When I go out to meet the light, the shadow of my body follows me, but the shadow of my spirit precedes me and leads the way to an unknown place
- Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Snakes and Lakes

Today I experienced a puja by the holy lake in Pushkar. The faithful devotees bathe by the water's edge, flowers drift on the still surface. Flocks of birds lift into the sky periodically then settle again. I exchange the flower given to me by the holy priest in the Brahman temple on the hill for a plate of offerings. In it was spices, candy and flowers. I am led to one of the 52 ghats that descend to the water, seated here on these steps a man leads me through the ritual in exchange for a donation to the Brahmin priests. The prayer is mostly in Sanskrit and I struggle to repeat the words correctly,a couple of symbolic objects are placed into my palm and removed. One of them is a coconut. When the prayer is over I place the offerings in the water.

Then begins the extortion.

The 'holy' man asks us how much we intend to donate to the brahmins. The standard fee is about USD$60. We balk at this. Tension arises and the mood is ruptured. We part with $20 instead. Walking away I do not allow the blessings and state of grace created by the ritual to evaporate. We are free to choose our experience and I decide it serves me better to believe in the grace of this holy man and the sanctity of what I had done.

Pushkar's Holy Lake

The man with the turban sitting on the ground opens his basket as I walk by and I recoil instinctively when I see the cobra inside. He invites me to take a picture with the snake for a fee. The guide assures me that it is safe and though I believe them both, there is still an primitive overriding survival instinct that intervenes. The limbic portion of my brain immobilizes me though the intellect says it's probably ok.

I cannot pass this up, it is a unique opportunity to experience a dangerous elusive creature that bears the dubious reputation in general as a symbol of death. I step forward and hear a gasp, then words of dissuasion from my mother. But this is important to me, to conquer this fear. I know that there is worth in it for me, it is a sort of deposit into the warrior account to touch this cobra against my instincts. I settle cautiously in a crouch beside the man, fully aware that my life is tenuously attached by a string of trust to this strangers words. Touching it's leathery skin, I feel the power and elegance in this snake, a deadly gracefulness that is compellingly beautiful. I feel a rush.

"To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom." - Bertrand Russell

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