Visit to Rajasthan 2—Trip from Jaipur to Jodhpur
Visit to Rajasthan -- July 1997
Part 2: Trip from Jaipur to Jodhpur
"Exploring the Lotus Lake and Sacred Kadam Grove"
After an early morning walk and breakfast we packed up our bags and headed onto the road for Jodhpur the first major stop on our journey. There we are to link up with Mr. Navneet Soni, a local representative for Ramakant's swiftly expanding incense business. In India there is no substitute for having a local person as ones escort when trying to study any dimension of local culture. We made a brief tour around Jaipur to get our bearings as we were to return there later in the trip. The road to Jodhpur was as smooth and beautiful as the one from Delhi to Jaipur. It certainly made the trip a lot easier as the temperatures climbed well over 100 during mid-day. With each passing hour my attention is getting more and more absorbed in the multi-sensory, multi-level experience of being in India. The sky has become filled with clouds that herald the coming of the monsoon rains. The village people start placing bets as to when the first rain will come and whether it will be light or heavy.The betting becomes more intense as the cloud cover develops. The filtered rays of the sun cause an even dispersion of light throughout the land. This softer light, permits one to observe all the beautiful details of people and animals at work. Bullocks and camels pulling wooden plows to upturn the earth, men, women, and children carefully weeding their crops, tube wells pumping up cool water to quench the thirst of plant and animal life, beautifully constructed homes made of thatch, stone, and earth, old people relaxing on charpais in the shade looking toward the sky and wondering when the rains are going to come. Each part is perfectly woven into a tapestry of unequaled beauty.
Once again I took up the subject of the role of garlands in Indian culture with Ramakant as this is one of the most ancient uses for fresh flowers in India and has a deep spiritual significance. In several different Vedas reference is given to the making of garlands and the profession of garland makers. Garlands were used to adorn the images of the gods and goddesses, in marriage ceremonies, for placing about the necks of religious and political leaders, to honor guests in the home, etc. These ancient traditions continue to this day and they possess rich symbolic significance.
First the sages taught that flowers in their delicate beauty were like unto the precious human body that had been given to the soul to do the devotion of the Supreme Power. The flower with its sublime fragrance was seen as the perfect symbol of what a persons life should be like, that is simple and pure giving off the fragrance of spirituality. Garlands of these lovely flowers were therefore offered in temples and religious places to signify that a person was offering their life in service to a higher power. The images around which these garlands were placed were representative of some divine attribute which they were hoping to inculcate in their lives and by placing the garland about their necks or at their feet they were invoking the grace and mercy of the Power which they represented to awaken that virtue or quality in their lives. Second, the sages recognized that the fragrance emitting from flowers had a beneficial effect on the human mind. Fragrance acted upon the higher intuitive centers in the brain and its refining influence helped put one in touch with that Hidden Power which was the fountainhead of inspiration and creativity. A garland composed of fragrant flowers was seen as one of the finest methods of conveying the subtle head space aromatic molecules into the brain via the nostrils as it encircled the head and rested on the chest. Garlands were presented to religious leaders so that their discourses would be filled with divine inspiration. Third, garlands were seen as one of the finest symbols of the relationship between the lives of the common people and the people entrusted with their welfare. Individual flowers were strung on a simple cotton thread to form the garland. The thread was likened to the daily lives of the people and the fragrant flowers symbolized the beauty radiating from the simplicity of their lives. A person in a high religious or civic post when receiving a garland about their neck had to bend their head which indicated that they understood their responsibility to the people and would act in a spirit of humility for their welfare. Fourth, flowers woven into garlands were seen as a reminder to the people that human life was intertwined with nature and the nature was a witness to all his/her deeds. The sages were deeply aware that humans were only one part of life on the planet and that they(humans) had a responsibility to respect and venerate all life. Garlands were exchanged during marriage ceremonies in part because it was felt that the sacred vows being exchanged were being made before the great power of nature represented by the flowers. The meaning was that people were making a promise to the universe to maintain their marriage not just for their own sake but for all life. This promise made in the presence of nature as represented by the flowers was considered much deeper than a promise made before a human magistrate or priest alone.
