Jan 23, 2013

Surf, Saris and a book review



My consistent readers will not be thinking that I have spent almost a month lazing on the beach. The faithful know that I’ve been recovering from some serious ailments and regaining my strength for the upcoming convocation with the naked sadhus and their 70 million devotees. (Kumbh Mela has already begun, but it begins for me with my arrival on the seventh of February.)




In order to better understand what I’ll be getting into at Kumbh Mela I listened to Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi as I walked along the beach searching for surf and saris. Harper-Collins listed it as one of the 100 most important spiritual books of the twentieth century.



Autobiography of a Yogi  presents a world of super-sadhus who levitate, teleport, materialize objects, heal the sick, raise themselves from the dead, or (at their most troubling) routinely render themselves invisible to photography. Yogananda writes of holy sadhus who meditate alone in caves that they leave just once every 12 years to attend Kumbh Mela. I was intrigued by this chapter until I learned that Babaji, one of these swamis, looked to be in his late 20’s, but was reputedly 500 years old. Yogananda calls Babaji India’s ‘age-less master’. This again troubles a photographer for whom appearances matter. I don’t want a thousand year old temple to look like it was built last week. 



Born and raised in Calcutta and trained right here in Puri, Swami Yogananda spent much of his life in America establishing the Divine-Life Fellowship. He writes with simple clarity, “Disbelieve in the reality of sickness even when you are ill. An unrecognized visitor will flee.” 

A wise man knows which unrecognized visitors will flee and which will take possession of his home. In my mid-winter beach retreat I have had to deal with representatives from each of these two categories of unwanted company. Antibiotics are my antidote for those that would take possession. Surf and saris was my remedy for those sometimes more troublesome guests that only delight can shake off. 


Every morning women wash their saris in the surf and dry them on the beach

P.S.

The first report from Kumbh Mela came from a Chinese traveler about 1,380 years ago. It took years for his report to reach his homeland. You should not have to wait that long, but I do not expect to have the both the internet access and the time necessary to post much from Kumbh Mela. My full report should reach you by the beginning of March when I’ll have had time in Delhi to prepare my reports






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