April 20, 2011

Camels and Karma Bhoomi in Dwarka

Children ride a camel on the beach where the Gomati meets the Arabian Sea off Dwarka, rather on the banks of the Gomati that abuts the beach off the Arabian Sea just short of the Gulf of Kutch to the north.

There’re two camels about, both decked in bright designs, beads, and fluff. When they’re not carrying excited pilgrims around, they rest on their belly, their legs tucked alongside. They’re a picture of calm. The late afternoon sun tints them golden, and suddenly life, all life seems warm and beckoning.

Photographers meander among visitors, ever on the lookout for faces willing to be framed by the setting sun. A photo studio - Dharmendra Photo Studio - across the walking path beachside processes the prints. I count six photographers equipped with DSLRs, all but one are in their twenties. In the day when the sun is high and few pilgrims are about, they retire to the shade of the studio, whiling away time talking amongst themselves or looking through the pictures.

I find myself meandering among pilgrims gazing out to sea, at some fixed point that must exist more in the imagination than in the sea. It’s that vacant gaze seeking indulgence in a vacant space.

In the distance, a lighthouse stands on land abutting the sea. Spotting the lighthouse at night I imagine the deck-hands on passing boats and ships exclaim, “Look there’s Dwarka.” In that moment the night must forsake its darkness for the exclaiming voice delighting in Krishna’s Dwarka.

However I see no ships on the horizon. It is empty. Before me the sea opens up like a gate, or dwar. It beckons but there’s no path leading out. While Krishna’s teachings will show the way to the dwar, and beyond, they will not part the sea. His Dwarka could not part it when the time came, and I’m but a mere mortal.

The dwar will differ from me to you, from you to the next. It’s as much an exit as it is an entry, as much a passage as a dead end, only depending upon which way you’re heading, or wish to, or are pushed toward. I do not know. Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t.

Somewhere in the waters off the land I stand on, off the coast of Saurashtra, Krishna’s legacy in stone is safe from the prying eye. There’s every possibility that the sliver of land I walk on as I look out to sea will someday recede into the waters, extending the Dwarka of yore, and widening the Gomati further.

Having walked alongside her for a few days, I’d imagine she strains uneasily from being chaperoned by man-made channels as she courses out to the sea. She was placid in the time I spent on her banks, only briefly lapping the steps higher than usual as the tide rose, bringing the small fishes further inland, their aspirations limited by Gomati’s own, for now that is. The ‘now’ that seems forever. The ‘now’ of the moment that seems like eternity.

I stand with my back to the coconut vendor who is busy with pilgrims stopping by for nariyal pani, so busy he has no time to ponder on their pleasure at sipping the refreshing drink he makes them before picking up the next green nut to slice the top off before passing it out to the next eager hand.

In the day, when the Sun is high and strong, there’re few if any visitors queuing up at his cart, the coconuts heaped high and idle, their green the only relief for some distance around. He shares the silence with the camels resting likewise. And the sea contemplates them both while keeping the clouds company.

The picture of calm that descends through much of the day quickly evaporates as the Sun dips and begins its downward journey.

It’s not hot, nor thirsty. Still, a drag of tender coconut water, some tea by the tea stall, a smattering of chaat for the taste buds, and a ride on a camel serves to make the walk to the beach worthwhile, and the pilgrimage to Dwarka, memorable.

Dwarka, Krishna’s Karma Bhoomi.

The years have receded away just as the land he once ruled receded to the bottom of the sea thousands of years ago. Off the coast the divers found Dwarka, or rather some of it, for I’m told it used to be a large, magnificent sprawl. Now fishes roam among large portions of the city that Krishna had declared to be his Karma Bhumi.

The previous day, an elderly man I met in the bazaar, past the Dwarakadish temple, past the sari shops, past the provision stores, had raised his arms above his head, only his advancing age preventing them from straightening ever more skyward, motioning to Lord Krishna’s home in the heavens, before lowering his voice to a whisper, “He (Krishna) saw Kaliyug coming, and drowned Dwarka. It was his wish.”

“I come here each year. Many of us walk for fourteen days to reach here. It’s a tradition,” he said, before continuing, “I’m just happy being here, where Krishna once walked. To walk where he once walked makes me happy. Yeh Krishna ka Karma Bhoomi tha.”

Karma Bhoomi

No sooner I ponder on the words, their import comes sailing on the stillness from Krishna’s own rendering of Karma to Arjun at Kurukshetra. The charioteer left nothing to ambiguity when he said –

Karmanye Vadhika Raste Maa Falesh Kadachan
Ma Karma Fal Heturbhuh Ma, Te Sangotsva Karmani

Karma Bhoomi.

