It’s the sound of the bells that I remember most. The ring ring ringing. The tone true and pure. Even today, thousands of miles away at Amma’s Ashram in California, tucked back into a small valley with foothills surrounding it, I recognize the sound. It immediately reminds me of the stillness within.
India is a land of contrasts and an indescribable tapestry of life. I remember seeing Gandhi’s peaceful tomb surrounded by a vast park and outside that a great conflux of cars and people. Stillness and traffic jams juxtaposed.
Heading North, leaving the city with its historical significance, my face pressed against the train window, I watch the buildings become homes and shacks and the shacks become trees and the trees become meadows. The air clears and I listen for more bells. Religion (as I call it being from the West) is different here. It’s incorporated into daily life. It isn’t just a Sunday thing. The bells ring every morning. The prayers are prayed, meditation a cornerstone of prayer, and chants takes place before daily life begins. Bright red string wrapped around wrists and sandalwood paste in white and the red Tilak announce to the world that you have participated in a ritual or ceremony. I wore mine with pride. I left them on for months until the string turned white and they started to fray.
Rishikesh in its glory, a beautiful place, two parts each on one side of the Ganga. It is a place for spiritual renewal. A place where people travel on pilgrimage. Seekers and Sadhus abound. And again the bells. Every morning around 5:00, the call for prayer announces itself. Even the monkeys are sleeping as I wrap myself in a blanket and find my sandals in the dark. I wander the closed streets and just follow the bells. I don’t know where I’m going and it doesn’t matter, really. The bells announce my path for me.
Going home I stop at a beautiful site outside Delhi and in front of me is a bell. I pick it up gently and hear the sound that is now like my heartbeat. It’s never far from my altar now that I’m back in Northern California. I ring it often to remind me of the pieces of my heart that I left in India.
-Julia Myers Patterson