One Week on the Saurashtra Coastline

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
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Monday, February 26, 2007

It all began and ended with a ritual of color. The purple, red, and pink tikka powders and colored water filled the air of Dwarkadish Temple, covering devotees faces, glasses, hair, blouses, skirts, shawls, and shirts with bold color. The people took the sacred bombardment with grace, squinting behind pink powdered glasses or hiding underneath a shawl for a little protection. The Brahmin priests, armed with hand-powered metal squirt guns and buckets of tikka powder, carried out their surgical operation with stoic faces.

Underneath their straight faces, I could only guess they were amusing themselves thoroughly under the playful guise of God's will.

The festival of Holi, Festival of Colors, the Spring Festival, had arrived to Dwarka, the capital of Krishna, the Lord as penned in the Mahabharata and its famous Bhagavad Gita. In the land of Krishna, Holi was celebrated with gusto, for ten days; pilgrims walked from all over for this event, which culminates tomorrow--as I write this from an internet cafe in Bhuj--on the full moon night.

Somehow, I found myself in the frontline of the devotees, right in the prime firing range of the priests. Whack, a direct hit to my face, just like a snowball as the powder exploded into the air. Soon, we were all covered in color, along with the idol Krishna and the entire inner sanctum.

The Holi ceremony began with the inner sanctum curtain closed, devotees waiting with anticipation. Only periodic sounds emanated from behind the yellow silk curtain, covered in glittering stones. I didn't know what to expect; I only knew that people were wandering around town covered in pink powders, seemingly without explanation.

As the curtain opened, all was explained. The drumming began, pounding, deep, telling spring to Bring It On. Palm leaves decorated the walls of the inner sanctum, centering on the idol of Krishna, avatar of Vishnu, dressed in gold for the occasion and holding a conch shell in his left upper arm. The conch shell was blown, issuing its magical sound. The priests began by throwing and spraying color onto Krishna before turning on the crowd, clapping to the drumming behind them.

"Now you can talk with Krishna," said Kavin, a young Brahmin priest who invited me to the event. How could you not feel Krishna's energy, I thought under the circumstances.

Next to the temple, as priests ceremoniously changed the shikhara spire flag high above as pilgrims watched and chanted below, I talked with Kavin prior to the Holi celebrations. He asked me if I liked Hinduism. "I'm just starting to learn about it... I'm reading the Bhagavad Gita," I said.

The Gita I am reading has traveled with me for the entire journey, waiting for the right time to be read. It was a powerful gift from a good friend during my wine-filled last nights on Martha's Vineyard, passed down from an erudite stripper. The right time was here, in Gujarat, where Krishna made his capital in Dwarka.

"This is the temple of Krishna, a form of Vishnu. I would not ask you to worship Krishna. You can worship God in your own way. Jesus, Buddha, Ram--these are all incarnations of Vishnu," Kavin continued as we discussed about Gods, the meaning of Holi, the changes of nature, and the blessings of life.

The celebration of Holi at Dwarkadish Temple was the climax of my visit to the Gujerati coast, a land known as Saurashtra, one of the more prosperous parts of India, where Gandhi was born. New wind turbines rotated in the wind next to cell towers and salt factories. Saurashtra was also a place of abundant waterbirds: plovers, terns, and waterfowl began to molt in preparation for their northerly migrations to breeding grounds.

The trip along the coast began at Diu, where I touched salt water for the first time in over a year--the Arabian Sea. Here, I relaxed in the warm sun and colonial atmosphere, biking around the island, walking around its fort, and re-meeting Owain, the biking bassist, after seeing him in Kathmandu and Kunming. He was here to take a break from the bicycle. We shared our experiences and had both taken the Vipassana course at Bodgaya, back-to-back.

From Diu, I took an early morning bus along the coast to the Somnath Temple, the Shrine Eternal, one of twelve Jyotirlings, golden lingas of Lord Shiva. Inside, pilgrims from all across India prayed to the Shivalinga and whispered their needs and desires into the ceramic ears of a holy cow idol.

From Somnath, I took another bus to Porbander, the birthplace of Gandhi, passing the newly-plowed black soils and cotton fields of the coastal plain, sandy beaches, small villages, industrial zones, and marshes with flamingoes. I toured Gandhi's museum and his home in reverence for one of the most influential people in India and the world. Concurrently to reading the Gita, I have also been reading Gandhi's Autobiography or, as he preferred to call it, Experiments with the Truth. The coast of Saurashtra was a relaxing and fitting place to read both of these books.

While waiting for the next bus from Porbander to Dwarka, I watched Pallas's, Heuglin's and Black-headed Gulls fly between the wind around a broad hazy port, veiled in emissions from cement factories. The rocky shoreline was also the prime toilet spot for the town, as Gandhi would have undoubtedly noticed with chagrin. As I read his autobiography, one thing was clear: he was fastidious about his search for spiritual liberation through truth, justice, health, freedom, and non-violence. Because of this he saw so many of the problems of his people and the world and strove to solve them, one by one.

That night, at Dwarka, I met Alice, a middle-aged Gujarati now living in New Jersey, one of many Gujarati emigrants to America. She worked in Taco Bell: "The food is awful," she noted. Gujarati thali was much better, in many ways, I agreed, remembering when my high school friend nicknamed "Beef" tried to eat two dozen Taco Hell tacos in one sitting.

Unlike the highways and byways of the Western world, India is known for its vegetarianism. Here, with year-round growing seasons, eating meet is entirely unnecessary, unlike living in polar regions or Tibet. Gandhi, in his youth, experimented with meat, thinking that the energy found in its protein was the key to defeating the carnivorous English Empire. Little by little, he realized that non-violence in all its aspects was the true key to victory.

I awoke at sunrise to join an Indian pilrimage bus tour "Dwarka Darshan: Nearly Sight Seeing," their ad said. We stopped at Nageshwar Temple, another of the twelve Jyotirlings of Shiva, some smaller shrines and temples, and Bet Dwarka, the quaint fisherman's island where Krishna died. The smell of drying fish filled the air, along with thousands of gulls, waiting for scraps. Nearby container ships and tankers displayed India's new economy, dwarfing the fishing vessels and the pilgrimage ferries.

On my last day along the Arabian Sea coastline, I walked through the town of Dwarka, took a boat across the harbor, and walked a lonely beach where Green Sea and Olive Ridley Turtles poked their heads above the surf, looking for a place to lay their eggs. Across the harbor was Dwarkadish temple, my final destination, where I would soon be covered in pink powder, celebrating Holi.
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Comments

karmjit singh on

i have now come to know a lot about all the places as mentioned in this blog. i am also planning to go to Dwarka and then to Porbandar, Somnath and Diu. So this must be helpful a lot to me

Dori, Jamnagar on

I am a student in Jamnagar. I cant sign into my facebook page bcuz they think someone is hacking from India. I am from New Haven, CT USA! I would love to email u guys. I want to go to Diu and would like feedback.

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