Exploring the boundary between pilgrimage and travel

I left my shoes at the door, as is customary when entering a Hindu temple, and walked into the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Singapore.

At once, the smell of incense and the sound of vibrant, live music welcomed me.  Dozens of devotees gathered around as the Brahmins performed a puja (a Hindu act of worship).  They poured a milky liquid over a statue of a deity whilst holding a lit candelabra.  There was praying, chanting, offerings of flowers and food.  It was pure, heartfelt devotion.

Soon, the priest came around with a liquid and devotees approached him, hands cupped, waiting for their turn to receive some.  I watched as each person sipped the liquid from their cupped hands and poured some over their heads.

The priest saw me watching and said “holy water.” I cupped my hands to receive the water and he said “drink.” I took a sip of the cloudy water.  It was fragrant and spiced.  I poured some over my head, feeling a part of something sacred and spiritual.

As I left the temple and found my shoes, I was reminded of how much I love being a part of rituals when I visit spiritual  sites.

A puja being performed by Brahmins at Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, Singapore

Just last week in Bali during my yoga retreat, Awaken the Goddess, I took our group to my favorite holy water temple, Sebatu. It’s different from the other, bigger water temples in Bali in that it’s not really a tourist attraction (although some tourists do visit) - it’s a place of worship.

My Balinese friend Bintari lead us through the customary rituals at each altar on the path down to the sacred waterfalls.  We set intentions from our hearts at the first alar,  and left Balinese flower offerings (called canang sari).  At the next altar, we made a wish or prayer and left more offerings.  At last, we entered the holy waters with a final offering tucked into our sarongs to place in the crevice at the waterfall’s edge before submerging into the purifying, sacred water.  It was a magical experience.  We took part in a religious ritual, and it was powerful, beautiful, and sacred.

I’m reminded of a time in Chiang Mai, Thailand when a local Buddhist monk invited me to visit his Wat for evening prayer.  I arrived just as the monks were getting started.  I covered my shoulders with my pink scarf and took a seat at the back of the temple hall.  There must have been over 50 young monks sitting on the floor in front of me, facing an altar, chanting in devotional prayer.  The sound echoed through the space and washed over me.  It was absolutely divine.  I was the only woman, the only tourist there, and they welcomed me as a student eager to learn and experience their religion.  I felt a part of something truly special.

Me and Phra A at Wat Chet Lin in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I’ve had so many similar experiences, in different countries, at various temples.

As I reflect back on my travels over the years, there have also been many times I’ve visited religious sites or houses of worship, looked around respectfully, even took some photos when appropriate, and it was nice.

But the experiences that move me, carve a memory into my heart and fill my spirit with the divine are the times I’m invited to stay, to get involved, to bear witness to the beautiful ways in which people worship across different religions.

This is what I seek when I travel and when I curate a yoga retreat - opportunities to get involved, to learn and connect and understand other cultures, religions and people.  This is what brings us closer to the world by getting more intimate and being a participant.

This is also the task of the heart chakra: the art of relating, fully feeling, understanding, and falling in love with the world.

How about you? Is this the sort of shared pilgrimage that creates a stir in your heart?  If so, check out our yoga retreat page and come travel with us.

Let’s get involved and fall in love with the world together.

Angela xo

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