Yesterday, I found myself sitting outside, alone on a hot night somewhere on the outskirts of south Delhi in front of a fire at around half past midnight. I was reciting the Hanuman Chalisa – a prayer to the Hindu monkey deity – whilst simultaneously minding off the multitude of exotic insects around me and getting flustered trying to keep this dwindling fire in front of me from being extinguished.
I had been there reading continuously for the last 4 and a half hours and so was understandably a little tired and was eagerly anticipating someone to come and relieve me from this ‘duty’. As I struggled to keep the fire alive the flame gave way to smouldering cinders and smoke started to flood this little granite covered area of the garden. My eyes were stinging like crazy as I battled on with the fire pouring the last few drops of ghee (purified butter) that remained onto the cinders in hope that this fuel would catch alight. That simply made more smoke and seeing as nobody had shown me where the fuel resources where kept I ended up scrounging around on the floor for twigs small enough to catch fire easily in hope that the larger logs would then catch in turn.
The monsoon humidity wasn’t helping matters and I hadn’t helped myself by throwing a load of samagri (fire offerings consisting of flowers, incense and some other ingredients unbeknown to me) on the fire which smote the flame in the first place and sent the place into a smoke house.
In my mind the fact that this holy fire had been burning continuously for years added a layer of anxiety to the scenario as I didn’t want to screw up with something which so highly revered here however I was in half a mind to just abandon the cause and head to my room to sleep seeing as it was late, I was reading something which I didn’t really understand, struggling to maintain a fire which meant nothing to me directly and I had done more then my allotted time on this duty and there was no sign of the next person showing up. Just as I was asking myself how long I was prepared to stay and endure this situation I saw a figure approaching through the dark and thus breathed a sigh of relief, bid the fire farewell whilst wishing my followup act luck in resurrecting the flames.
This was my ‘Havan duty’ experience at Gobind Sadan, a multi-faith farm which we’d come to visit for a few days while my old sarangis are in Meerut, near Delhi, for repair. A Havan, for those that don’t know, is an ancient ritual fire from the Vedic tradition where one puts offerings such as Ghee, incense and flowers on the fire whilst reciting some form of prayer. This was just one of several Havans which burn continuously here at Gobind Sadan a place where traditions from all religions are respected and actively practiced. You can see Sikhs bowing to a statue of Jesus lighting traditional candles all around it reading the lords prayer in English and Punjabi and then offering a Hindu style Puja (ritual prayer) to it! All around the place there are pictures of Jesus, the Sikh gurus, the Dalai Lama, Buddha, famous Sufi saints and the founder Baba Virsa Singh. The chairs where he used to sit are dotted all over the place, treated with great care and kept pristine with just a portrait sitting now in his place. They have a mosque, several Hindu and Sikh temples, a Buddhist area and a place for Jesus and they celebrate the major festivals of each religion there.
All in all it was a lovely environment to stay in with well tended gardens as you can see and greenery all around. They do great work there to educate children from the local village coming from poor backgrounds and instill them with a really open attitude, good understanding and respect for all faiths. The farm feeds the poor and extra income keeps the place running. I, in particular, was relishing the fresh curd straight from the buffaloes at breakfast, lunch and dinner so much so that I ended up with terrible heartburn everyday!
Anyway another enriching experience on our journey through India which, FYI, is now reaching the closing stages as our return flights are booked for the 12th September. We’ll be in London for a few days and then jetting off (again!) to Portugal for some time to digest all that’s happened over these few months and look to the future.