Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
When people push themselves beyond the limits of normal human capability, it is always admirable.
A few years ago I’d read about the kora or parikrama that Tibetans performed as they went around the Jokhang and even the Kailash Parbat. The magnitude of that task evoked in me jaw-dropping awe.
Men and women cover the entire distance of their spiritual journey in the following steps:
They stand with their hands folded above their heads in prayer
Lie flat on the ground completely prostrate with the hands above their heads still
Touch their foreheads to the ground
Take a step to the point that their hands had reached
This is repeated for the entire distance which could be for hundreds of kilometres.
No food vans following. No water-stations like we see for marathon runners. No fresh towels to wipe off the grime.
Only devotion fuels their grit.
How they manage this over days I do not know. But even if the luxury of these water bearers and food tables were to exist, it would still an extraordinary feat considering the hardship of the exercise and the duration of the journey.
For a long time I had only seen a few photos of this and imagined the rest of the story.
And then one day in March year in Ladakh I saw this for the first time.
We had begun early at 7am to drive out into the interiors – over 150km away. We had hardly begun when on the other side of the road I saw a group of men doing something I had not seen before.
Within moments all the dots in my head connected and I asked the driver to stop.
I ran back and reached a spot way ahead of them as I did not want to disturb them in any way.
We were a few kilometers outside the city and and I was told they probably came from Chanthang. I was awed but we had to continue our journey.
We then went our way and after a leisurely full-day excursion of 5 hours driving each way, (that had warranted this early morning departure), we got back to the city around sunset.
And guess what we saw before entering the city? The same group of men. They had not yet reached the city.
I was completely baffled. And my mental model of life was shattered.
How could they be so strong mentally? How could they even desire something like this? How could they take on such an endeavour?
And naturally disguised in these questions about them, were questions about myself: How was I so weak? how come I haven’t done anything like this? how useless are all my possessions if they do not enable me to be strong – or free – or disciplined ….?
A random silly thought had occured to me and was banished before I could even articulate it in my head: “should i offer them a ride to ease their journey?” The absurdity of that question hit me as soon as I formed that thought and I was embarrassed! (the good thing about thoughts is that no one can see them… unless one puts them down in a blog like this … but at least my companions of the day were not exposed to my foolishness). How could I have even though about helping them! I had nothing to offer that would be of value to them. If anyone could benefit from the other, it was obviously me that would be the receiver – I could benefit from some transfer of that spiritual / mental wealth!
And it was this sudden encounter with this other model of living that shattered my model of how one ought to conduct life.
More questions to the drivers and my two Ladakhi companions revealed that during a certain phase of the Lunar calendar every year, this spiritual journey is undertaken by many. And if we were lucky we’d get to see this again in the city.
And we were lucky.
Here are some photos of absolutely impressive devotion:
Note the accessories worn by the pilgrims:
Special aprons if one has them:
Or if one doesn’t have them – then some plastic or polythene sack in which 20 kg of ‘besan’ or chick pea flour was packed will do the task just as well.
The lady in the photo below touches her forehead to the ground….
and uses the mask for her nose.
Most people in this group walk around the palace in the city from morning to evening everyday for a period of 3-4 days. Chanting as they go.
What drives them?
Is there anything that could drive me to do this? Or anything equivalently great?
They bow to something greater.
And I, bow to them.
[photos from 2017]