It’s a part of my heritage, the words as much as their import, and calling. I roll them on my tongue. They roll easy, only on the tongue that is, not so in practice. I know only too well. But then that’s a different story, for another time, if ever.

Karma Bhoomi.

There’s a finality to it. A finality that comes from taking a stand, a final stand; a finality associated with making a choice for good, not for the good even though that might be the intended consequence; a finality that will not allow you another chance; a finality that comes from taking a responsibility that cannot be shifted, ever. A finality that says – this is it; this is where I’ll make a difference; this is where I will stay the course, to the end; a point of no return from a resolve made, banishing the possibility of return in the fear of exercising it should the resolve waver.

Karma Bhoomi, the land you work in the spirit of sacrifice to benefit self and society.

Karma Bhoomi, the land where you live and work in accordance with the teachings of your Dharma.

Karma Bhoomi, the land where you experience the cause and effect of your Karm or deeds, your Karma resulting from your deed or Karm.

Karma Bhoomi, the land where you discharge your responsibilities in accordance with the Dharma.

Karma Bhoomi, the land where you accrue your Karma that will in turn determine your present, and future experiences, and the life you’ll be reincarnated as.

Karma Bhoomi, the land that beckons, where you fulfill your responsibilities as a duty, ensuring your actions are not influenced by the desired or expected outcome, acting independently of whether you’ll benefit from it or not, instead leaving the fruits of your actions to your destiny.

Karma; nothing definite; nothing indefinite, its continuity factored into the timelessness of the soul.

I soon realize that I’ve stepped out of the frame even as I remain in it. Voices float by. Shadows shift slowly. I see the camels again, but in a different light. One of them is resting while its caretaker sips tea from a glass, his dusty cotton drawers the colour of earth, and the turban energised by the Sun warming up to the unfolding scene daubs the canvas deep red. He’s in no hurry. Neither is his camel. Stillness flows with time. Lack of it marks time.

While the colourful finery, real and plastic, marks the camel out there’re no ‘lesser’ cousins I can contrast its regal bearing with, at least not in Dwarka. However I was reminded of the camel wagons we passed on the road to Alwar in Rajasthan some years ago, marveling at their tenacity in dragging the wagons heaped with produce long distances. There wasn’t a jot of finery to acknowledge their Karma, not a wisp of colour.

I turn my gaze to the royalty before me, trailing my eyes along the contours of its hump, first rising before falling away, much like Dwarka’s own fortunes.

Each day the camel returns to its Karma Bhoomi with its caretaker, ferrying pilgrims about on joy rides, surviving the passage of time in the memories the pilgrims capture in frames, memories likely outlasting their own lives in the eternity of digital, the only continuum with a beginning but no end. Like Krishna. Like Karma.

The eternity of a moment is in its transience. And I returned from Dwarka with many such moments, stringing the transitory along until it acquired the permanence of a memory.


Anonymous said...

That's a nice travelogue with a lot of details..Loved reading and photos are excellent...

Ugich Konitari said...

Loved the post !

I sense a certain sense of "lightness" when I think Dwarka. Unlike the many strict, rule-imposing pilgrim centres dedicated to other Gods. Like Krishna, who I have always thought of as a "normal " God; so playful as a child, pestering the gopis, and running off with the butter and milk; and then the Lord of Dwarka, loyal to his women, guide planner and advisor to others, and someone who was street smart in his thinking, without disobeying rules. His abode displays all these qualities, in the various living beings that inhabit it. The commerce, the flow , the folks who make a living wandering with cameras and illusions , and the camels, who actually are a great example of what the God actually espoused : Nishkaam Karma.

Riot Kitty said...

You should write for a living. Your words are amazing.

Chrism929 said...

Beautiful, inspiring. Thank you so much.

Anil P said...

Weourlife: Thank you.

Ugich Konitari: Thank you. A pleasure to know that.

Indeed, we all associate a certain irreverence with Lord Krishna, a playfulness that imbues songs in his praise with a humanity that is at once beautiful to envisage as it is moving.

In fact your comment reminds me of the dancing Krishna devotees from ISKON I came across there, on the banks of the Gomati, accompanied by singing and music, passing me by as they made their way to the ghats on the Gomati. I need to check if I took some pictures of them.

There's much singing and dancing when groups bear flags for hoisting atop the main Dwaraka Krishna temple.

