As I walked through the ancient windy streets of Varanasi, at several places, I was able to stop, stretch out my arms and touch the sides of the buildings. I think you will believe it after seeing this picture !
The first time we were visiting this ancient, holy city was during the huge nearby Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad. It is the largest gathering of religious pilgrims in the world. The educated estimation of people attending is 100, 000,000 souls! Yes, one hundred million! At the end of the one and a half month Mela, many Hindu pilgrims visiting from around the world would make a stop at the near by sacred city of Varanasi. In 2013 we were in Varanasi during this time. There was absolutely no way tourists with passports or not, were allowed anywhere near this temple. Our bags were checked, our passports were checked and then we were told we had to leave them in a shop with a guard! All this was done just to go near enough to see the top of the dome over a stone wall.
Just as we approached the checking station where all non-Hindus must check-in, we realized one of the girls was missing. David turned and left but whispered to one of the students in the front, “Don’t say you are a Christian,” and to me as he passed.
How jolting to people who have never had to declare their faith system. There was only a few minutes to decide what to say. Would they ask us individually or one person(me as the only adult) to declare for the group?
My faith as a Christian is too important for me to deny and I decided what I wanted to say within a minute or so. I, of course, didn’t feel that I could speak for each of the students. In countries with national religions, it is expected that everyone in the US is a Christian, which of course is not true.
I decided to say, “I am a Christian, but I can’t speak for the others. We are here to visit India to learn all about her culture, including her faith systems.”
Well, it turned out that the Indian policeman asked only one person ( a male student) and it wasn’t me. ( After all, I am a women.) The student said something similar to me. “We are architecture students from America who want to learn as much about India as we can during our time here.”
We were allowed to enter the entry courtyard of the temple that you can see is built into the fabric of the ancient city. Someone stayed with us and told us some details in broken English.
Now I don’t want anyone to think that I am implying in anyway we would have been hurt or imprisoned because we were Christians. We may have been refused entry even into the entrance . But we have all heard recently about Christians being beheaded by haters, and persecuted and thrown into jail. Christianity and the church has become marginalized in the world, it seems. And that is partially the fault of the church and her members ( my opinion) and our lack of love and involvement in the world to “love our neighbors, and work for justice”.
This was a day full of thoughts and not just sights for us. I am sure it was for the students as well !
images from Google public domain