The Journey to Sacred Greece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 9 to 25, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vasanti Jayaswal


 

Prelude to my trip to Sacred Greece.

 

It was indeed my connection to the Hellenic deity, Demeter that eventually led to my trip to Greece. Besides all that went behind my coming to Petaluma and settling down here, the ignition key to the worship of Demeter looks like began in December 2009. I remember occupying my house in Petaluma around the end of Dec.2009. At any rate I figured that the seal of the city of Petaluma work or involvement had begun long before I bought this house. In the apartment at Mark West I had pictures of Demeter and Ceres kept in my worship altar within an armoire.  

 

Coinciding with this move to Petaluma was the arrival of the sculpture, of goddess Shaakaambari from India. Computer teacher Robert Caruso took care of Her until I moved into 210 Baker street. Many devotees in the US and other parts of the world wrote pages and pages of Shri Durga mantra for all to go well towards the establishment of this shrine.  It was then that I connected Durga, Demeter and Ceres. In 2010 I felt that during the auspicious time of Navaratri festival in Fall, I did not want to do the usual Nine nights Indian worship which I had been doing since the 70s. Instead boldly I decided to worship Demeter. The only remnant ritual from the previous observation was to read the text, Devi Mahatmyam, that too, only on one day.

 

Greek deities unlike Hindu ones look so human, therefore relating to their physical form was hard. It was as if they were just works of art. I set up an altar in the corner of the studio. I also planted barley seeds the way we do for the Indian Navaratri celebrations. Incidentally barley also features in Hellenic rituals. The seeds were sown in a triangular form as the letter Delta is the first letter in Demeter's name. This time I spoke to the seeds. " You are going to give me a sign if I am on the right path or not."  

 

Each night English passages on Demeter were taken from the Internet and read aloud. The ritual was simple with lamp, incense, flowers and fruit. On the ninth day I looked at the barley plants full of amazement. Never in all the years of observing Navaratri had the plants grow so tall. Almost a foot high. This was a good sign for me, as to move on this path. 

 

Then on I kept adding more details to this worship. Bought a book on the Homeric Hymns and read the story of Demeter and Persefoni daily, during any observance. 

 

To Subhashini, dance teacher and performer and Director of Natya Leela Academy in Portland, who looks upon me as a mentor, I shared my thoughts regarding the universal truth in the story of Demeter and Persefoni and its continued relevance even today. Perhaps this would make a good dance drama I told her. In March, 2012 she spent ten days with me. We worked on the plot, and employed instrumental music from various cultures and costumes. On May 11, 2012 close to Mothers Day, in a small amphitheater in Portland, this was performed twice. Suba's choreography was great, the all girl cast was excellent and the audience were thrilled. It brought tears to some of the men. To me this was yet another proof that I was on the right track.

 

From 2009 until 2015 so much has happened off and on by way of study, reflection and incidents connected to Demeter. The internet, books on Greek deities all became rich sources of knowledge. They influenced steps that I was taking towards bonding with the deities.  A significant book was the one by Pausanias, 5th century, who wrote on the Geography of Greece.  While reading my mind flooded with a variety of emotions. Anger towards the spread of Abrahamic religions, and the Ottomans for the massive destruction of any belief systems and sacred shrines other than theirs. On the other hand I was overcome with love, awe and respect for  that land that existed before these invasions. Imagine bending one's head as you pass a shrine or altar, smelling the incense, hearing the cries and chants of the devotees reverberating in the air. Divinity was seen everywhere by the Hellenic people. They were also one with nature very much like the Vedic people. 

 

I began to compile various names that qualify Demeter, taken from sites like Theo. I also noted down all the shrines to her from Pausanias' book. I felt like praising her so I made a list like a namaavali, garland of names. Side by side my interest in the Eleusinian mysteries kept increasing. Soon I began to feel tantric connections to this.

 

In 2013 at the end of Navaratri, when instead of worshipping the devi Chandi, I had worshipped Demeter. On October 10 around 4-5 am I had a visualization of a yantra/ padma/ mandala.  I knew it had to do with beginnings of a bond to this devata and her story with Persefoni. Though not good at geometry, I drew roughly what I saw. This is the third yantra that was revealed to me. The first was one to do with the 5 building blocks or principles of the creation namely the Panchamahabhutas and the second one based on saint Aandaal's Thiruppavai.  Then my late husband who was good at precision drawing drew a beautiful mandala which I colored. 

