Monday, September 28, 2009
Farnham took me all the way to Hartford, CT for my Hindu site visit last evening. We went to the Hare Krishna temple there, for their regular Sunday service. It was... interesting. I will say with authority that it is definitely not MY type of service, but I am glad I went, and I learned quite a lot by watching. We were lucky enough to be there for a wedding of sorts. The couple had gone to India for a traditional Hindu marriage ceremony, and wanted to renew their vows here in the States with their friends and family.
A small fire was built on a special holder, and a few things were sacrificed into the fire (balsa wood, incense, some ghee, and some fruit). After, the ashes were mixed with a little water, and put onto our foreheads, letting us bring the blessings of their marriage along with us. I looked a little odd, but it was nice to be included in the ceremony. We were also given flowers from the bride's bouquet, and when it was all done, each person was offered a piece of fruit from the (non-burnt) sacrifice to Krishna. Those of us who were new to the temple also got a small book to bring home, which explains about the Hare Krisnha movement.
The ritual started out with the blessing of the tulsi plant, which is a varient of basil, and is considered a holy plant to Krishna. At first it was just the one guru, and a few of the more experienced people, but by the time the chanting was done, there were a lot of people dancing around the plant (which you can see in the picture to the right). After that, prayers were sung for "His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada".
I will freely admit that I was a little uncomfortable with the life-size meditating statue of Prabhupada. When you first walk in, you almost think he's real. When the lights come up you realize it's a statue, but it's still vaguely freakish, to me at least. I can see how some mainstream types might see this movement as a scary cult. The chanting is very repetitive and hypnotic, and although large portions of the service were done in Hindu, there were hand-outs with information on how to join the chanting if you wanted to. Mostly I stuck with the general Hare Krishna chant, because it's familiar and because I wanted the chance to look around, take photos, and perhaps a movie or two... or three.
Some things really struck me as I watched the service (and participated). Once again, I am mystified at how similar the service was to one in a Christian church, or one in a Hellenic polytheistic ceremony. There are more similarities than there are differences. By far!
I noticed that people were welcome to come in and out of the "sacred" area without anything more than a polite knock (we were told it is expected that you knock or ring the provided bell upon entering the room, as you would for any human person). Several people got up throughout the three hours of service to use the restroom, help in the kitchen, or tend to the children.
And there were children! They were all over, though they stuck mostly to the kitchen and back areas. It seemed as if the prevailing attitude toward children is to ignore them unless they are fussing or out of control. Babes in arms were danced with, taken up for blessings, and otherwise held and cuddled.
There was a lot of dancing, almost all of it by men. The women danced in place, but men were doing somewhat ecstatic dance, moving back and forth between the wall and the altar. People were singing and chanting, and the energy really moved in the room.
Blessed oil was put on each person's hand, and you were supposed to smell it, and waft it over your head. There was enough incense to make the room cloudy. Farnham and I had to come home, strip immediately, and shower before we got near anyone. It was quite intensely stinky.
Overall, I'd say that my impressions were positive, even if it isn't the kind of thing I myself would like to do. The people at the temple were very devout, and believed what they were saying and doing with all their heart. It was much more interesting than the standard "sit down /kneel /prayer" circuit that most churches today are stuck in.