|Kite Festival in Jaipur|
I've been thinking a lot about this idea of "going up," and about the many ways we humans have devised for reaching for something beyond ourselves. Yesterday evening, a group of us took a bus ride to the outskirts of Jaipur with the intention of visiting the Galtaji Temple. This temple ended up being inaccessible, so we found ourselves climbing a hill to the Surya Mandir Temple instead: a small, lavender temple located atop a hill overlooking the entire city. As we ascended and descended, we were enveloped by crowds of cheerful, excited people -- people drawn up the hill by the imperative to perform an evening puja to the sun god, Surya, or, in the case of the great majority of the women and children, by the evening meal being distributed by temple authorities in celebration of a local festival. Whatever their purpose in being there, almost everyone on the hill sparkled with that particular kind of mirth that arises out of the confluence of a warm sunset, a tasty meal, and a horde of excited children.
Emile Durkheim, renowned sociologist of religion, claimed that all religions might be understood as institutions born out of our desire to connect and reconnect with this communal mirth -- this "collective effervescence." Religion is, Durkheim might say, a key means by which people have endeavored to "go up" beyond the conditions of mundanity, sadness, and finitude that mark so much of our lives.
I don't know whether God(s) exist(s), and I don't expect to find out anytime soon. What I do know, though, is that the procession we took part in, the cheerful hospitality we enjoyed, and even the tasty, spicy snack we ate, all unfolded under the auspices of the little lavender temple at the summit of the hill just above us. If Surya hadn't been there (go ahead and add a "so to speak" if you want to maintain your critical distance from Surya), we wouldn't have been either. And, I imagine, neither would many of those friendly, festival-celebrating people.
This morning, we spent the first part of the day at the Jantar Mantar, a park of giant time-keeping and astronomical devices constructed out of rock and marble. I stared in overwhelmed, dumbfounded awe at a giant sun dial whose towering centerpiece managed to cast a delicate shadow at precisely the correct time along an enormous ruler. I was reminded once again about this human desire to go up; to bend earthly materials to the task of connecting us to the vastness of sun, space, and planets. Most fascinating of all to me was Padma's reminder to us as we stood among these stunning calculators: originally, these scientific instruments were designed for the purpose of tracking holy days and for "calculating" the activities of the gods.