Our driver took us to a temple in the Himalaya foothills above Rishikesh. A tramcar (of all things) lifted us up the mountain, in a scenic, peaceful ride to the temple on top. I wasn’t even sure who the temple was devoted too, though it was obviously Hindu. We left our shoes at the gate and passed under statues of the god’s painted in bold, bright colors.
After we had walked through the temple, had an interesting experience where the lady in front of us got overwhelmed with singing and rapture, and left offerings in front of a giant statue of a lion, Kevin wanted to follow the dirt path to the side of the mountain.
Along the way we ran into a teenage girl and her mother. “Hello.” They introduced themselves. The girl spoke for the mother, whose English was clearly more limited. They asked us about where we had been in India and where we planned to go next.
After we determined that they only lived an hour or so away, the mother spoke to her daughter in Hindi, and then the girl turned to us, “Please. We would like for you to come to our house for dinner sometime.” “Oh, well we would love to,” I said, “But, we are leaving tonight, so I don’t know if we’ll be able to. Thank you so much though.” “That is such a generous offer,” Kevin said.
An amazing offer, what a shame that people would have looked upon such an offer from a stranger as weird and unusual if it had happened in America.
The girl got out a pencil and wrote down her phone number. “Just in case.” She said. “Thank you so much,” Kevin shook her hand, and then turned to the mother, “Thank you for such a kind offer.” She smiled and responded, and the daughter translated once more, “Guest is god.” “Guest is god.” I repeated and smiled. One of the most beautiful parts of the Indian culture was this traditional belief.
We headed back towards the temple to leave and I finally realized what had been nagging at me all through our temple trips. It was the architecture. I’d associated India with ancient temples, thousands of years old, old, and noble, beautiful and mysterious. The Taj was beautiful and so was the Golden Temple, but they were Muslim and Sikh respectively. The Hindu temples I’d seen were in a general state of disrepair, and filled with garish looking gods and goddesses that resemble quirky character statues from a circus or theme park. I looked at them and thought, cheap, weird Disney instead of holy, holy. The overall impression was only solidified by the long winding lines, kept in order by metal railings that snaked up one way and back down again, giving the impression that far less people were standing in queue than there really were.
Kevin explained that the North of India was invaded many times and the temples here were destroyed, so they had to be rebuilt. But the invaders didn’t infiltrate to the far south, and so the temples there have been conserved for thousands of years: massive granite temples straight out of the Jungle book.
A family of four, a loving couple with two wide-eyed children, talked to us as we head out the gates. They told us they lived in another part of India, one I was not familiar with, and handed us a business card.
“If you come to our city, call us. We would love to have you over for dinner.”
Guest is god. I was floored.