 

A new struggle ensued then on. As far as the yantra was concerned, all I knew was that the center, bindu was Demeter. From 2013-2014 to the early part of 2015 I began focusing on pinpointing the energies that are to occupy the focus points in the yantra, that is the peeta shaktis or supportive forces. If we take into consideration to look upon the yantra as a padma or lotus, the term used in Kerala then it would be the core, the inner and outer petals would unfold, while moving out and triggered by the core, which in turn is triggered by the bindu. 

 

I found myself drawn more to the Greek Demeter rather than the Roman Ceres although they are both present in Petaluma's City Seal. Drawn very much to the Homeric Hymn on Demeter, I would read Michael Crudden's translation aloud, daily during the fall Navaratri. By the way nava=9 and Demeter mourned for 9 days of in the story. 

 

Working out the energy-focusing of deities into the yantra became easier.  All except one. The western doorway or bhoopura was not getting filled day after day. One day I swooped mentally onto Iakhos and then everything clicked. To enter this mandala therefore the first energy principle was Iakhos. I do not wish to go into the details any further as they say in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter " the tongue is restrained by reverence for the gods".  Soon the need to materialize this yantra into a worshipable form became intense. I asked my German artist friend Lia May Byrd to do this. She has in the past done excellent work for me. Twice she made this one on ceramic plate as at that time I was thinking of taking it to Greece. Both times there were flaws. Then she made one on canvas. This just needed some minor corrections by me and it looked finally accurate.

 

My worship had been in English and a little Sanskrit. The need to do the praises in Greek was approached to my Turkish friend Osman Oksuzoglu who has connections to Greek musicians. No help was available as his friends knew only modern Greek. The agony continued. Then one day I stumbled upon a beautiful English translation of the Hymns, on the internet. The author was one Apostolos Athanassakis. Noted that he was a Professor of Hellenic studies at UC Santa Barbara. Excitedly I remembered that my friend Rohini's son Deva had graduated from there. As requested by me Deva wrote to the Professor about me and in due course of time, I was able to communicate via email directly with him. When Prof. agreed to render the praises for me in ancient Greek I was touched as he is a very accomplished and honored scholar and teacher. Extremely busy too.  At this time, we have been emailing back and forth. His input is like manna from heaven.  The audio he sent as an mp3 is undoubtedly charged with praanic energy.  Then began the task of trying to recite it like him.

 

Boedromion, the Greek month when the Eleusinian rituals took place felt right as a good time for intense worship.  A simple altar was set up in my backyard. The yantra was attached to a display board along with pictures of deities and characters from the story. A special libation was performed on Saturday Sept. 12 and then from the 15th I began to mentally slide more and more into bonding with Her. From Sept. 29 to Oct.5 in connection with the commemoration of the Mysteries I worshipped at the altar. Each day I brought down the board to the altar. Libations of water, milk, honey and food such as spelt cakes, barley, wine and fruits were offered to the appropriate energy fields. Frankincense from Somalia was burnt. Then I had to go to Chicago. While there I still kept reading about Her. Some of the barley seeds that got covered with oil was discarded and pretty soon I found that they grew as a patch untouched by birds. 

 

Then began the observance of Thesmophoria from Oct.24-28. Evenings are when I worshipped in the yard with rituals. After that I would come up to my study to do the mental worship and prayer.  One day the anguish became so strong that I voiced aloud

 

“ Is anyone out there listening to me?  The Persefoni in me is calling like a child to her Mother. If Petaluma's name is fancied to be in my mother tongue Malayalam, if considered as a compound word it would be split as Pet - allo- ammaa. This meant " after all you birthed me, mother."  Then I set the praises received from Prof. Apostolos into a melody like the song of Seikelos. So new a language but so right it felt. During the observances I had minimum connection with the outside world and people. 

 

A deep sigh and all is quiet, in and out.

 

A toddler learning to utter am I, oh Mother.

 

I know you will bear and perhaps even smile at me.

