The humidity of the monsoon season envelopes me in an embrace as I step outside of the car. For a moment, the loud commotion from inside ceases, and I half-heartedly welcome the smoldering heat as I gaze at the landscape around me. Despite the yearly trips to India, my body has not gotten used to the scorching temperatures, preferring the colder climate of America. A moment later, my family members – my mom, my two aunts, my uncle, my two cousins, and my grandparents – bustle out of the car and walk towards a large opening in a sprawling stone wall. We are in Halebidu, an old city in India from a kingdom lost in the past. This city is the site of two old Hindu temples, which await us past the wall. We take our shoes off before going in, in order to respect god’s place.
At first, I see what appears to be a short but sprawling building. As we draw closer, it becomes a beautiful sight to behold. Intricate designs grace every inch of a temple. Sculptures of gods, mythological creatures, animals and scenes from Hindu mythology bring the temple to life. The figures seem so life-like, every detail carefully and intimately carved into place. I later learn that each sculpture is unique, and no two are the same. The temple’s beauty and intricate elegance astound and humble me. More than eighty years of hard work was put into the unfinished masterpiece. It is a true monument to Hindu religion and culture.
As I walk inside the temple, I felt transported to another place, another time. I can almost see the ancient Hindu priests going about their duties, smell the strong smoky scent of incense, feel the dull heat of the flame offered to gods during aarti, and hear the deep chorus of voices in prayer. It is a transformative moment when I realize what a rich and ancient culture I belong to. I suddenly feel more connected to my Indian heritage than I ever have before, and gain a new found respect and reverence.
On the car ride home, I stare out of window the whole way, looking at the world around me with new eyes. I see rampant poverty and modernized society coexisting in unimaginable ways. I see small family owned shops whiz by, shops that offer all the services or goods you could ever need. I see people and oxen and dogs and goats. I see women proudly wearing colorful saris, and men chatting in traditional clothing. I see the sons and daughters of a culture so old and so enduring.
At home, I lay down on the divan as my family settles into the rest of the living room. I look at the faces around me, at a family that is so close despite being separated by continents, and I feel at peace. As conversation erupts amongst them, I close my eyes, listen to their animated voices, and truly feel blessed to be a part of this family, and a part of this country.
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