Despite only having 24 hours in Delhi, we packed in a ton of adventures, really taking advantage of the final day in the subcontinent. We arrived in the Pahar Ganj district of Delhi late on the night of the 26th, with our flight booked for the following evening. Of the five of us traveling together, four of us had the same flight back to the States, which made coordinating things far more manageable than things might have been otherwise. We had made online reservations at Hotel Kwality but I’d recieved a notification that my credit card was cancelled shortly after, so it was entirely up in the air when we showed up whether or not we would actually be able to stay there. However, there were literally dozens of hotels on the same street, all with absurd neon signs and looking like a Hindu Las Vegas, so not much would be lost if Hotel Kwality didn’t work out. Everyone else was pretty dramadreamed out from the 8 hour car ride so I took care of getting us checked in, which actually ended up working out. Nikhil, another kid from the program that had been traveling separately from our group, was also staying in the hotel for the night and on the same flight the next day so we met up with him. This meant we had three rooms across the 6 of us and a total of 4 beds, meaning I was sharing a double bed with only one other person, a nice change of pace from how cozy things had gotten over the previous week. And the room had A/C! Joy of joys!
We woke up around 7, made some vague plans for the day that ended up being more or less worthless, and headed to the Lotus temple. Architecturally, the place was an absolute marvel. The temple, which is the 7th major house of worship of the Baha’i Faith, is designed to look like an enormous lotus, India’s national flower and a sign of transcendence of this mundane reality. Each petal is clad in white Greek marble panels, creating an unimaginably majestic facade set against the sky. I found the temple to be a fitting stop for our last day in the country, providing an interesting perspective on the practical application of a lot of the ideas I’d been thinking about regarding the union between the secular and spiritual and the ways in which the human species will need to proceed in order to sustain itself. The Baha’i Faith identifies itself as “an independent world religion, divine in origin, all-embracing in scope, broad in its outlook, scientific in its method, humanitarian in its principles and dynamic in the influence it exerts on the hearts and minds of men.” Above all, it promotes the oneness and wholeness of the entire human race.
Arising above the muck
Before this trip, I’d known literally nothing about Baha’i, which is probably more of a testament to my own ignorance than lack of its value (or maybe just lack of PR), so I figure a brief history of the world’s newest global religion might be interesting some other people that are as uninformed as I was before visiting the Lotus Temple. Most of what follows is taken from pamphlets given to me in the Lotus Temple’s accompanying museum. In 1844, a Persian youth known as the Bab (meaning “the Gate”) proclaimed that he was the forerunner to prepare the way and herald the appearance of a new Spiritual Figure, the next prophet of God. His teachings were profound and relatively widely accepted but, unsurprisingly, were considered heresy by the religious orthodoxy. The Bab was persecuted and finally martyred in 1850. Over the next two decades, over 20,000 of his followers were brutally killed as well. One of his followers that managed to survive was Baha’u’llah (meaning “the Glory of God”). From an early age he was distinguished by his extraordinary wisdom and adherence to many of Baha’i’s central tenets. Due to his deep devotion to the Baha’i Faith, he was imprisoned and tortured. In 1853, during this period of imprisonment, he received an intimation from God that he was the Promised One foretold by the Bab, which Baha’u’llah publicly declared in 1863 while in exile in Baghdad. During his time in prison, Baha’u’llah received thousands of inspired writings which, along with the writings of the Bab and Abdu’l-Baha (Baha’u’llah’s son), became the basis of Baha’i’s holy scriptures. These writings are unique in that for the first time the holy writings of a major religion are authentically available in the handwriting of its founder. Before perishing in 1892, Baha’u’llah spent the remainder of his life traveling throughout the Middle East and Asia, spreading Baha’i beyond Persia and the Ottoman Empire to the Caucusus, Turkistan, India, Burma, Egypt, and the Sudan. Following Baha’u’llah’s death, his son, Abdu’l-Baha, took up mantel as the leader of the Baha’i community. During his ministry, the Baha’i Faith spread to the United States, Canada, Britain, and Europe. Within the space of the 154 years since its inception, the Baha’i Faith has established a global community comprising more than 2112 different ethnic groups in over 360 countries, territories, and islands, representing a true cross section of the human race. Some of the central ideas of the Baha’i Faith follow:
The Oneness of Mankind
Independent investigation of Truth
The common foundation of all religions
The essential harmony of Science and Religion
Equality of Men and Women
Elimination of Prejudice of all kinds
Universal Compulsory Education
The adoption of a Universal auxiliary language
The abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty
The institution of a World Tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations
The glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society
The exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service to the rank of Worship
Religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations
Spiritual solution to the economic problems
Strict obedience to the government of one’s country
On the whole, I find very few objectionable tenets in that list. It really is a beautifully idealistic concept. If the peoples of the world could be convinced of the benefits and sustainability of such a situation, surely the world would be a far better place to live in. The Parliament of World Religions has produced a similar plan in the form of Towards a Global Faith: an International Declaration in 1993, but there is still a long way to go. Even if people see the benefits of such a system and the detriments of the current way of life, it’s difficult to let go of tradition, which is one reason that I think Baha’i is so promising since one can live by all of the tenets of the Faith without entirely abandoning their native religion. It’s something I wish I’d heard about earlier in my life and that more people knew about. I have no plans of converting (what I’d be converting from is pretty ambiguous too) but it certainly provides a good creed to model one’s life by.