 

7.45 am Oct.26 2015

 

I knew then that I would have to make a trip at not so distant a future, to the sacred land of Greece, where the Hellenic deities were revered, honored and worshipped long ago. I had already completed my trip to Turkey so I did not have too many concerns at visiting a culturally different foreign country. My experience with the manner in which Redwood Sky Tours arranged my 2015 Turkey trip, gave me the confidence that Kathy Kerns, the agent would work out my special needs. Then it was just a question of saving enough to make this trip. In early 2017 I began to make plans to go to Greece, just the way I worked out pretty much my own itinerary for Turkey. Kathy knowing my particular needs filled in the finer details.  

 

Arrival in Athens

 

The connecting flight from London to Athens ran into a hitch. Due to an oil leak, we had to change planes resulting in a 3hour delay. Next to me sat an elderly rich Cuban woman. Turns out that she needed to get onto a cruise from Athens. When I expressed my predicament with my new android that was not working in London airport, she shared her awful situation of not bringing her I-phone with her on board. All addresses were there. So here we were two travelers with technical vacuities. 

 

Frustrated indeed was I as to how to contact the tour operator. Relieved that there were no customs. Caught site of a Spanish tour guide waiting with a placard for her team. She assured me that just as she waited in spite of the delay, so would my reputed tour operator Homeric tours do the same.  I suggested to my Cuban friend that she was welcome to ride with me to the destined hotel.  Stepping outside, I saw a man holding the sign for Homeric tours. Ilyas, the driver who exhibited much kindness kept repeating " don’t worry". Here was a man who waited four hours for my arrival. As I bid goodbye to him after he brought the luggage into the lobby, I received the first Grecian surprise. He held my face gently with his palms and kissed me on my cheeks and said something in Greek, that I did not follow and he left!

 

City Tour in the Bus

 

My first and only group tour was in a bus filled with Filipinos and Americans. The tour covered a few of the most important sites in Athens.  During the entire trip it was rather embarassing to listen to the brash arrogant comments issuing from the mouths of the American youth.  Pantelis, our guide mixed humor with history quite often.

 

The stance and  march of the guards at the tomb of the unknown soldier was very impressive. The parliament buildings had edifices that reflected the glorious period of Greek history.  No more glory came into being once Christianity took over!

 

The Panathenaic Stadium

   

Each time, it is from here that the Olympic Flame is lit and then taken to wherever they are held. This 4th century structure is the only stadium in the world to be made entirely of marble. Interesting it was to see how many wanted to have their picture taken with a gentleman standing in front, dressed in traditional Greek costume. I could not help noticing how a passerby stopped to tie the shoelaces of a young boy who played the accordion for a living. Little did I know then that this would indicate the basic nature of the people of this land, as proved by the rest of my journey.

 

Philapappos Tomb

 

Philapappos was a Syrian, rich and well loved by the Greeks. The citizens of Athens built a fancy tomb made of marble, finances for which were already shelved out by Philapappos before he died. Heard that he even chose this spot because anyone who visits the famous Acropolis, was bound to see the tomb, as it is situated on a hill across from the Acropolis. These days many migratory birds get a nice break by perching on its top. In addition, this hill is a home to many indigenous birds such as the owl and the Peregrine falcon. 

 

Weapon Maker for the Gods

 

The Olympian Gods had one source for getting all their weapons, this was god Hephaestus. Today we can see the remains of a temple dedicated to him in the Agora area in Athens. Fire being important to metal craft, he is also the god of fire. I wonder if blacksmiths worshipped him the way, Vishvakarma is worshipped in India, by craftsmen.

 

The Acropolis

 

The climb up the Acropolis was tricky as the boulders were rather slippery. Seeing many an elder with a cane, walking on these boulders, kept me on edge. One had to strain one’s neck to look at the gigantic columns that made up the Parthenon. They were several supported by steel frames. Indeed, an eerie sight to see how it takes modern ugliness to restore ancient beauty. My mind travelled to bygone days when men, women, and children in colorful attire bearing gifts and some riding horses flocked to this place, during the Panathenaic festival. The few sculptures here revealed the fluidity of movements down to the muscles and the veins. Certainly, Greek artists made a thorough study of human morphology. In addition, the expression on their faces covered the entire gamut of the Navarasas, the Nine Basic Emotions in Indian classical dances. Both the base emotion, Sthaayi bhaava and its transient emotions, Sanchari bhava were well executed.