We reached Jodhpur about 4:00 in the afternoon and proceeded to our hotel. Our contact in the city was Mr. Navneet Soni and we called him once we reached our room. He joined us shortly after we had refreshed ourselves with a nice shower. Plans for the coming days were discussed and we then proceeded to a beautiful spot on the outskirts of the city called Mandore. Mandore was the site of the former capitol of the area and was established in a fertile gorge surrounded by rocky hills. The Parihar Rajputs ruled here from the sixth to thirteenth century and built a charming palace complex surrounded by beautiful gardens. We entered this ancient site through a park of towering trees, shrubs, flowers and waterways. Temple like structures called chhatis were prominent features of the landscape. They marked the spot where past rulers had been cremated. Other magnificent buildings graced the landscape and we enjoyed the fine mood created by the gentle post-sundown light. Luscious smells of henna and jasmine flowers wafted on the night air.
We then proceeded to the home of Navneet where we were greeted by his mother, wife, and small daughter with the warmth, kindness and generosity which is one of the hallmarks of high Indian culture. Only those who have been the recipient of such a welcome can understand how real and sincere it is so my words can convey only a little of what that atmosphere was like. In those simple clean surroundings we were treated to a traditional Rajasthani meal served to us by both husband and wife. We sat on the floor and first a bowl of cool water was brought which was poured over our hands to clean them. Then several tasty dishes prepared with fresh spices, vegetables, grains, and herbs was served with careful attention to our every need. In the quiet of the evening surrounded by the kind attention of our hosts we were treated as if we were the most special people in all the world.
Following our delicious repast we went for a short walk to sit in an open courtyard just outside the village temple dedicated to Krishna. We were enveloped in the darkness as we sat absorbing the vibrations of a land that is filled with a rich history thousands of years old. In the distance we could see rocky mountains jutting out of the desert floor and the outline of temples and fortresses upon them. The lowing of cattle in a nearby dairy provided a gentle background to our reveries. Navneet took us into the temple compound so we could receive the blessings of that atmosphere. In such humble surroundings one is able to sense the deep unassuming devotion that is characteristic of so many millions of Indian people and it is in such places that rich spiritual and cultural traditions are maintained from generation to generation. We returned to our hotel room contented and happy after a full day of travel, adventure and fine companionship.
Early next morning we were met by Navneet and we proceeded to a beautiful lotus lake several miles from the city. This was an unfrequented spot complete with a 450 year old summer palace(now in ruins) and a small temple. The cool fresh morning air blew across the lake lifting the ethereal fragrance of pink lotus for us to inhale and enjoy. The aroma of lotus is quite intoxicating and it is not hard to understand why the flower and its fragrance figures so prominently in Eastern religious tradition. Thousands upon thousands of flowers opened their petals to the light of the morning sun and this auspicious site seemed an appropriate opening to our explorations of the fragrant treasures of Rajasthan.
The lotus flower and its fragrance are of intense interest to us. Once upon a time a ethereal attar was made from the flower but now that art and craft is no longer practiced. Instead natural and synthetic ingredients are added to sandalwood to produce a similar type of odor to the lotus but not the lotus odor itself. In fact there are a number of different species of the genus Nelumbo each having their own distinct odor and so if, in fact, we can find some way to start producing as true lotus attar or absolute, we will need to be very specific about the species or cultivar used. The fragrance of the lovely pink-tinged lotus we were smelling is difficult to describe in any words. It was in its very essence, ethereal and delicate.Its sweetness is so subtle and profound that it steals into one heart and mind in a most unassuming way, but its effect was immediate and deep. It seems to touch a very high center in the brain and remind one of very noble and good spiritual aspirations. The symbolism of lotus in the East is so vast and deep that several volumes would be required to do the subject justice but one can say that it is primary importance in the religious and spiritual beliefs of the Indian people.
In the beginning were the waters.
Matter readied itself.
The sun glowed.
And a lotus slowly opened,
holding the universe on its
Indian creation myth as published in The Garden of Life by Naveen Patnaik
It stands to reason that just as the flower and its form are of great importance so must its fragrance be. Little research has been put in this area but it may be that the proper understanding and analysis of the aromatic molecules of the lotus may have great importance to understanding the rest of the world of fragrance. It is at least an interesting starting point for some in depth work.
Ramakant thought it might be possible to extract the volatile aromatic constituents of the lotus by subjecting the honey gathered from the plants to vacuum distillation. Apparently some work has already been done on this. It would be really interesting to see what kind of perfume would come forth from such a distillation as it could be done without plucking the flower or subjecting it to heat. It is very possible that new forms of distillation will evolve that will take into consideration the life of the living plant. At present it is necessary to remove the flower from the mother plant in order to extract the valuable perfume it contains and this, no doubt, produces some exquisite fragrances but maybe a gentler method like the one suggested above might even contain more potent aromatic chemicals.
