Hangin' With the Sadhus in Orchha, India
temple, village, mote
In the small places, it's easy to make the leap from observer to participant.
Small towns and villages are where I've really connected with local people:
where I've been invited into their lives, where I've learned the most about
customs and culture, and where I've felt most at home.
This was especially true in Orchha, India. Once a great capital city, Orchha
is now just a simple village with a stunning backdrop of temples and palaces
built in the early 1600's. The village itself can be seen during a half hour
stroll. The temples and palaces can be experienced in a single day. But Orchha
invites visitors to linger, look closer, and take part.
History You Can Climb
There are three spectacular palaces in Orchha that are situated on a fortified
island. In various states of preservation, these huge stone structures sprawl
across the center of the island for miles. Inside their cool interiors are labyrinths
of winding corridors and spiral stairways. The palace rooftops offer magnificent
views of the village, the temples beyond, and the ancient city wall that surrounds
it all. Elsewhere on the island are
crumbling remains of camel stables and ruined stone structures, which offer insight
into how the ancient city must have looked before it was rediscovered.
Orchha's gothic and commanding temples date back to the 1500's and are still
in use today. They are towering stone structures with high vaulted ceilings
and magnificent Hindu murals. Thousands of devotees visit the temples regularly
to worship or just to climb to the roof and gaze out across the city.
Visitors are allowed to roam freely within/around the historical sites in Orchha.
Nothing is roped off. Nobody tells you where you can and can't go. Nowhere is
Hangin' With the Sadhus
The main town square in Orchha is a hotbed of activity: fruit sellers line the
main walkway; chai vendors operate stalls in the background; ladies gather in
shady areas to picnic and chat; children fly kites; sadhus (holy men) sit under
trees and conduct ceremonies, smoke bidis, and hold lively debates.
a big fan of Sony digital
The sadhus seemed like a friendly bunch, so one afternoon I drifted past the
group with an inviting look on my face and, sure enough, was invited to join
them. Without many words in common, we managed to interact extremely well. We
shared food, drank chai, participated in a holy ceremony, laughed a lot, and
filled my camera's memory card (one sadhu liked the camera so much that he offered
to buy it – and kept pulling rupee notes out of obscure hiding places
to convince me to sell). When it was time for me to leave, they even offered
a chillum full of ganja to tempt me into staying.
India vs. Pakistan
India is crazy about the game of cricket, and the nation is gushing with excitement
over the World Cup games that are currently taking place. When I arrived in
Orchha, India's most important game was about to take place: India vs. Pakistan.
"For Indians," a young man explained to me, "beating Pakistan
is more important than winning the cup."
The town shut down on the night of the game, and every television commanded
a huge audience of shouting fans. Pakistan got off to a good start, but India
shut them out and won the match. And the town went crazy – for about an
hour (even a major cricket win can't keep this sleepy town up past 10pm).
Shiva's Birthday/Marriage Celebration
man dressed as Shiva
On another afternoon, as I was walking to a remote temple, I ran into a parade
of wildly-dressed people who were celebrating the birthday/marriage-day of Shiva,
the Hindu destroyer/creator god. Young men and boys wore long black wigs and
plastic Dracula fangs; an Elvira-esque girl rode atop a bejeweled horse; men
and boys threw colored powder at each other and passersby; a sound system on
a donkey cart blared modern Indian dance music. After watching the parade for
just a moment, I was pulled into the mix by a costumed fellow and was soon covered
in colored powder, dancing like mad, and doing my best to freak out the onlookers
Occurrences like this seldom happen in big metropolises or capital cities.
But they seem to happen all the time in the smaller places.
Posted on March
19, 2003 01:30 AM