 

The next two trips to the Acropolis was by myself. A state- of- the- art museum indeed.  As you walk on the glass floor of the entrance and look down one can see well preserved remains of an ancient settlement, 5- 7th cent. B.C. that used to be there. Impossible for a museum buff like me to take this in a day, so I divided my interest into segments covering several days. It was great to see archaeologists on site, available to answer questions as well as the special thematic exhibits and videos. 

 

A Pensive Moment

 

Sitting in the roof garden of the hotel, it is dusk. The hills with their dark contour surrounding this city were still visible. Are they, perhaps, the only faithful, untouched vestiges of the past? The sun crested the top of a hill before setting, looking like a god, so Helios it is! The crowded streets here are flanked by high rise buildings seen on either side. Many of the homes I saw were old. Balconies are filled with plants. In the distance I see a pot of my favorite jasmine, the "Juhi or Picchi" the very variety found in India. Oh, what a simple joy to see this! This was my mother's favorite flower too. As I stepped down the steps of the new Acropolis museum, I got the fragrance of the same. There it was, a big bush with slender branches, flowers cascading on the marble steps.

 

Early each morning I bolted out of my small room in the hotel, which hada drab view, to get to the roof top garden restaurant for breakfast. Selecting a strategic spot, I sat in full view of the Parthenon while I ate breakfast.  As the days passed that monument kept impacting me in a very organic way. I composed a prayer in Sanskrit as I addressed Goddess Athina daily, while looking at the Parthenon.  Here is the translation.

 

Arise,arise Oh Athina

 

Arise, oh ruler of the world of movables and immovables

 

Abandon sleep, oh great measurer

 

Protect Ellada, in an encompassing way.

 

Eventually I composed a long poem with the title The Parthenon.

 

 

The Flag of Greece

 

Nice to know that the flag features one of my favorite numbers, 9. Take your pick as to the choices the Greeks say, to interpret this number. The blue and white alternating stripes numbering 9, could represent the Muses or the letters stand for the Greek word Ελευθερία (Eleftheria) meaning Freedom. Muses would be my choice. The cross of course stands for the Greek Orthodox Church, reminding all that, this is not a secular country. The established religion of this land has its tentacles everywhere, in hotels, restaurants, stores, wayside shrines, churches and monasteries. Orthodox festivals are held prominently throughout the year.

 

Plaka District

 

The Athens Gate hotel where I stayed was located adjacent to Plaka District. Here were rows of shops and restaurants. This was also walking distance from the Acropolis Museum. The variety of crafts, and textile shops that lined the streets were full of authentic Greek goods. The restaurants were fabulous. There was always a person in front of each restaurant holding on to a menu and inviting tourists to try their fare. The outdoor seating was decorated well and was often full of cigarette smoking customers. Live Greek music  is ararity here, and when it did occur it was very heart warming for me. 

 

The owner of Maria, Greek arts and crafts was an interesting personality. He and I had plenty of discussions about the Greek Orthodox faith. Before I left Athens he fulfilled my request to get storax incense, sacred to Demeter. A large box of it was indeed a surprise. I was sad however that I could not find a single marble or alabaster sculpture of Demeter though I got a nice Artemis and Athena for my granddaughters.

 

On some days I would walk up the steep hill till I reached one side of the Parthenon. Stopped by a very small spartan cottage to ask questions one time and found the occupant to be an old and friendly Jew. 

 

Religion and Spirituality

 

Just as in India where Hinduism is the dominant religion so too in Greece it is Orthodox Christianity that is the main religion. However unlike India this is not a secular country. Whereas the landscape of India is dotted with mosques and churches, here, even Protestant and Catholic churches are scarce. What is there to say then about other religious centers! The Orthodox emblems and motifs are everywhere, in offices, restaurants, on heavy vehicles and even on the dashboard of taxis. 