After exploring the lake and its surroundings for about an hour we proceeded back into the heart of Jodhpur to have a quick morning breakfast at a local restaurant famous for its "makhanni lassi". This is a rich thick buttermilk drink which must be eaten with a spoon. Laced with saffron, cardamom, and pistachio, it was a true delight to see, smell and taste. We joined dozens of customers in enjoying this local delicacy.
Our path then took us up a windy road to the famous Mehrangarh Fort. It sits 400 above the plain and from its top rampart one can see many miles in every direction. Rudyard Kipling described this imposing structure in these words, "...he who walks through it loses sense of being among buildings. It is though he walked through mountain gorges....". In order to reach the pinnacle of the fort one would normally have to wind their way up the hill through seven fortified gateways but in recent years an elevator has been constructed to give easy access to those possessed of less stamina or time. As our time was limited we opted to take the elevator to the top. Here we were able to enjoy expansive views of the surrounding area as well as the "blue-city" of Jodhpur itself. A cloud filled sky and a fresh breeze added to the perfect, timeless beauty of the scene that greeted our eyes. The fort museum is located in this upper section of the building and we wandered from room to room enjoying a stunning collection of miniature paintings, weapons, palanquins, textiles, woodwork,etc. The rooms themselves were resplendent with tiny mirrors, lacquered walls, sandalwood beams, finely carved lattices, and the like. The level of refined craftsmanship was very high and one could sense from the buildings themselves and the arts and crafts they contained that the Rajput kings were not only superior warriors but lovers of refined beauty.
The culmination of our wondrous journey came when we visited a courtyard surrounded by apartments in which the women of the royal family use to live. This courtyard opened to the sky above and in the center was an elevated pot holding the sacred tulsi plant dear to Lord Krishna. The courtyard, called the Rang Mahal, was especially constructed for the celebration of the spring festival of Holi and here the king and his ladies would celebrate and flirt by squirting each other with colored waters and tossing clouds of crimson and ocher powders upon one another. But on this day the courtyard stood empty and silent bathed in a gentle light and caressed by a soft breeze. As we stood there the lilting sound of a bamboo flute filled the courtyard. Shortly thereafter we saw the source of the music in the form of a beautiful man dressed in the style of a retainer to the royal family. He kindly allowed me to photograph him as he played his flute while standing next to the tulsi plant. It was a lovely culmination to our visit to the ancient Mehrangarh Fort.
The next stop on our exploration of the city was to the old bazaar of Jodhpur City. By this time it was mid-day and the heat had begun to build. We wandered through the narrow streets just to get a feel for the area and to see if there was anything of interest to us from the fragrance standpoint. As the temperature was well over 100 I could not focus very well on the various shops and after an hour or so we decided that there was not much of value to be gained from exploring this part of the city. We decided to break for lunch and have a short rest while the heat of the day subsided.
Our afternoon began with a visit to the Umaid Bhavan Palace one of the largest private residences in the world. Built in the 1920's it used over 2.5 million cubic feet of marble and sandstone and contains 347 rooms. It was fun to go through but for me did not hold any of the enchantment and romance of the fort. As the temperatures had cooled down considerably Naveen suggested we visit a place which he knew had some Kadam trees. This is very important from our fragrance research viewpoint as Kadam flowers are greatly valued for the wonderful fragrance they impart to attars. Outside the city we came to a tiny village where we asked an elderly farmer if he knew how we could find the place where Naveen had heard their was Kadam trees. The farmer told us that he would be happy to guide us there himself so he got in the car and off we went on another fragrant adventure. After a few miles we left the tarred road and followed a dirt one until it ended in a small ravine at the gate of an ancient temple. Once again I felt we had entered a forgotten world where anything and everything was possible. The kind and gentle soul which had guided us to this serene spot told us that many centuries before a great sage had settled here and became absorbed in meditation. In India it is believed that nature blesses that place where meditation is being done and so, in this case, a grove of Kadam trees began to grow up around his hermitage. They became so thick that it created a canopy of foliage above the place where he was sitting. The flowers when in bloom gave off their delicious aroma from 3-6 AM the time considered most auspicious for spiritual practice. Many old Kadam trees still surrounded the temple and we wandered about in search of some that were in bloom. This is the season in which they flower but their full crop usually appears only when the monsoon rains begin. A beautiful grouping of old and gnarled trees surrounded a stone lined well and the elderly farmer told us that this was a