Monday, June 22, 2015

Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple

சிவ சுப்பிரமணியர் கோயில்

The Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple, located in Nadi, Fiji, is the largest Hindu temple in the entire Southern Hemisphere, and it is a sight to behold. With a population nearing 800 thousand, the 330 islands which make up Fiji have three major ethnicities: Fijian, Indian and Sunni Muslim. Fijians with Indian ancestry constitute approximately 46% of the population, so the need for such a substantial temple near the edge of the second largest town on Viti Levu, the principle island of the tiny nation is understandable. 

The original temple was constructed in 1914-1916, a hundred years ago, along the banks of the Nadi River. Repeated floods necessitated a move. Construction on the new temple began in 1984. The design is an ancient one, stemming from a time preceding the birth of Christ, utilizing elements of Dravidian architecture, including pillars, porches and pyramids and includes a number of elements of sacred Vedic design. The entire place is painted in incredibly bright colors, and some of the wooden carvings of Hindu deities were brought from India by the artists who decorated this temple. The numbered ceiling frescoes tell the story of Lord Shiva's manifestations and reincarnations.

The temple was consecrated July 15, 1994 and will be celebrating its 21st birthday this year, as we were informed by this gentleman, who is clearly knowledgeable on the subject. As a Hindu priest, or pujari, he is charged with performing puja or worship services including blessings, etc. We were able to witness, from a discrete distance, out of respect, a few of these manifestations of worship by devotees. They offer an Aarti plate with bananas, coconut, and flowers. Or burn incense (the air was rich with camphor). It was, although I know this will sound cliche, enlightening.

Visitors to the temple are made to feel very welcome, but just as visiting any place of worship, you are asked to abide by a few rules. Women are asked to dress modestly, covering shoulders and wearing a long skirt. No pants, shorts or tank tops. This is not a tourist resort after all. Men as well should be neatly and modestly dressed in long pants. If you wish, men may borrow and don a dhoti in lieu of trousers, and there are scarves and other coverings available for women as well. You will also be asked to remove your shoes. This all adds a feeling of peace, wonder, and respect within the temple. Non-Hindus obviously shouldn't enter or photograph the inner sanctum of the temple.
Nice view, of the temple

Indians were originally brought to the islands as indentured servants. After serving out the terms of their servitude, usually five years, they were free to return (although the price of passage would no doubt have necessitated additional service). Most stayed, finding something in their new land which spoke to their hearts and souls. From just the brief time we had in Fiji, I believe we caught a glimpse into what that was.

The weather is perfect. We were there in June, winter in Fiji, the dry season. It was never cold, and never too warm. Just beautiful sunrises and sunsets and all the moments in between. But what struck us most, was not the weather or the beauty of the natural landscape, although that is tremendous, but the people. J and L wished to explore the far end of Nadi Town, and so we took a taxi to the temple. Our driver was a Fijian Muslim, and he was happy to drive and explain a great deal about his experience of Fiji, politics, family and about the temple. He remarked that the Christians (primarily Methodists), Hindus and Muslims live together as brothers. If you go into a village, you will see them living side by side as Fijians. Proud of their history and background, respectful of tradition, but identifying culturally as Fijian, first. In a time when much of the rest of the world struggles with terrorism and disunity, it gives us such wondrous hope to see the citizens of this tiny nation living in harmony. 

Fiji has been referred to as being like a three-legged stool: requiring all the support of all its people: Fijian, Indian, European and others, to stand. A lesson those of us living in more industrialized nations should observe more closely.


Friday, June 5, 2015

A Serendipitous Moment

Serendipity - 'The faculty of making fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident.' According to The American Heritage Dictionary.

As an educator I often describe the concept of a 'serendipitous moment' as walking through a field and suddenly tripping face first into a pile of fresh horse manure. At first, the manure covered faced individual may be upset about this but as that person scrapes away the sticky remains a great big diamond is discovered stuck to the face of the chagrined person. An unexpected discovery turns a moment of embarrassment into one of great joy.

