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The Journey to the East

Prema Sa’gar, London Region’s latest LFT worker, tells the tale of his recent, first visit to India…

So, this is India. Land of tablas, temples, dance and devotees... From Delhi airport, we were taken on a mad taxi drive to the city centre. Here, the rickshaws rule. They are strange beings: basically a piece of black tarpaulin, shaped into a cabin and hung over a 3-wheeled motorcycle, belching fumes to make the Space Shuttle’s exhaust seem like a breath of fresh air. The drive was comparable to a theme ride at Disneyland, where obstacles come terrifyingly in front of the wheels, only to shift at the last moment. At Disneyland, however, you know that you’re safe; but then again, a good rickshaw ride will only cost you 20 rupees (30 pence).

It seemed that so many in India, even the rickshaw drivers – no, especially the rickshaw drivers, have a devotee’s mind. They paint Namaskar-ing hands on the back of their cars [right above the sign saying “Horn Please. Keep Distance”] and hang tastefully flashing red and green LED shrines to Krishna and Shiva above their dashboards, while the lorry drivers deck out their vehicles in orange Christmas tinsel and inspired slogans. Yes, this is India – Land of godly road-users. Well, to see them drive, you’d think it’d take nothing short of divine intervention to prevent them from forever ploughing into each other.

I toured with a group of Margiis for three weeks, in the lead-up to the DMS festival at Ananda Nagar. We visited various places, maintaining a spiritual theme, and were taken to meet a number of supercharged and highly be-bearded sadhakas [Proutist Dada Santoshanandaji being of note].

Rishikesh was beautiful. There, the Ganges flows through (mostly) green foothills and past simple villages and wandering cows. The river is clear and blue, unlike its downstream counterpart, which chokes with human waste and wasted humans.

Rishikesh is a nicely vibrated place. It’s almost like a Yogi theme park, where all the bookshops, the people, the buildings and events are given a Tantric slant.  It’s so spiritual that even the beggars wear orange. But not all those calling themselves sadhus [monks] are beggars. The genuine holy men humbly keep themselves to themselves, in an ashram or on some hill. The Sivananda missionaries seemed particularly spirited.

We had the wonderful experience of being able to spend a day with Dada Chandranath, the oldest living Ananda Marga acarya. As we all talked and asked questions, I sat next to him on his sofa and melted in his incredible presence – his old blue eyes shining like a baby’s and gushing like the ocean.

Onwards, we travelled to Bodhgaya, where His Holiness, the Dalai Lama was host to a maroon sea of Tibetan Buddhists. Their Mongoloid grins and tranquil composure was a welcome relief from the hyperactive, hypertense Indian vibration. Millions upon millions of candles lined the walls and walkways of the Buddhist stupa temple, creating a breathtaking mystical atmosphere [but unfortunately doing the Greenhouse Effect no favours, whatsoever].

And then on to DMS, where thousands of Margiis descended for the days over New Year. Ananda Nagar felt very homely and was just waiting for me to explore its grassy hills and cool rivers. The Indian-style kiirtan circle flowed on for several days - at times, sublime as the universe itself. After most had retired to bed, the kiirtan turned wild. Such a strong force sweeping round and round the circle. Otherwise staid and serious Dadas, with staid and serious beards, bounced along with uncontrollable joy, while sisters floated around, their arms flung wide. It was some contrast with much of the Western kiirtan I’d experienced.

In reverence to the Jewish tradition of encouraging a “sweet New Year” by eating slices of apple dipped in honey, I took the nearest equivalent – wet and syrupy rasagula [Indian fried milk sweets].

Next, we headed east to Nepal, to trek in the beauty of the Anapurna mountain range. The pure air, the sweeping views and the welcome exercise did wonders for invigorating the system. We cooked from a kerosene stove, and wandered like goats in the mountains and valleys.

Seven days and one stolen passport later, it was nearly time to go home. I returned to Ananda Nagar for a week, to experience it’s serenity without tens of thousands of others. As I bathed in a spring by the river, I vowed to return.

And now, with the tea-sellers’ cry of “CHAI, CHAI” still ringing in my ears, I have come back to the UK to begin my LFT work. I’ll be based in Manchester, teaching classes, organising events and generally trying to rouse the masses. I will attempt to give back some of the excitement and inspiration I took during my time in India.

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