However, a continuing Islamic threat to the ancient Dwarkadish temple has ensured that I had no easy time photographing in its vicinity, not so much in the lanes as much in the temple premises. Sentries keep watch with machine guns on the outside as well as from the roof.

The walls erected close the temple off from a broadside view, and considering how beautifully it's carved from stone, one misses seeing its grandeur in stone from a distance. From up close (inside the temple compound) it's not entirely possible to take in the scale.

The Islamist threat is too great for them to take any chances. I got shouted at by the cops for venturing too close with my camera.

Riot Kitty: Thank you. A pleasure indeed to learn of your sentiment. Maybe I could with the photography, not so much with the writing, for there isn't much value associated with it in the 'market' so to speak.

Christine Menefee: Thank you.

anan said...

one of your interesting travel stories and informative too...karma is derived manifestation of true being...the photographs r very good..my fav is the one with lighthouse

PallSin said...

Lovely. Like the way you talk about Geeta and Krishna and the concept of Karmabhoomi. Kudos.

Jon said...

I love your style of travelogue
It's become too difficult for photographers with every guy trying to get a DSLR as a priority

karen said...

This is so interesting, need to read through it again - such a wealth of information here... beautiful photos, too!

Amrit said...

CAMEL pictures are awesome

marja-leena said...

As always, I enjoy your stories of a culture so unknown to me, and the wonderful photos full of so much rich colour and beauty.

Anil P said...

Anan: Thank you. The lighthouse is striking, the lone sentinel of the seas.

Pall Sin: Thank you. The Bhagvad Gita has such an enduring context.

Jon: Thank you. Yes, too many cameras abound. In some ways it's a good thing, more people will have visual memories to fall back upon.

Still, camera is merely a tool. The eye behind the camera becomes crucial out on the field.

Karen: Thank you. Dwarka is a wonderfully spiritual place in many ways. Spiritual because it'll sometimes lend the philosophical to situations if one is prepared to experience it.

A: Thank you. The camels are decked up lovingly.

Marja-Leena: Thank you. I can imagine how it must seem culturally to the overseas eye.

Grannymar said...

I always learn something from your posts. The photos are wonderful as usual. Thank you.

TALON said...

"...at some fixed point that must exist more in the imagination than in the sea. It’s that vacant gaze seeking indulgence in a vacant space." -- I love this because I've seen that expression so many times. There is something about a large body of water that lends itself to that sort of inner reflection.

As always, Anil, I enjoyed your writing and your beautiful photographs. I always come away with a sense of not only learning something new, but remembering that which I already knew. Thank you.

Lubna said...

Your blog is refreshing for someone who has hung up her travelling boots. I jumped here from Cafetari, or rather the comment you left there. Happy travelling.

dr.antony said...

Hi Anil,
As usual,your usual inimitable style.You have the right recipe for the perfect blog.

Anil P said...

Grannymar: Thank you.

Talon: Thank you for reading. It's a pleasure to know the posts are liked.

It's as if a person will hold their gaze for longer if they're looking out to sea, or out to lake, or some faraway point of focus. The horizon becomes the focus, large and diffused. In looking at a large body of water, there's no demand made of the eye to follow something closely.

Lubna: Thank you. The site you mention escapes me.

There's never a time to hang up one's travelling boots. Maybe you'll find the need for them soon enough to get back to travelling.

Dr.Antony: Thank you for your encouraging comment. The recipe changes its moods at times :-)

Lifeisbetter said...

Very well written and creative use of words.

Could you tell me the aperture, ISO and shutter speed of the picture where you have capture two camels - one closeby and one far away - both in focus.


Lynn said...

What a lovely, peaceful post. The camels are so wonderfully colorful, but I like that the words make you think of your heritage.

austere said...

clearly, one of your best.

My Unfinished Life said...

oh!! I have been to this place in 2006!!....though as part of a work trip..i got to visit a lot of places in dwarka and quite liked the town!!

Anil P said...

Lifeisbetter: Thank you.

Photo Specs: f/7.1, ISO 250, 1/1600.

Lynn: Thank you. The camel designer wear takes some beating.

Austere: Thank you. Nice to know you liked it.

Shooting Star: Dwarka is a lovely place to visit and wander around.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

all the camels I've seen were in extremely poor state of health...

Anil P said...

Shrinidhi Hande: These two looked in fine shape. Sure, there'll be camels ill-fed, and ill-treated by their caretakers as well.

It depends upon the humanity and affection of the caretaker for their four-legged wards.

Kusum said...

Very beautiful and insightful article. One of your best articles :)