Visit to Rajasthan 4—Return to Delhi via Jaipur and Mandava
Visit to Rajasthan -- July 1997
Part 4: Return to Delhi via Jaipur and Mandava
Shekavati District-"The Essence of Rajasthan"
Early the next morning we began our return journey to Jaipur. Along the way beautiful ancient scenes enchanted my eyes. At one place I saw a mother resting with her child beneath a wide-spreading tree. She allowed me to approach and take a few pictures as she rocked her baby in a simple home-made cradle as she talked to him in the sweetest most endearing way. Nearby her husband and other villagers cultivated their fields using tools made at their homes or from local forges. Bullocks quietly moved back and forth at the deep well drawing forth water to irrigate the crops. In these and countless other scenes I find a joy and comfort that comes from knowing that there are still places in the world where people can live and work in their own environments, tending the soil, caring for each other, and leading lives dedicated to religious principles. We may think that these people are backward but when one looks at the serenity and natural beauty on their faces, it may cause one to wonder if all our modern technology has brought us any closer to really appreciating some of the warmth and caring they enjoy.
On our way to Jaipur we passed through Ajmer and Pushkar. These areas are famous for their rose plantations. Rosa bourbonia or Edward Rose is grown for making gulkand, rose water, temple offerings, and attar. One of our team members, Mr. Avasthi, has visited here and done an excellent photographic documentation of this local industry so it was not necessary for me to duplicate his work, but it was nice to get a feel for this region by actually visiting there. One of the products made here, gulkand, is popular throughout India. It is prepared by pounding together a mixture of rose petals(from which the sepals have been removed) and sugar in equal proportion or in a ration of 1:2. It is popular as a tonic and laxative. In the hot season it is appreciated for it is said to have a cooling effect on the body. It is also good in soothing sore throat and enlarged tonsils.
In Pushkar we visited the famous Brahma temple. This is the sacred place where Brahma, the Lord of Creation, was said to have killed a demon with a lotus. When the petals from the lotus fell to earth lakes were formed. The most important was the lake at Pushkar where the temple was constructed in his honor. Hindus from throughout India come on pilgrimage here as it is considered one of the holiest places in the country. A bath in the waters of the lake is considered highly efficacious in removing ones sins. We offered our respects at the temple's sanctum and enjoyed the devotional atmosphere pervading the grounds before continuing our journey to Jaipur.
We arrived at our hotel at 8:00 in the evening, bathed, had our dinner and awaited the arrival of Mr. Avasthi from Kannauj. Mr. Avasthi has done an superb job of documenting the different facets of the attar industry and so each time we meet he has a wealth of images and information to present to us that help us understand considerably more about this ancient industry. At 9:30 he arrived at the hotel and we had a brief discussion about the next days program and the projects he was currently working on. He was able to do a comprehensive study of the making of Mitti Attar and the collection of Kadam for making Kadam attar.
Our work for this, the sixth day of our journey, was to visit the palaces and forts of Jaipur before proceeding to the area of Shekhavati where Ramakant's family and community originally came from. Since our time was limited we took a guide for our days excursion and he(the guide) very capably showed us the sights and scenes of the city. Many books have been written about this city and so I will not attempt to give an in depth discussion of its attractions except to say that they are well worth visiting. One of the greatest blessings of all was that the monsoon rains accompanied us through our visit to the City Palace and Amber Fort keeping the temperatures at a pleasant level and casting a unique charm on our experience. All the dust of the hot summer was washed away and the trees, shrubs, and flowers took in a refreshing drink of natural rain water.
After completing our tour of Jaipur we left the city for our six hour journey to Mandawa in the Shekhavati district. The roads of this region were once major caravan routes where the goods of India, Kashmir and China were interchanged for those of Europe, Persia and Arabia. The merchant community, known as the Marwaris prospered greatly from this trade and became the leading business people of the time. This talent has carried over into our modern era as from this tiny area have come many of India's most prominent business people. It is said that over 70% of the countries asset are controlled by people who originally came from this region.