From the Lotus Temple we walked to the largest electronics market in India, which we never ended up finding but we did get some good Lebanese food and McFlurries (mindblowing.) Next, we caught autos to Hauz Khas to make a final shopping trip, but didn’t find much to buy so the group split up so some people could go find another market and others could go to National Gallery of Modern Art. Corinne and I ended up being the only ones going to the museum and the trip was completely worth it. One of the most amazing museums I’d ever been to. There were some interesting sculptures outside but the paintings inside were what was really incredible. I didn’t have a camera or pad and pen but managed to remember the names of a handful of artists: K.V. Haridasan, G.R. Santosh, Om Prakesh, Shanti Dave, Jyuti Bhatt. A lot of the art incorporated figures from various Indian religious traditions and other forms of spiritual symbolism, but it never did so in any sort of preachy or excessively chaste way that a lot of other religious art seems to be. I found Indian contemporary painting to be fascinating in general, resembling no type of art I’d ever seen before. It was constructed from within an entirely different cultural consciousness than work I’d previously been exposed to so the whole experience was tremendously eye-opening. I was hoping I’d be able to buy a bookl of the museum’s collection, which is something I’d never even had an inkling of desire to do at any other museum, but they didn’t sell one so I satisfied myself with a few posters (only 75 Rs apiece versus the $30 I’d probably pay in the States.)
From the museum we headed to Chandri Char market since we had a few hours to kill before I needed to head to the airport. We passed India Gate, Delhi Gate, and the Red Fort on the way there so I guess I can say that I saw all those too. The market was complete and total chaos. As we walked through we were packed into 6 foot wide hallways of shops, people grabbing and yelling from every side, selling trinkets for little kids and an absurd amount of clocks and watches. There wasn’t much worth buying there so we headed to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, which was only a walking distance away. We were in a bit of a time crunch so we basically just did a quick lap inside but I was happy to have the chance to visit it, if only for a brief moment. I definitely got a wide religious perspective today.
Rushed from the mosque back to the hotel to pack up and load into a cab for the airport. Getting to the airport was easy enough but the shenanigans really kicked in once we got there. We waited in line to check in for nearly two hours and when we finally got to the end we were told that our visas should have been registered at the police station when we arrived. We were then notified that we would have to travel back up to Dharamsala to get things squared away. The people at the check-in counter gave us the okay but said it was likely that as we went through customs we would get sent back. Thankfully, that prediction never came to fruition and we made it through security relatively problem-free, albeit with only 10 minutes until boarding closed. Ran to the gate and made it on the plane to head back to America.
Sitting on the plane was when the sadness over leaving finally kicked in. As I mentioned earlier, the program ending wasn’t particularly sad for me since I still had a week left in India with some of my best friends from the program. It was an incredible week with incredible people in incredible places so having to say goodbye to them and India in the same day was really rough. I loved my time in India far more than I ever could have imagined, especially after the time I spent here in high school. I saw a lot of different faces of India and even if they weren’t all pretty I loved every minute of getting to know them. India certainly isn’t perfect: there’s a tremendous amount of poverty, filth, and corruption. Even as the economy has been surging forward over the past decade there have been recent hiccups and overpopulation is a serious problem. But the lifestyle runs at a pace that people seem to find far more manageable, even if productivity isn’t necessarily being maximized at all times. It’s a way of living that definitely suits me and I expect to be back someday soon.
Somehow never managed to take a picture of the 5 of us that were traveling together. Pretty sad actually. This is the closest we came.