 

The ambience inside the churches revealed a strict adherence to traditions and therefore not modernized like other denominations.  The smaller churches are even more cozy and sacred than the huge cathedrals. Here elderly women in black and school children were seen to bow their heads reverently anytime of the day. The monks paid no attention to who comes and goes unless they are parishioners who wish to talk to them. What a relief from the proselytizing attitudes of Protestant ministers and Catholic priests in the US and elsewhere. A noticeable feature is the role of icons. These are treated almost like the way Indians relate to sacred deity statues and pictures of saints. They however kiss pictures that have relics encased. Surprisingly I found many a Greek though a strict Christian, was willing to engage in spiritual talks with an open mind.
 

Food

 

As a vegetarian I found that unlike Turkey where I had visited in 1915, the fare here provided very many vegetarian choices. The claim that Mediterranean food is the healthiest was a matter of experience for me. The variety of cheese and vegetable preparations offered were awesome. Often times the dishes looked oily however I found that I had no trouble digesting. Perhaps it was the quality of the olive oil used.  The only disappointment was the flavor less drip coffee that was served with condensed milk packets. Manolis, my Cretan guide explained how most of the coffee was imported cheap Italian ones. The yogurt too was not as good as what I got in Turkey. 

 

Bonding

 

Greeks seem to wish to alleviate concerns of visitors with calm assurances. People here are not afraid of displaying genuine affection for humanity either. They express this even more than Indians. I realized then how starved I was for that in the US and when I think of returning to Greece, it is this feature, that is the foremost reason. Only in establishments such as posh hotels and restaurants that mimic Western modes that this feature was missing.  The fact that Greece is struggling with their economy did not seem to put a damper on their welcoming of strangers.  I guess this is what they call Philoxenia, where a transference of positive energy issues from the host towards a stranger. It manifests itself in friendliness and care. It also is a free flow of cultural exchanges between the two.

 

Hotels

 

The arrangements in hotels were interesting. Paying of bills was so much easier as tipping was not allowed. If you tried to tip, the servers openly inform you that they are not to accept it. Employees at the counter referred to most others as co- workers.  Amenities were great and included plush bathrobes, crisp towels that did not reek of chlorine and comfortable beds. All showers had sliding doors covering half way, this way less water was used. In some, housekeeping left a note that read " Is everything okay?' accompanied by candy. 

 

Elefsina

 

The ride to from Athens to Elefsina was rather boring and unattractive. There seems to be a cloud of sorrow on the faces of many in that city. The youth like everywhere are busy with a lot on their mind. Young kids not accustomed to my clothing ( salwar -kameez) would give me a side glance in an attempt to place me. 

 

Looking out from the balcony of the hotel, the dull grey sky was dotted with industrial edifices. The air filled with the jarring notes of pop music kept pace with the piercing drone of machines. Yet through all of this I could hear the melodic prattle of birds. Most shops close at 3pm, open again at 5 and stay quite late into the night. On Sundays, stores are closed and the streets are bereft of folks.  Monday is Farmers Market day here. More than a milelong stalls are lined up, selling fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, clothes, jewelry and trinkets. Many old women push carts as they hobble along and bargain with the sellers. I was told that this was the most exercise they engage in, as they come from far. 

 

The City hall here had an ambience that reminded me of bureaucratic institutions anywhere in the world. In spite of appointments, like India no one is there until you go out of your way to find him or her. My desire was to see if Elefsina would be interested in a Sister City relation with Petaluma. The discussion with the heads of the municipality revealed a lack of enthusiasm for this plan.

 

This city was of great importance to me, who has been diving deep since 2010 into the Eleusinian mystery as connected to the divinity of Demeter. The Homeric hymn to her was my sole concern and focus, even though others had written about her. Wonderful it was that from my hotel all I had to do was, to step out and take Demetrios odos and in twenty minutes I reached the Eleusis sanctuary. At the ticket booth the lack of enthusiasm was very obvious. For the two who worked there this was just a job. Anger and sorrow waved in and out of my mind with this attitude. 

 

The famous temple area was a sad sight. Scattered all around were broken pieces of columns, pillars and walls. Some even had some writing on them. There were a few trees that look healthy in contrast to the drab surroundings. It was only when some sea breezes wafted a hint was perceived by me, of a holy place. Then a gentle fragrance of a herb was felt. It was a ground cover close to a cave. The fragrance came from the tiny  mauve flowers that hugged the soil. The plant may be related to oregano or thyme. Was this the herb that went into the kykeon drink that Demeter in her Doso form, drank ?  I have written the poem Elefsina,  that elaborates my feelings about this place in a very intimate way.

