes. Thank you, Father.” Kevin said. I couldn’t help but wonder. Do you call a Hindu Sadhu Father?
I hadn’t even realized I was stroking the trident at my feet, until I caught sight of the sadhu watching me. I quickly stopped. It seemed I had crossed some sort of barrier. A second later the Sadhu motioned to his helper, who quickly came over and picked the trident up, sticking it upright into the ground by the temple.
The whole event was starting to feel incredibly surreal. For, sitting in front of this man, waiting for some sort of blessing, and trying to figure out what exactly was going on, what was the typical custom, what was in the tea he was giving me, oh heck, what the man was saying, was very different indeed.
Finally Kevin asked eagerly, “So tell me Father. We are going to be in India for three months. Where should we go? What would be best for us to film? What does the world need to see?”
The Sadhu gave us some nice ideas of what to capture on film: India’s holy man, the scenery. “Go to Rishikesh.” He said, “There are many Sadhus there.”
We nodded eagerly. I liked the sound of that. It should be exciting.
The men had now brought over some sort of herb, and were rolling it up like a cigarette in order to burn it. Kevin’s brother, who recently spent a year in India, had told us about spending lots of time smoking pot-like substances with Sadhus: getting high to reach god. Here it was like some sort of religious rite of passage.
They offered the funky cigarettes my way. I actually found myself very unimpressed with the whole concept and declined.
The sadhu accepted the money Kevin had just produced from his pocket. Then he took a plate full of ashes from one of his helpers. He made some sort of motion, waving his hand in front of my forehead, and murmuring something in Hindi.
I tried to discern if I felt any different now that I’d been blessed.
“Thank you,” I said, and then waited while Kevin made arrangements to come back and film the Sadhu in the morning, before sunrise. As we stood up to leave, I decided I would rather sleep in.
“Was that puja?”I asked. I had never really gotten the full gist of what this blessing was supposed to be.
“Sort of,” Kevin said, “I guess I didn’t pay him enough for the full puja ceremony.”
© Krista Keenan and 3 Months in India, [2008-2010]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.