Thursday, August 25, 2011

seventy-ninth visit: Aug 21st 2011 Hinduism and Jainism (Shri Krishna Janmashtami)

8pm - 12:45am sunday evening
Hindu Jain Temple of Pittsburgh

(Shri Krishna Janmashtami: celebration of
Krishna's birth)

615 Illini Dr, Monroeville PA 15146


In Novermber 2010, I gave an informal talk about my artwork (including this project) to a group of University of Pittsburgh art students. Present at the talk was Yog, who subsequently signed up for my spring 2011 foundation design class. Yog, who is on his way to becoming an amazing illustrator and graphic designer via his recent admission into SVA in NYC (yeah), ...and whose father is a priest at this temple, invited me to Shri Krishna Janmashtami. Thank you, Yog.

I arrive, Indian standard time (fashionably late). Others are also just arriving and yet others are already leaving for the night. But there are enough worshipers seated across the wide room to necessitate a lengthy visual hunt for Yog. No worries. I have never felt awkwardly alone at Indian-cultural events. Never excluded. Before long, an elderly woman named Indhira approaches me. She has come from India to visit her daughter, to whom she introduces me. She asks me what country I am from, I'm assuming because of my dress. It almost makes up for 40 years of wishing that I could claim a non-American ethnicity and had learned a second language at birth. Just a life-long jealousy of those who can. Maybe in my next life.

Finally, I spot Yog across the room. Though I wish Indihra could join us, I worry that the awkward zig-zag trek through a sea of seated worshipers would be hard on her, so I excuse myself as politely as I can manage, and join Yog.

Some of the things Yog and I talk about:
Obviously the temple serves both Jains and Hindus. Yog's family is Hindu. Though there is some commonality between the two beliefs regarding larger theories and concepts, Jainism is not a branch of Hinduism, (nor the reverse) and a distinction between the two beliefs is made within the temple.
I look into this later at home. If taken in detail, the differences between Hindu and Jain beliefs are great in some respects. For example, they do not share scripture. And to Jains, the origin of the world is eternal; to Hindus it is a creation. Additionally, Yog explains that there is a specific Jain alter, and that Jains don't believe in a god(s), while the Hinduism is centered around three main Gods and their avatars. Yet tonight, and assumingly on many other nights, in this temple the two groups are interspersed throughout the same room. Yog says: "Hindus and Jains get along. We share the same culture."

Beyond this, I learn:
This temple is more festive, colorful and less orthodox than the SV Temple (my 14th visit). Or simply put, here there's a little more emphasis on general Indian culture as opposed to religious culture.
Until the rituals at midnight, the observance comes mostly in the form of music, with different groups of musicians taking the stage. Including Yog's father. Later a priest offers a homily, some portions in Hindi and some in Sanskrit.

Though it's optional, Yog fasted today, eating only fruits and drinking water. So, in answer to my question raised during my 68th visit (5th paragraph), we can add Hindus to my list of religious fasting in August (+ Eastern Orthodox Christians and Muslims.) Others?

for more about Krishna: see this entry, 48th visit...

It is well after midnight when I leave. The night owl in me does not mind, though it has been a while since I've followed a late schedule, so I am a little out of practice. "Is this the longest service you've been to?" Yog asks at two separate instances. Maybe. Or maybe tied with my Passover Seder, 52nd visit (for which unfortunately I could not stay the full length—so I guess it doesn't count)... Longest? We shall see. 21 more chances left.

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