The sun rises above surrounding hills to illumine our third and final day at the world's largest cow ashram, as I call it. By 7am Swami and I arrive at the yagasala where all of the ritual events take place. Hundreds are already walking around the cows, rubbing their legs, doing arati to them. Each cow is officially in the care of one or two families who are given large bowls of a sweet feed mix to offer their charge. Today the cows are less eager to eat the offerings, perhaps because they have feasted for the previous eight days on this rich meal. The devotees seem a little disappointed that their efforts are shrugged off so blithely.
We move nearer to the priests who are chanting, dozens of them. Today, unlike previous days, they are all dressed in fresh white and red dothis and have tripundra on their forehead instead of the Vaishnava marks.
We are taken to the 19-year-old cow who has stopped eating, and offered a seat next to the Pathmeda founder. We are all seated in the sand (there is only sand in Rajasthan, no soil), near the cow and a special offering begins with the arrival of large open pots filled with ripe amala fruits. Just as a million bananas were offered the day before, now we offer a million amala fruits, one at a time, in synchronicity with the mantras of the priests. Earlier as we entered, dozens of volunteers were sorting through hundreds of baskets of the fruit, obviously brought in during the night by local growers.
When the fruits are all given, large bowls of grain take their place and we continue the offerings, ending with an arati, hundreds of trays in the yagasala all at once. It is a fitting and strong crescendo.
Then off to we know not where, driving to, it turns out, a large and mature amala grove, the trees laden with fruits. We are here to honor the trees for their gifts, and swami has the devotees sit around a tree, about 12 or 15 people to a tree, again with arati trays, all following the priests mantras.
Shri Gopal Sharan Maharaj asks Swami and I to chant some slokas which we do, clearing surprising all present. Some fundraising ensues followed by a snack under the trees with the swamis.
Off again goes the cavalcade of cars, along the sand roads, returning to the giant tent where Swami Rajendra Das ji, one of the most learned Swamijis of the Ramananda tradition, has held his four-hour kathaa for eight days straight. Inside, there are some 1,200 devotees waiting. Swami and I are brought to the cow who presides on an elevated cow-dung circular stage in the back, and we do go puja with the swamis then return to the stage.
This is the ninth and last kathaa and there are dozens of accolades before the talks. We are asked to address the audience, to speak of Hinduism Today and Hinduism outside of India, a topic we feel competent to speak on. The kathaa follows, today going closer to five hours as we sit on the stage, unable to understand a single word. We ask Swamiji how many days of the year he conducts kathaa. Over 300 he says. Amazing discipline, we reflect silently.
Lunch is late, 4:40pm and soon the evening is upon us, a final purnahutha and some satsang with the swamis inside their thatched kutir. We have two more interviews to do, important ones and we work to make them happen, the second being the all-important message from the founder of this amazing place, Swami Datta Sharanananda ji. We start at 6pm and by 9 we have finished the two interviews.
Tomorrow we leave at dawn, taking the four-hour drive to Ahmendbad to catch our flight to New Delhi. The monks make a special farewell dinner for us and serve in our room. They are visibly sad we are leaving. We go to sleep, only to be awakened at 10:30pm with a loud knock on the steel doors. They have gone to find us ice cream, and brought it to the room, a gesture of love which we are deeply moved by. The hospitality we have had here is hardly believable. We are reminded that the rest of the world has forgotten the art of treating the guest as God. Here that culture is flourishing. We have much to learn.
Archives are now available through 2001. Light colored days have no posts. 1998-2001 coming later.