A diamond hiding - really?
June 5th was one such experience J and L experienced while going through some boxes which had been hiding in the rear of John's study closet for years.

While wondering what was lurking in the boxes Laureen asked if I knew that my first interview with Ray Bradbury was in a file within that elusive cardboard box. No knowledge of that long ago transcription had even entered my cranium and then it dawned on me - June 5th of 2015 was the 3rd anniversary of my friend's passing.

Now, I take a great leap of faith declaring the Ray Bradbury as my personal friend but as I posted back in 2012 when he passed from this life and entered the realm of eternity I did believe he was my friend. We wrote correspondence to one another for years after my first interview with him when he had been the guest speaker at the Friends of the Lucerne Valley Library when I shyly went up to him and asked if I could snap some photos and perhaps line up an interview.

Ray Bradbury detailing the joys of writing.
Though I had been published in magazines and newspapers, the concept of actually interviewing a celebrity had not been thought about in my world. I wrote pieces of places I visited or things which should be considered as life altering - like which RV was just perfect for a family of four - but an actual interview? I hadn't done it.

So, as Mr. Bradbury smiled at me in the reception line and answered in the affirmative that he'd love to chit-chat with me. My first interview and it would be one of the most brilliant writers of our time? I tried to be cool and collected but could barely utter the words: "I'll call and make an appointment."

Driving home that evening so many years ago (1990) I wondered what I had to ask the man who had written: The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, The Drummer Boy, episodes of the Twilight Zone, and was good friends with Gene Roddenberry, the brains behind Star Trek. I was a teacher and free-lance writer who sold articles here and there but my name was barely known beyond my dinner table.
Ray Bradbury passionate about libraries
I was to interview Ray Bradbury. Buck up Johnny Boy - no issue there!

A month later I could only arrange a phone interview due to conflicts in schedules - his not mine - but that was enough.

Memory lane for a few lines here if the reader will allow me but the point is to see what a visionary Ray truly was.

J - I want to let you know I'm not a real experienced interviewer but I appreciate the opportunity you have given me to let me have this interview.

R - Surely.

J - I'm taping this if that's okay with you?

R - It's the best way.

J - Ok, what I would like to focus on is your opinion of education in America?

R - Ha! That's the end of that subject. God almighty! Well, I talked to a whole bunch of educators and administrators in Santa Clara about a month ago - 2,000 of them and I ripped their skins off. I said, you know, you're getting a billion dollars a day; that's more than enough to pay for everyone's education but you're not spending it right. It's got to be spent on kindergarten, first grade and second grade.

J - So, you believe the focus is the lower grade levels then.

R - If you don't learn to read what good is a science course in the seventh grade?

A few more questions later -

J - How do you think school districts can become more effective?

R - By teaching reading.

I will not go through the whole interview since it is currently being worked up as a different media concpet which will be produced at a later time but the words spoken by one of the greats twenty-five years ago still rings as solid now as it did then.

Being an educator I know that reading is the most important tool in anyone's life and it is saddening and sometimes maddening when I hear students, as well as adults, tell me that reading is boring while all the time they are Facebooking or texting about things which matter nothing but for the moment. Where reading can take a person to any time period in any world and literally taste things they may never truly experience in their lifetimes.

Pretty Smart guy - this Albert Einstein!

 'A well read and educated public is truly the only thing a tyrant fears,' J. Beyer 2015.

As the interview continued Ray said something that sticks to me to this day - "There's only one crisis - reading. And unless you solve that, our whole civilization goes down the drain. How can you think politically later in life if you can't read?"

Well said - Maestro.

Summer is upon us so let's all get to the store or online and order some books. Read for enjoyment or for education but as Ray would say - 'For God's sake - just read!"

A serendipitous moment for sure this day on the 3rd anniversary of my friend's passing.