sacred place where Sita use to do her daily ablutions when she and Rama stayed hereon their way to Ayodhya from Sri Lanka. Their story is recounted in the Ramayana one of the most famous epics in India. As we walked up the ravine we found more and more Kadam trees but none seemed in bloom. We came upon a forest department nursery tucked neatly away in the ravine that served as a propagation station for neem and other trees that were known to do well in this location. Thousands of tiny saplings were growing there in the shade of mature neem and peepul trees. We asked the watchman if he knew of any Kadam trees in bloom and he directed us to spot to the side of the road upon which we had come. We were overjoyed to find several trees with both mature flowers and new buds emerging. At the time of our discovery a number of village children appeared on the scene. They were asked to collect some flowers from the higher reaches of the tree in a flash they were scrambling up the trunk and onto the limbs. Laughing and chattering merrily they nimbly collected flowers while I took pictures of them. They were delighted to render this service and we were delighted to see their absolute spontaneity, innocence and purity. Their eyes sparkled with joy and happiness and there voices were like the melodious chirping of birds. They collected a small bundle of flowers and returned to the ground with their treasure in hand. And what a treasure it was. The fragrance of Kadam is rich, mellow, and delicious. Stephen Arctander describes its fragrance as being "woody-floral and sweet odor with a short-lived, but strong minty-borneol topnote. The dryout is delightfully sweet-floral, reminiscent of champaca and neroli. The tenacity of the fragrance is almost incredible."
As we stood inhaling this intoxicating odor in the most lovely of natural surroundings, I felt such a deep gratitude and joy that I was being allowed to participate in this experience. I could not understand by what miracle I had been brought to this place, charged with a timeless innocence and purity. The ancient temple sitting in a rocky ravine, the elderly farmer who had brought us there, the children in their simplicity and sweetness, the knarled old trees around Sita's bathing place, the peacocks perched upon rocks and trees calling in their unique voice, the fragrance of the lovely flowers, the cool breeze of evening, the sun setting in the West, all created an enchanting feeling that still lives in my heart. The beauty was so rich and deep as to be almost painful. I think there are some types of pain that are very good because it makes of think of a life that is hidden from the eye yet is very real and is part and parcel of what we really are beneath the surface of our everyday existence.
"This is the Kadamba tree popularly associated with Krishna. Krishna dancing with Radha and his favorite gopis under this tree is a favorite theme of the Krishna-Radha legend and is often represented in miniature paintings. The tree is held sacred by the followers of Krishna and its flowers are offered at the temples dedicated to him in memory of his swinging from the branches and dancing under the tree with the milk-maids of Vrindivana. Krishna stole the clothes of the milk-maids while they were bathing in the river Yamuna and took them on the Kadamba tree."
Plant Myths and Legends in India
We concluded our stay in this unforgettable spot with a group photograph. We placed the small bundle of flowers that had been collected in a handkerchief and took them with us. For the next three days the lovely fragrance of Kadam was to accompany us on our journey proving true Arctanders statement about its incredible tenacity. In the soft after glow of the sunset we journeyed back to town. Before we reached town the elderly farmer asked to be let down and quietly disappeared into the ancient land of which he was a part. Once again we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Navneet's home and then proceeded to the hotel to get a good rest as the next day was the beginning of our trip to Nathdwara.
Early the next morning we left the hotel and picked up Navneet as he was to be our guide for this segment of our journey also. He took us to the temple complex were all the local people were gathered for their early morning devotions. When we came out of the temple and were preparing to leave for Nathdwara, a young cow came up to me and decided that I was a benign spirit. She then carefully washed my right arm and then my left arm to the delight of Navneet's family. I know it may not seem like much to anyone but myself but I felt as if I was being cared for in the most tender way and when she was through my skin felt rejuvenated and fresh.
In all these small things I was feeling the kindness and protection of some hidden power that seemed to accompany us at every step of the journey. I know it seems strange to bring this type of thing up, but the reality is that in India, the belief in such things is real and deep and because there is an openness to a life that is hidden from the eyes many truly special things seem to happen. I have experienced this phenomenon numerous times and it is not something that I wish to convince anyone of but simply to share the freedom and joy that comes from trusting in the goodness and beauty of something which is within us and around us always and fills life with a vitality, interest, and beauty if we can but allow it to penetrate into the depths of our hearts and minds.