The first full day of the Ganeshpuri Retreat 201 — I realize I have entered a time warp, where in an instant I switch between the modern world of cell phones, Wi-Fi, cars and planes to a time period of more than 5,000 years ago.
At 4:20 this morning most of our group, even many who had arrived only two hours before , were sitting on the floor in the Nityananda Temple. Suddenly, the air was rent by a thunderous chorus of soundings from a conch shell, ringing bells, cymbals and kettle drums. What a nice way to wake up Nityananda’s bigger-than-life size, golden murti for his morning bath! A murti is an enlivened statue, and Nityananda’s “Sakti was certainly present.
For the next two hours, He was bathed with water, yogurt, milk and honey and then rinsed off so lovingly by the Temple priests and the four women guests who were honored with the opportunity to help today. With priests chanting in Sanskrit the whole time, Nityananda was bathed, dressed and adorned with garlands of flowers that we had just bought from the vendors outside. To reach Nityananda’s head when draping the garlands, the priest and guest assistants climb on a tall stool behind the murti. At the end of the ceremony He was shining and bedecked.
What came to my mind were descriptions of the ceremonies and worship of the ancient Jews at the Temple in Jerusalem. Aside from the obvious difference that that the Jews were worshipping the formless and that the yogis are worshipping a form of the formless, all the other elements were present: priests dressed in special vestments were chanting an ancient language and waving flaming candles and firepans; musical instruments were playing; incense was being waved; offerings of flowers and food were made; and afterwards the blessed food (prasad) was distributed to the rapt crowd who had brought offerings as well as their supplications and prayers.
The prayer service in Jerusalem today is no longer the same as in ancient times; Temple sacrifices and rituals were replaced by prayer only after the Temple was destroyed 2,000 years ago. But in Ganeshpuri, the morning prayers in Nityananda’s Temple are a continuation of the same worship that existed 5,000 years ago. The two hours go quickly, and it is easy to slip in and out of meditation. I am filled with immense gratitude.
Soon it is time to file past the murti to receive our bindi of kumkum (a red powder used to create the forehead dot), to extend our hands (right hand over left) to receive prasad, and go outside to find our sandals. It is still dark and temporarily quiet. I return to the 21st Century.