Krishna and Budda and Santa, oh my!

January 18, 2006

Moshi was our jumping off point for our Kilimanjaro trip. This meant we spent Christmas in Moshi. So how does a part time Jew and nominal Buddhist spend Christmas in Tanzania?

After a dinner with a handful of other would be Kilimanjaro climbers, we all took a walk to see what was happening in town. Moshi boasts a Catholic diocese, an Islamic mosque and a Hindu temple all with in a few blocks of each other. We made the obvious choice and picked the biggest party, and that was the Hindu temple.

Madhu, an Indian in our group, approached the temple to see if it would be alright if we took a look around. After waiting for a steady stream of cars to exit the gate, we were welcomed into the compound and sent to find the temple entrance.

We clustered by the door and large open windows peering into the temple, afraid to take off our shoes and enter, as if it might some how commit us to a conversion. It was an unusual sight with open fires of enormous logs in the center of the floor, huge display of offerings, ornate sculptures of Hindu gods and people in traditional Indian dress moving purposely to and fro.

Woman praying
Once we worked up our nerve to leave our shoes we were almost immediately greeted by a temple official who offered to show us around and explained that it was the 50th anniversary, the golden jubilee, of the temple. He was very gracious and made us feel comfortable quickly.

Despite our protests that we had just come from dinner, he begged us to have something to eat. When he finally gave up his mission to feed us dinner, he urged us to return for lunch the next day.

Thousands of miles from home, on my first trip to a Hindu temple, nearly a dozen of us tumbled through the door at 10 PM in grubby backpacker clothes during the biggest event in the history of the temple. Not only were we welcomed, but people dropped everything to explain the Hindu religion and show us around. It is hard to imagine the same reception during midnight mass at any Church or during the high holidays at any Synagogue. I am sure that nobody has gone to such effort to make me feel welcome in any place of worship, ever.

After our tour, he had some official business to attend to, so he left us to wander on our own. Before he left I inquired if it would be all right to take some photographs. He said that the Hindu religion had no problem with photos and we were free to photograph anything we liked. I was thrilled, since the setting was fantastic and I was anxious to capture it. I refrained from using my flash, because it felt disruptive, even though there was not much light.

Minal Patel It was warm and generous beyond all reasonable expectations and I felt very lucky to be so included, but it was getting late. So, after an hour of wandering among the hundreds of people speaking a mix of Gujarati, Swahili and English we decided to call it a night, but I resolved to come back the next day for some lunch and take advantage of better light.

The next day a small group of us headed back to the temple and found that last night welcome had been no exception, but the rule. Many people welcomed us and those that recognized us from the night before were thrilled that we had returned.

We met a charming woman, Minal Patel, and her younger brother. Their grandfather had founded the temple and and they had come from London for the celebration. They were wonderful guides (and models). There are several photos of them in the set of photos linked below. These are the wonderful sorts of people and events that travel lets one happen upon and I feel terribly lucky to have happened upon at just the right time.

Krishna must be looking out for me.

You can see all the Moshi Hindu Temple Golden Jubilee Photos here. I’d love any constructive criticism to the photos.