In the 19th century the inhabitants of Shekhavati began patronizing the art of fresco painting and many of their mansions(haveli) were adorned with these works. Today many of these mansions have been restored to their former glory and it has become a popular tourist destination for people traveling to India from overseas. Our purpose in going there was to visit his communities family temple where several times a year large gatherings are held to celebrate some special occasion. I felt greatly honored to be going to the place which is so special to his family.
Towards evening we left the main road to travel to the small village where the temple was located. Once again I felt as if I was entering a forgotten world or a world that only exists in dreams. It was the sunset hour and a profound stillness was on the land. The sky was filled with ethereal hues of reds, golds and oranges and these colors were painted on all the objects of the earth. Villagers were passing on their way from their fields to their homes. A small boy came along the path riding on bundle of grass heaped on his water buffalo. In the quiet movements of the animal sauntering along the road with this small boy astride, I experienced all that touches my heart about India. It is an overwhelming gladness that purity and innocence are still to be found in the world. I know it is very difficult for a person from the West to understand how something so common could mean so much, but for some reason everything seemed transparent at that time. I felt that if I could just reawaken to the innate innocence and purity of a child I would really live in the highest sense of the word and all life would appear as an ever unfolding miracle. In these last few days I have tasted of that experience again and again and each trip to India has provided glimpses into the happiness that is found when those qualities get awakened in the heart, but on this occasion it pierced yet deeper and I felt absorbed in it for many hours afterwards.
As night fell we came to the temple and we as we entered the compound the evening prayers were being chanted. We joined in this simple celebration in praise of that Hidden Power that animates all life and when this was done we were shone to our rooms. We brought our beds out into the cool evening air with the sky overhead as our roof. After a soothing rest we were called for our evening meal where we sat on the floor Indian style, eating simple foods prepared by the caretaker of the temple. Following our dinner, we took a stroll and just outside the compound. From a distance we heard the sound of singing and soon the local villagers passed by us performing some celebration special to that time and place. India is a land of festivals and celebrations and her people are ever engaged in worshipping the mystery and sanctity of lie in myriad forms. From elaborate religious ceremonies held in major places of pilgrimage and attended by thousands of people, to small village ones attended by the local people, the land is ever alive with hearts and minds praising that power which is hidden to the eyes but dwells in all things. It was a sweet ending to a full day.
In the light of the following morning I visited with a baby camel and its mother which were nearby to where we were staying. The baby camel took a liking to me and pressed upon me to stroke its long and soft neck. While doing so she made many interesting sounds that must have been an expression of delight. The temple caretaker came out also and fed the peacocks who gathered to eat grain under a large tree. Village women came to the well filling their earthenware and brass vessels with fresh water which they carried back to their homes delicately balanced on head or hip. Slowly the village rose to activity and with it came the time to head back to Delhi and the modern world.
Before entering upon the main road Ramakant took us to several other small ashrams in the area. He told us that a lot of prosperity has come to this region because many of the people who have become successful in India and abroad who have their roots here are investing money in the local economies. It is even possible that in this area a facility could be set up for distilling high quality essential oils and attars as the farming communities are eager to growcrops that can add to their income. I can not think of a better place to do this than this area of Rajasthan as it is near to both Jaipur and Delhi and yet is still pristine and pure. The seed of this idea is beginning to form in our minds and perhaps in the years to come it will take shape into something substantial. It was a cheerful thought to begin our homeward journey with.
One of the main features of the few hours we had left was to discuss in detail with Mr. Avasthi about the attar industry. He filled in many fascinating details that we did not know and I will soon begin to put these into a readable form so that we have one of the most extensive documentation of this work to date. As we approached to the city the external parts of the lovely world I had been part of began to fade, but I knew the inner beauty of it, the part which touches and lives in the heart would be with me always. Soon we were saying a quick farewell at the airport me on my way to San Francisco, Ramakant on his way to Bombay, and Mr. Avasthi on his way to Kannauj. I hope that soon we may all meet again to continue our explorations of India's aromatic traditions.