Pre-pilgrimage trip to Goa.
Coastal Goa is made up of beautiful beaches. There is not a lot of surf where I stayed, but the water is amazing. My home was a tiny hut in a very quiet cove between two noisy beaches. And just my karma, I managed to ‘pay off’ my stay by teaching a yoga class a few steps away from the hut.
Every morning I’d self-practice in the humble little shala and quite often I’d take a beautiful class taught by Lauren who at the time, part-owned all the little huts and the shala in the cove. The rest of the day I would read; chant; drink chai if I wanted to feel Indian, or coconut juice if I wanted to pretend to be Robinson Crusoe.
One day, a dark-skinned man came into the communal area of the cove. He was carrying what turned out to be a tiny, portable shrine with several lego man-sized deities on it. I recognized one to be Krishna. Immediately, the staff started fishing for coins, which they promptly placed on the tiny shrine. The dark-skinned man thumbed dark red tilak on their brows. Out of curiosity I asked the staff members what religion they were. Some said Buddhist, some said Hindu. But they all said it didn’t matter which I thought was very charming… I fished for coins.
In Old Goa, faith is even more fluid. It is distinct from the rest of India in that the main Heritage Road is lined with churches of many different sizes, many of which are hundreds of years old. A mixture of Portugese and Spanish architecture, these churches are also the burial grounds of the many who served here in the early missionary days. I came to pay my respects to Francis Xavier, the patron saint of my school.
Throughout Old Goa, the cab drivers have little shrines on their dashboards. And commonly these shrines have combinations of Hindu deities, different incarnations of the Buddha AS WELL as Christian saints. And of course when I asked the cabbies what religion they were, they said it really didn’t matter. I was falling more in love with India every day.
Deity shops in Old Goa are just awesome: you can buy little Krishnas and the Baby Jesus, mala beads and rosary beads. There was one shop I favoured because they had literally hundreds of types of stickers of different Gods and deities. I exclaimed, ‘So many Gods!’ and the shopkeeper smiled, held her hands up in that very Indian way and said ‘as long as we are praying, right?’ I left with my stickers, she said ‘God bless!’ and I said ‘Haribol!’
My last day in Old Goa and I went to mass at Bom Jesus Basilica, the burial place of St Francis Xavier. I felt so at peace in this ancient Church and so connected to Father Hernandez’s voice, even though I couldn’t understand Goan. Maybe it was my hair or the mala beads or the faint traces of tilak on my brow, but a number of the church patrons let me know that I had to be Catholic in order to receive Holy Communion. I assured them I was indeed baptized Catholic and that was the first and last time any one asked me what religion I was. Because you know why? In India in particular, it really doesn’t matter…

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