“Close your eyes!” I was sitting on the floor of the Galta Mandir, a temple in Jaipur dedicated to the monkeygod Hanuman. Raju, a twelve-year old selfappointed guide, sat beside me. He was showing me how to pray. He had also decided what we were praying for: a baby. As a woman of thirtysomething, Raju thought I must be in dire need of one.
Many westeners go to India for spiritual reasons. It’s not hard to distinguish them from the crowds of more prosaic tourists. The women often wear a sari, the supershawl ingeniously draped around the body. Searching men (fewer in numbers it seems) usually just sport dirty yoga pants. Some guidebooks say that wearing Indian-style clothes is a good thing, but it looks like mockery if it comes with distinctly unIndian behavior. I’ve seen baffled Indian families staring at a westener in a sari who was meditating in a crowded restaurant.
For me personally, spirituality couldn’t feel more remote than when in India. Temples and mosques are so low-key that even chickens and goats can enter. When I ask about religiosity, like the difference between a red and yellow bindi (the dot on a hindu’s forehead), people giggle and reply that they have no clue. Several hindus told me matter-of-factly that they pray to Krishna and Jesus alike. Indian spirituality comes accross as eclectic, colorful and very relaxed and not at all as providing easy enlightement and straightforward solutions to all your problems. So do these searching westeners find more here than a huge bill for their meditation and yoga classes, I wonder?
In the temple, our prayer had finished in a few seconds. “Now you give money to the holy man,” commanded Raju, pointing to an impatient gentleman dressed in orange. Apparantly, ten rupies or fifteen eurocents didn’t just buy me the goodwill of Hanuman but also some fruit from the holy man. I doubt the Indian gods will fedex me a baby, but at least I had a banana when I left the temple.