We first discovered the pull of the Narmada during our two weeks in Maheshwar last December. It was during our time there that we first met parikramavasis: the devotees of the holy river who make a 2,600-kilometer pilgrimage to circle her entire length. Some start at the river’s mouth on the Indian Ocean, walk along her northern bank, circle her source at Amarkantak and return to the mouth. Others start at Amarkantak and complete their journey there. Wherever they start, all the parikramavasis perform their journey in a clockwise direction, keeping the Narmada on their right.
They’re building a Jain temple on the higher land above the little town of Amarkantak. Saying “a temple” is really a little misleading – it’s a huge, impressive structure, with an even taller tower close by. And these buildings are just part of a larger planned complex.
It was time for Alan’s quarterly haircut. We’ve both had very good haircuts since we first started traveling almost 18 months ago, so we expected to find competent barber. What we didn’t expect was that we’d provide an evening’s entertainment for 10 of the barber’s closest friends.
The goddess Kali is everywhere in Puri, portrayed in some of the fiercest, wildest, most bloodthirsty forms I have seen in our travels around India. A string of human skulls around the neck is nothing – Odishan Kalis have blood dripping from their mouths, they plunge lances into the chests of the humans below their feet, their eyes are crazed with lust for yet more blood.
Kali is the goddess of the graveyard. She rules the burning ground, the ultimate place of transformation where the body of this earthly life is promptly dispatched, the soul freed for the next stage of its journey.
Today in Puri I saw, right up close – and for the first time in all my travels through India – the details of a body being burned.