“It is the lives we encounter that make life worth living.” ~
Guy de Maupassant
Standing on the raised platform of the ancient Sas-Bah temple at Nagda in Rajasthan, we looked once more at the barren landscape in the distance. We noticed a procession of women in colorful saris walking single file toward an area dotted with palm trees. Why? What were they doing? Where could they possibly be going? No crops in the field to harvest. No buildings around. We asked our guide. He wasn’t sure. Our curiosity was too great to just let this cultural moment flutter away in the breeze like the image of their saris. We asked him if he would take us to them.
“No! I won’t escort you. It would be better for you to go yourself. Just walk down that dirt road and you will come to a path, and then you can catch up with them.”
After a check with our driver and the time constraints we were under, it was agreed we could go. “Just don’t take too long,” they reminded.
Our escort would be little children that appeared instantly, hands out, smiling and saying, “ten rupee.” One little boy handed me a yellow dandelion. Getting to the path required us to climb over a crude rock wall, overgrown with vines and brambles. Ron first, then holding my camera and hand, I climbed over while holding my skirt up. Giggles from the children.
Once on the path, we realize we are intruding on a couple of women who are cooking on an open fire. No house, few belongings. We smile, bow and say, “namaste.”
Rushing to catch up with the procession was my priority, while not stumbling over rocks and twisting an ankle. There was already blood dripping down my leg from scratches encountered climbing over the wall.
Those at the end of the procession now see us and stop. The others slow down, turn, and just watch these crazy people approach.
What a moment. A mixture of shyness, smiles, cautiousness, curiosity and perplexity among the group.
Some gather with Ron and others around me. We ask if anyone can speak English and a few laugh. I point to women with gray hair and point to my gray hair and call them Mama and Grandmother and jester to myself. They seem to know what I mean and banter with each other. The group relaxes.
We ask to take photos and many allow us. A few are still cautious. I respect that.
And then, on cue, the women once again get in their processional and leave us to ponder the same questions we had originally.
Was this a religious ritual? Was it an observance to pay respects to the recently departed?
As we watched them leave, they began singing. It was solemn and spiritual.
They carried no babies, no food, and no water. No small children accompanied them. They were taking time out from their domestic responsibilities. Obviously, these women were bonded and committed to something of meaning to them. Hindu traditions and social identities are complex, and I knew we had witnessed something special.
Women, dressed in their finest saris, fluttering in the breeze.