Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sri Belpukhuriya Meditations


Sri Belpukuriya Meditations
As I sprint to the sacred banyan tree, I catch the sweet sounds of cymbals singing out in the misty, morning air. The whole of Belpukur is rejoicing, it is the last day of our spring festival. The final procession of pilgrims will make their journey through our village and I will be the only American around for miles. I'll have my oasis all to myself but I want everyone to appreciate this celestial abode. The residents call us sadhus, sages, because we follow the strict Vaishnava discipline but a real sage is one who lives permanently in a holy place, like Belpukur. Belpukur is a unique sacred site, intoxicatingly beautiful and my second home.
Sri Madan Gopal
Belpukur is unique and special among holy places. In the scriptures it is said to be supreme. This is where Mother Sachi was born and raised. In this very village, she worshipped her family deity named Sri Madan Gopal who is 1700 years old. I visit Sri Madan Gopal temple in the mild chill of morning. An old, slippery, mud path winds from my backyard, past straw huts and an orchard toward the temple lawn. I can hear a spinning wheel creaking and the loud cracks of a wooden handloom. I arrive in time to get a sprinkling of rose scented holy water. I bow down before Sri Madan Gopal, an enchanting cowherd with a garland of flowers strewn across his chest and a bamboo flute pressed to His lips. The priest gives me some pebbles of rock candy and bright marigolds, remnants from the ritual offering. I feel immensely satisfied when I visit the local temple. The place lights up with brightly colored banners, smiling pilgrims, and flower garland decorations during festivals. Belpukur is like heaven on earth.
Belpukur is an intoxicatingly beautiful tropical scene. The melodious symphony of song-birds reverberate and shatter the sky. An army of svelte bael trees tower above and defend us from sunshine in a battle as old as time. There is an abundance of swimming holes at every step and you can hear children diving into their depths with laughter. Belpukur is drenched in water most of the year. During the monsoon season, rain will pour like a river from the sky. Rice fields continue as far as the eye can see. The cows drift freely from one pasture to the next and kick up a cloud of dust in the late afternoon. The trees are infested with wild monkeys gathering ripe fruits. They smash wood apples on the ground and scoop out the delicious, creamy pulp. The scene is beautified by dancing bees and the fragrance of aromatic jasmine and hibiscus in the air. Sri Belpukuriya is the most bewitching place on Earth. 
Sri Belpukuriya is my home far away from home. I feel revived and nourished here. Everyone treats me like family or an acquaintance from countless lifetimes. The villagers are unpretentious and genuine which gives me a sense of belonging. In the lazy afternoon, we eat fresh, ripe fruit and bake in the sun together while listening to funny stories. The youth address me as their older sister and the elders affectionately call me their daughter-in-law. As the winter season comes to an end, the spring festivities commence with fervor. In the evening we all dress up and rush to the festival. There are savory snacks at every stall, hot and spicy potato samosas with tamarind sauce drizzled on top. A chai vendor makes the tastiest spiced milk with just a hint of saffron that tingles your nose. The clang of bells and gongs chase after the holy names of God and the air is dank with camphor, incense and flowers. Thousands of pilgrims chant and dance all night in a trance-like state. A fleeting moment inside the festival ground feels like an eternity. The strong social bonding and familial ties in Belpukur makes it my second home. 
I finally made it to the rendezvous point under the sacred banyan tree. The entire world was present under the shade of that enormous banyan and I searched the crowd for my dear friend, Prema Rupa. When I found her, I recounted my stay in Belpukur for the past six months and walked an eternity to my house. I showered her with the same loving hospitality that was shown to me and she rested on my verandah. Belpukur is indeed my favorite place in the world. It is my second home, enchantingly beautiful and a supremely celestial holy site.
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