 

The museum here is small however one can view sculptures and friezes that once adorned this vibrant sanctuary.  The first guard I ran into, Evdokia, a strict orthodox Christian had a tough time listening to my explanation about the significance of the Hellenic gods. I could see that she was trying very hard to understand where I was coming from. On the other hand, on my last visit to the museum the guard, Panalayotis, was thrilled to hear my take on the gods. He expressed the hope to see me again on another visit to Elefsina.

 

From the top of the hill I saw spectacular views of the sea. It was only then that the picture of all oil related structures typical of this city was erased from my mind.  Walking down while exiting the place I heard church bells. Lo and behold here too the Christians had built their house of worship to cash in on the sanctity of this place and at the same time wipe out the local faith based traditions. 

 

On Sunday morning in the breakfast room of the hotel I met Adinos, a young mother perhaps in her thirties. She shared with me the trials of having a three year old girl at home. A bank clerk by profession, she lives close to the hotel. Sundays are her freedom days when she comes by herself here for a quiet breakfast while her husband and child slept at home until 10am. Interesting to note that banking was not her choice of a career as she would rather be a teacher and also be able to travel to other lands.  

 

While returning to Athens I noticed how dry Elefsina was. The hills were dotted with cement colored boulders that reminded me of Sanliurfa, Turkey. As I got closer to Athens, I saw more trees and large grassy areas. Every third building had a solar powered water heater on their roof top that glistened so bright in the sun.


 

KRITI  ( Crete)

 

As the plane approached this island the sight of the expansive blue ocean takes over in a dominating yet welcoming manner.  From the balcony of the hotel in Heraklion, I could feast on the wonderful shades of blue that induces much calm. The air is crisp and the folks very positive, quite the contrast from Elefsina. A wonderful and expansive view of the port revealed gigantic ocean liners with emblems reflecting many a distant country. The pier in front that stretches for a mile or so, have folks making this walk throughout the day and into the night. The Venetian fortress situated at the beginning of this pier is well preserved and had subtle lighting that contributed to the museum's interesting tales.

 

The trip to Rethymno on the northern side of the island was very satisfying to the many facets of my mind. My multilingual guide and calm driver Manolis, an encyclopedia of information who spoke laced with humor, is someone that Kriti should be proud of. The pristine beaches of Preveli and Plakeas circled the island around the clear and shining waters of the Libyan sea.  The beach fronts were very clean What a surprise for me to know that Africa was on the other side of the ocean. Dust winds blow from the Sahara, Africa regularly and aggressively cover the houses and trees here, every summer.

 

Shopping centers had small garden fronts. I was told that the government encourages and provides the plants while maintenance is the responsibility of the store owners. The mountains are majestic and the gorges mysterious and awe inspiring. The Kourtaliotiko gorge has five eternally gushing streams that provide the area with year round water. The story goes that Agios Nikolas, the saint placed his 5 fingers here, to cause this and thus save the land from drought. 

 

Each and every town in the district of Rethymno had its own unique character. Many churches with monasteries dotted the landscape. Those that are perched on top of hills had churches that housed either icons of Mother Mary or Agios Ilyas.  Visible on the roadside while driving are quaint, small, wayside shrines dedicated to saints or members of the holy family.

 

The Preveli monastery in Arcadi played a very crucial role in the Cretan resistance movements against the Turks and the Germans. Monks took up arms to defend the nation. It is said that the Germans tried to take the famous Palladium cross of Preveli to Germany. The plane in which they housed it, would not take off, so they transferred it other planes. None of them would take off. Finally they decided to return the cross to the monastery. Lo and behold all the planes were then able to take off. 

 

Flea and farmers markets are held on a weekly basis here. Roads are then blocked to vehicular traffic.  Another outlet for farmers were wayside stalls. They were all empty though due to a ruling by the government prohibiting sales due to an accident that had occurred. A partially blind lady seller stepped on to the road only to be hit by a vehicle. Hence no more sales from wayside stalls. Many an olive tree orchard was also abandoned too. This was due to the current owners who had moved to work in the cities and cared not for what their parents and grandparents had built up. Incidentally the best olive oil for one's health is from Crete. This discovery by Norwegian scientists led to many Norwegians moving to Crete for health reasons.  It is believed that many cancer patients who live here are undergoing remission. From Manolis the guide I learned a lot about the role of the moon cycle in wine making and many ways of grafting fruit trees for better production. 

