Saturday, February 27
We are working on limited sleep, the adrenaline of being half way across the world from home, and the food-induced coma of our first authentic Indian lunch provided by our amazing hosts at congregation Keneseth Eliyahoo. We pile into our charter bus, our second home in Mumbai, and we take off for the first of many sightseeing tours through the crowded streets!
Our first stop is a beautiful, small Jain temple. Before entering, we are told that the Jains are among the oldest religious minorities in India (where 85% of the population is Hindu) and are currently often compared to the stereotype of American Jews because they tend to be among the wealthiest and most philanthropic in India. We are greeted by swathed fabrics of every color and detailed sculptures of elephants, guards and other figures all fancily outfitted and bejeweled. Moving in further we enter a small sanctuary that contains gilded doors and columns, a domed ceiling depicting the planets and other astrological scenes, and congregants scattered about with random accoutrement including dry rice and step stools acting as miniature tables. Most obvious to all of us are the (inverted) swastikas…everywhere. This is the first time that most of us learn about the symbol’s long history for the Jains, and most of Asia’s religions. In this temple, the swastika is a sign of peace and well-being, and we watch a few women kneeling on the floor slowly crafting swastikas out of the rice on their step stools. Though the symbol has always meant something very different to us as Jews, I slowly start to feel what these congregants are feeling, serenity. The temple is nothing if not a peaceful retreat on a typical chaotic Mumbai road, and that is a real coup in a city like this.
We cross the street to enter Kamala Nehru Park which offers equally amazing views of notable high rises along a different shoreline. We are impressed but immediately make a beeline for some shade to watch children playing on the tri-level “Old Woman’s Shoe” from the fairy tale.