Saturday, January 7, 2012:
Up at 7:30 in the morning for breakfast at 8:00 and teaching at 9:00 is not the norm for me, but this Saturday was the exception. Following classes and lab work we hit the road in three rickshaws with a student named Udit Tharke
, a passionate young man who is intelligent beyond his years and volunteered to be our tour guide as we ventured into the Old City portion of Ahmedabad.
Getting out of the lab is nice as the stress level is rising but the itch to see the sights is more dominate. We are all realizing that we have less than a week left until we are back in Wisconsin with the unusually warm winter. I don’t want to go back to a place where it is cold one minute and warm the next. Here, I am not tearing off my scarf and North Face
like I am in Wisconsin; it’s a nice change.
The Old City was originally built by the Sultan, Ahmad Shah
, and was protected by what we learned to be called gates that are stories high and yards thick. This is why it is also called the Walled City. Ahmedabad has kept it’s tradition and interest in keeping the original culture alive and so with the beating of a drum the city reenacts the opening and closing of the now non-existent gates at 11 a.m., and close at 11 p.m., each day. We heard the music on our Heritage Walk later that evening, something I will share with you in a separate post.
The gates to the "Walled City"
With the hustle and bustle of a city like Ahmedabad it is hard to imagine keeping ancient traditions and customs alive, but with the architecture, faith, and people’s family history there are plenty of reminders. The Islamic community dominates the Old City and their place of worship has been my favorite part of this trip. The word “favorite” can be relative and is much overused in our culture, but at the Jami Masjid
(Masjid means mosque) I experienced a calm and meditation unlike anything I have experienced before. I felt like I had an epiphany moment where I realized no matter where I am in the world and no matter what state of mind I may be in, I must recognize my inner core and be true to what my body is telling me. While I was sitting with my legs crossed and eyes closed in the sun by the hauz, a fountain where Muslims wash their hands, face and feet, before prayer, my epiphany continued. I also realized there are things you can control and things you can’t and for those you can’t control, you can’t worry about. This new philosophy will be used throughout the year of 2012, or so I will try…. Those of you who know me know I’m a worrywart.
Photo by Chris Whitman
Before we went to the Jami Mosque we went to the Sidi Saiyyad’s Mosque
that had the symbol of Ahmedabad engraved in it. Sidi Saiyyad Jaali
is the name of the gold lined tree that can be seen throughout the city, but when the British took over the Old City they destroyed all of the trees with the exception of this one. The females were not allowed to go pass the steps while the men were able to enter the mosque. It was hard to get past this at first since I was so eager to see the symbol up close, but I knew to respect the culture and follow the rules so I sat contently and took photos of the beauty that was before me.
Saturday was the first time I had been to a mosque, and now I can say I have been to two. The Siddah Saiyyad Mosque had simple architecture. It was small and had three walls, with no front to it in order for people to worship openly and for the citizens to see the Siddah Sayed Jali tree while driving bye without obstacle. The second mosque, Jami Masjid, was hidden away by the surrounding building, markets and traffic filled roads, but when you entered you would not have known there was anything else in the world. Silence was the sound you heard. Footsteps of children echoed. The brush of feet and knees sweeping the floors while men and women stood up and down from prayer were audible and the water being rubbed across bodies in the hauz. It was a moment in time where time was still and I felt at one with something. I looked around and saw all of these people in this beautiful open aired place of worship and could not help but ask, how did I get this lucky? I looked around again and realized it was because I work hard and because I am a devoted person, just like the Muslims who worship at the mosque five times a day.
The emphasis on worship in India is impeccable and cannot be described in words, even pictures, only through experience. No matter what class you are, how rich or poor, or what job you have there is always a place for prayer in slums, villages, cities, everywhere and they can be in the strangest places. The people of India don’t shy away from other religions either. You are welcome to any mosque, church or temple and be greeted with smiles and welcoming eyes. They do not label you here, they do not ask questions, you are who you are and are welcome to practice what you feel is right. Through this experience I have begun to explore my own faith. This is something I have been pondering for quite some time, but after this experience of sensory overload I have had a deeper look into myself and into others personal experiences.
After this delightful meditation we exited the mosque and found the congested city named Ahmedabad. Here we saw cute little sheep dressed up and a girl with her mother selling goods and were reminded we had a date for tea.