By Felicia Woodard
A part of my graduate curriculum is to learn about people and their culture. Culture is such a broad term, but for the sake of space I will not delve into that at this moment. I will simply assume we can agree that culture may be any shared behavior, ethnicity, religion, tradition, values, and even things we may forget are cultural like the way we respond to things or the tone in our voice. My professor allowed the class an opportunity to visit a place that was different from our own culture. She gave us no restrictions, no leads. She said go; just go and learn. I chose a Hindu Temple.
Why? Because I had only seen them on television and they looked pretty. Simple as that. So one Saturday I got dressed and went. Even in my ignorance of the faith and the space, because at that time I truly knew nothing of Hinduism, I knew enough to be modest in what I chose to wear. No photos were allowed once inside the temple and visitors were to take off their shoes before entering. I did such and immediately a rush of anxiousness overcame me. I do not know why, but I had a weird mixture of calm excitement.
It was so quiet.
It was so white. Everywhere. Immaculate.
The only close reference I had at the time and can explain to you now would be the photos of how ornate the Vatican is - which I also want to visit one day. But again, everything was white. White marble. The ornate detail of the carved Hindu deities made me think about the commitment it took on an individual level to do this.
There is a carved deity with a sitar (that’s the instrument that resembles a guitar) and it is adorned with jewelry. Next to that is another one adorned with jewelry and dancing and playing another instrument. You cannot imagine unless you see it with your own eyes just how much work went into carving just one of these figures. Rows and rows of hand carved deities encompassing most of the temple.
It was all marble and limestone: 33,000 pieces of marble imported from Turkey and limestone imported from Italy, all hand-carved to create this temple. All white.
I saw tall arches as I walk through the chambers with marble floors. There were no windows or doors, just open archways leading to other chambers and halls. Most of all, what resonated was the silence.
Back to reality:
After our site visits my professor asked the class what we experienced on our cultural site visits, if one could call them that. I tried thinking of the most academic answer that would include facts, history, and terms. Then I simply admitted: “It was beautiful.”
I wanted to not just see but experience beauty. Learn something new for me. See something I have never seen before. And I did.
Felicia Woodard is a professional dancer from Houston, currently pursuing an M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies at University of Houston Clear Lake. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston.