Our wonderful trip to India was planned by Dominique Callimanopoulos, who runs a travel organization called Elevate Destinations. Dominique is an inspiration; she understands the deeper purpose of travel, and the profound significance of hospitality. It is a linking of humankind, a way of heightening our appreciation for our global interconnectedness. Our trip is supporting GoodWeave, an organization that works to prevent illegal child labor in the handmade carpet industry, and to provide children with educational opportunity.

It has been fascinating to learn something about the travel industry from Dominique's insider perspective. She described two trends: one, going on for several years now, that travelers want to feel they are doing good, or supporting organizations that are giving back in some way, by helping alleviate poverty, or supporting education. At the opposite end of the spectrum: something called Heli-Shopping, the idea being that shopping is its own extreme sport (to which I am a spectator even here). People are helicoptered in to choice shopping locations, spend spend spend, and lift on out of there to the next spot.

Hardly breaking the cycle of desire and attachment. But moving right along...

Our host organization in India is called Ibex Expeditions, run by Anita and Mandip Singh Soin. Their lovely daughter, Himali, has joined us. Anita and Mandip are articulate about the need for the tourist industry to support environmental betterment, and to be responsible to the neighborhoods in which their hotels and businesses are located. They run many adventure expeditions, as Mandip is a mountain climber (and a member of the Explorer's Club in New York City). The Singh Soins invited us to a luncheon with Anita's mother's, Madhuri Dayal; that turned out to be a fascinating event. I was expecting a lovely meal and some chatter. We were given much more. Madhuri Dayal was for many years a teacher at the American Embassy School; Himali calls her the model grandmother. She is giving many of her gorgeous old silk saris to Himali, who with her eye for style, is turning them into party dresses. Dayal's luncheon was full of teaching.

Rasika Mohan is a gifted and renowned Bharatnatyam dancer, who most recently was teaching at Yale. She performed two dances, and we were all entranced by how her entire body was involved--right to her eyes; she threw expressive glances up towards Krishna, her eyes darted out towards her lover....The dances illustrate texts of poetry, and their forms or postures are inspired from the sculptures of ancient temples.

We were also given a presentation by Nilima Chawla, who has worked in the field of women and children's rights at the United Nations. She is on the managing committee of Cancer Support, for terminal patients. India has not had extensive hospice care in the past, because people took care of their extended families. That is changing, as the population becomes more mobile, and as families break up and She has had a great deal of practice with a new method of clearing chakras, Emotional Freedom Therapy.

Her presentation was lucid; Chawla is a powerful and reassuring speaker. She explained the various levels of energy in our bodies, and how they can become blocked, or unaligned--and as well how they can be opened. There are various techniques for clearing chakras, many of them ancient: meditation, acupuncture, reiki, prayer, chanting, yoga. My sister sought her out for a tapping session, and afterwards said she could feel the effects of it.

I thought of my son Theo. He has been exploring chi (life force, energy) in college for several years, and we have had some provocative conversations about it. My father, whose entire career was devoted to surgery, always says to Theo, "Where is this chi? Show me. I've opened thousands of bodies; I've never seen this energy. Show me a chakra." The very idea mystifies him. My job is to point out that that is like asking someone to show us the soul. No matter. Chawla talked about the new research being done with fMRI machines. When monks meditate on compassion, for instance, which flows from their heart chakras, a different part of their brains light up in the images. I felt all the more convinced that Theo is studying something extraordinarily useful for his life's happiness.

Last, a guru arrived to talk about mantras and meditation. Praketa Ma was enchanting, with a constant smile on her face, and a loving look about her. She began to discuss Krishna, and she became radiant. "He is the god of love," she said joyfully. "He is the supreme being. He is beautiful. And funny. But he is also an excellent administrator. And a fabulous dancer. He is everything."

She taught us some of the mantras she learned from her mother, who was herself considered godly--an enlightened creature. Every morning her mother before her, and now Praketa Ma, hold sessions with about 200 people who arrive to chant and meditate together. If I lived in Delhi I would be on her doorstep. Being attached to the material world as I am, I could not help noticing how chic she was--as were our hostesses. Anita's mother was in a flowing, patterned, elegant silk sari. Anita was in a cinnabar colored tunic with saffron colored pants and a gorgeous scarf pulling together the colors. And the guru was in blue; she had a kind of bohemian, insouciant look to her. Dries van Noten, eat your heart out.

Okay, enough of temporal considerations...though, come to think of it, everyone makes choices every day, conscious or automatic, about how they want to appear to the world....Someone admired the guru's blue silk shawl (it wasn't me, I swear) and she offered it to her. The gift was refused; one doesn't deprive a visitor of her clothes.

The feet of a guru are quite important, as I recall. So, of course, are the feet of a dancer.

I offer these feet for your consideration. They have stepped into the flow of life energy, whether through music or meditation. These are feet full of grace.

I asked the guru to write out her mantras, as the language was very difficult for me to pin down. I present the mantras to you, as the gift they were to me, with Ganesha--a longstanding favorite god in my household--watching over to remove all obstacles.


Anonymous said...

Wonderfully written and beautiful pictures. I am enjoying your travelogue.

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

Thank you for sharing the mantras. And, what an amazing afternoon with the Singh Soins... I loved reading about it!

Layanee said...

The beauty of the people of India is well described here by your words. Many do seem to have a spiritual glow which is almost tangible. Almost...

watercolordaisy said...

omgosh! I love the slipper/socks! (I love your whole post, lol. As a beginner knitter the slipper/socks have captivated me.)

Ronnie said...

The beauty of India coupled with your delicious descriptions are truly a feast for the senses. Love Praketa Ma's pure love smile. Thanks, Dominique for sharing your trip with us.

Ellen Hanson said...

Thanks for sharing your magical trip to India.
I'm captivated by the hand-written list of mantras you received from your guru. It inspired me to take Shakti Mantras off the shelf which I've not looked at for a couple of years. In the second chapter Thomas Ashley Farrand explains in great detail your third, the Gayatri Mantra, what it means and how it works- he says it contains the essence of all mantras. I have been reinspired to tune into the seven luminous realms by chanting this prayer

Anita Singh Soin said...

Hi Dominique,

Am enjoying your blogs and seeing India from a different perspective – your eyes- as a lot of it is something we know exists but we do not dwell on it, specially the negatives of the poverty etc as it is the yin and yang of life, which is how we know the abundance that has been sent to us.

Himali has grown up particularly with the Gayatri Mantra and every time, there is a trying situation or even a simple beginning or a journey, I always say the Gayatri mantra in my mind. So often, I don’t even realize I am saying it. Mandip left for Nepal today and as he walked out of the house, I was saying it in my mind to wish him a safe journey.

The entire Vedic Literature and the ancient scriptures have given paramount importance to the Gayatri Mantra. There is no scripture, which does not talk of its benefits. It encompass the personal, global and the cosmic realms of existence. It is said that even if one says this mantra with fervent faith, he attains all the blessings and miracles happen. The psychological and spiritual core of this Vedic Mantra is also so sound that it appears to be founded on profound scientific basis.

The very interesting aspect is that Indians of all faiths say it and believe in it and it has a beautiful sound to it too. I think part of Indians fatalistic and destiny oriented way of thinking and staying happy, is the Gayatri.

I hope some of you benefit from the Gayatri mantra.



Anita Singh Soin

karenleslie said...

anita - i don't understand which one is the gayatri mantra and what is the specific word/sound that you say in your mind. do you repeat it over and over again while meditating?

Anonymous said...

Gayatri mantra:

Bhur Bhuvah Svah
tát savitúr váreṇyaṃ
bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt

pve design said...

What a wonderful trip you are taking. Thank-you for sharing your journey with each of us.

Anita Singh Soin said...

The Gayatri Mantra is...


The Mantra says, "I invoke the Earth Plane, The Astral Plane, The Celestial Plane, The Plane of Spiritual Balance, The Plane of Human Spiritual Knowledge, The Plane of Spiritual Austerites, and The Plane of Ultimate Truth. Oh, great Spiritual Light which is the brilliance of all Divinity, we meditate upon You. Please illumine our minds."

The Gayatri Mantra has been revered for thousands of years by both Hindus and Buddhists alike. It is considered a supreme vehicle for enlightenment. It is called "The Mantra of Spiritual Light" because it infuses the Spiritual Light of Creation into all the seven Chakras. It heals the body, feeds the Spirit and illumines the Intellect. Not enough praise can be given to this Queen of all Mantras.

It has always helped me personally and all friends or even my children say it when they feel troubled by anything whatsoever.


Keith said...

Good side of this kind of blog is we learn about people in india and their tradition.Thanks for sharing and I learn now a bit about india.
keep on posting....

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