 

Back in Athens

 

Wandering from bookstore to bookstore with Prof. Athanassakis, I noticed how sidewalks had included a portion that is ridged for the blind. Crossing streets were as scary as in India for pedestrians do not have the right of way. Smoking is rampant and especially so in restaurants. The music played in hotels, stores and many restaurants and taxis was sadly pop and western in flavor. A very disappointing sight here are the badly crafted political graffiti on the walls in many parts of the city. 

 

There is no question that the sun favors this country in the way it spreads the light and embraces everything in sight. Nikolaos, Professor's son explained that this was the way it was, almost throughout the year. 

 

Vravrona

 

The drive to Vavrona revealed much greenery on either side of the road. As we approached the town a sense of calm prevailed. Perhaps it was due to the presence of the ocean nearby and maybe the ruins that we were about to see ! At the site of the ruins of the famous temple to Artemis, I could feel a sense of vibrancy that was missing at Elefsina.  It was very touching to learn from Professor, that here in the sacred presence of the goddess and her priestess Iphigeneia, young girls resided. They were taught all that was necessary to maintain a culturally rich household when they entered into a life of matrimony. We got to even see the tables where they ate. A stream nearby was where they bathed and purified themselves. Professor described it best when he referred to this place as a " finishing school for girls".  An annual procession that took place here from Athens and the remains of Brauronia Artemis stoa in the Acropolis only proved to me the importance of this shrine. Once again I was overcome with anger and sorrow to see a the Byzantine church to St. Georgios right there. The museum here was small but was very attractive to me. Votive statues of some girls looked so alive. One of which seemed so endearing that her face seemed to call me to return to this place.

 

Museums

 

The six museums that I visited were the Acropolis, the National Archaeological museum in Athens, the archaeological museum in Iraklion, and the small museums on site at Elefsina, Knossos and Vavrona. The lengthy, detailed and colorful history of this country was very well preserved in all of them. I was overcome with wonder as to the many cultures and civilizations that thrived here over the years. Evidence of the destruction and damage caused by the many marauding invaders including Persians, Turks, Romans and Byzantine Christians etc and the displacement of the indigenous Hellenic sacred sites, temples and way of life has left a permanent scar in my psyche. 

 

 

The remarkable phenomena of Light in Greece

 

“Whoever has seen Greece will carry forever in his heart the remembrance of a miracle of light. No blinding glare, no blazing colors, but an all-pervading, luminous brightness which bathes the foreground in a delicate glow, yet makes the furthest distances clearly visible. " Walter F. Howe, author of The Homeric Gods.

 

During the last few days before I left Athens, I asked Professor’s son Nikolaos, whether it was the time of the year that made sunlight so special here. He replied, “Only on cloudy rainy days this is absent, otherwise year round it is this way.” 

 

On returning to Petaluma I pondered over this. Personally, light and air are so vital for me. During my humble education in the Kabbalah, the constant reference to the Divine as Light by Rabbi Chaim Solomon, sat with me very well. In Hinduism, the sun, commonly referred to as Soorya, the beautiful one, is a pratyaksha devata. This means that it is a unique manifestation of the divine that is alive to our senses. Every day in Greece I was being treated to this mass of light that covered the entire terrain and all that it contained, from the imposing monasteries on the hill, the broken fragments of ancient civilizations, blue of the seas and the green of the meadows, wherever I went. The sun showed no discrimination. Every object stood in its uniqueness. 

 

Every entity has an existence, proclaims its uniqueness, enables a bonding, has a form and can be named. In this sacred land of Greece, this  Hindu recognition of the Five Characteristics of Existence within Creation “asThi, bhaaThi, priyam, roopam, naama” clearly presented itself to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of the Journey

 

POEMS written in connection with this pilgrimage are posted in the Poems section in this website, under the title, Sacred Hellas ( Greece)



 

CONTACT

Vasanti Jayaswal

EMAIL: vasanti.jayaswal@gmail.com

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