Describe a memory or encounter in which you considered your faith, religion, spirituality — or lack of — for the first time.
Photographers, artists, poets: show us FAITH.
When I was about 8 my mother & sister took me on a shopping trip to Oxford Street in London. Both of them could shop for hours at a time in clothing shops. I didn’t share their passion for clothes, shoes & handbags, & would often become faint & need to stand outside to get some air.
I remember on one occasion hearing a strange sound of drumming, bells & singing as I stood outside the doors of C & A. I was so drawn to the sound that, forgetting my mother’s warnings not to stray, I wandered in the general direction of the sound to find out what it was.
Suddenly I saw the most incredible sight I’d ever seen. Dancing along the street were a group of amazing people. The men were dressed in orange cloth & the women were wearing saris made from the most beautiful, colourful materials.
As they danced they chanted in a strange language & while some of them played the huge drums that were hanging around their necks others clanged finger bells. I stood transfixed. It was like something from one of my grandfather’s books about the world, had come to life before my very eyes.
I had also seen pictures of such people in the Horniman museum close to my home, where many treasures collected during the tea trading years of one Frederick Horniman, were housed. I followed slowly for a while until I found myself back outside the shop where I had started. My Sister was looking for me & took me back inside.
I was deeply moved by what I had seen & vowed to return one day to find these wonderful people & discover their ways. It was about 5 years later when I returned to Oxford Street alone, hoping to see them again. They were not there & I was bitterly disappointed.
I started to visit Oxford Street every weekend after that & on about my third try I found a single lone man, dressed in what I now knew to be dhotis, handing out leaflets in the street. I took one eagerly & read it hoping to find out where I could find them. There was an address of an ISKCON temple in Bury Place but I had no idea how to get there.
I returned to the smiling man & asked him where I could find the temple of which the leaflet spoke. He gave me directions & I started to walk excitedly in the direction he had pointed. It took me quite a while to get there & when I arrived I was surprised to find a rather dull looking town house. Nothing at all like the wonderful temples I had seen in books.
I entered shyly as a lady invited me in & gestured to the pile of shoes by the door, I understood immediately & slipped my shoes off leaving them with the others. She drew a tilaka (sacred mark) on my forehead with a paste, offered me some prasadam (sacred food that has been offered to God before being consumed) & so started a new chapter in my life.
After that I visited the temple once a week for a couple of months. Sometimes I was invited to study with others, reading from the Bhagavad Gita or the Srimad Bhagavatam & sometimes I was sent to the kitchen to help prepare vegetables. I learnt to make clothing for the deities & on one occasion I was taken to a room on one of the upper floors & left to clean a huge carpet with a tiny brush all on my own.
My favourite times, though, were when I was left alone with my tulsi beads, to chant in the temple room with the deities, I loved the smell of the incense & the wonderful colours of the flowers. The altar was so beautiful & I felt so at peace there. This was what I thought of as a temple. This was an inspiration for me.
I realized as time went on that there was a lot more to Hinduism than that which ISKCON could give me, & that I needed to look further afield in what I now understood was a wider quest for truth. It was a turning point in my life though & I will be eternally grateful for the care & love I was shown by the devotees during my visits.