Spent the weekend at a Sun Ceremony in Friendship Village, about an hour and a half away in Ohio. Misogynists might want to stop reading now because the community is run by (gasp, oh the horror!) a woman. Here she is with Vidya.

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Notice how all the pillars of the dance arbor are decorated with corn, a detail sure to please an old corn farmer like myself.

Her name is Grandmother Parisha and she is an friend of New Vrindaban from the interfaith days. She has an extensive spiritual background and has experienced many cultures at a root level, at the spiritual level, not simply as that of a tourist looking at the sights. This includes having been home schooled by her Cherokee grandmother in the mountains of North Carolina.

Although their Sun Ceremony is private, we are lucky enough to be allowed to attend. This year Rukmavati, Soma, Chaitanya and Bhakta Chris went along with us. They brought a chickpea veg and some cookie prasadam as an offering to the ceremony. During the breaks they performed bhajans. Due to exigent circumstances, the ceremony unfolded according to a different time line than originally scheduled, so the bhajans took a more prominent place in the proceedings for that day than I had thought they would.

Not to puff Chaitanya up more than he already is (just kidding), but I heard several comments about how nice the bhajans were and how good his voice is, so I know they were well received and appreciated.

Dancing in the Sun Ceremony is a serious commitment and not for the faint hearted. It takes a full year to prepare for and essentially becomes the focus of your life. One example is that you have to abstain from intoxication for the whole year.

We went to support Vamsa, a kuli from NV who lives there now. Another example of the commitment needed is that in the week prior to the dance, Vamsa did a 5 day vision quest, where she fasted and prayed in isolation for the whole time. That is like 10 half day fasts back to back.

I am not going to get into too much detail, but it was a rich, colorful experience powered by performance of austerity and driven by a community fully focused on supporting the dancers. It was a very enlivening experience for me.

Bhakta Tirtha Swami talks about rites of passage. A lot of that is acknowledging the presence of the children and making them feel as if they are an important part of the community. This is something that is sorely lacking in ISKCON.

At Parisha’s, the children at different points in the event carry the ceremony. They dress like the adult dancers and dance in the arbor while the whole community acknowledges them. They also are responsible for the smudge pots by keeping them full of live charcoals and putting cedar and sage on them to keep the arbor bathed in purifying smoke.

As I only get to Parisha’s once a year or so, it is striking for me to watch when the children dance. While you know your own children and grandchildren are growing, it is so incremental on any given day, it is hard to notice. When you only see children yearly, the difference is more dramatic.

The youngest, a three year old, was dancing on her own for the first time. As I watched the children who have been dancing all their lives, I could see the whole gradient of youth represented in the the group, like the first part of the changing bodies diorama.

What makes it especially compelling is I can remember having conversations with the mothers of the teenagers when they were still in the womb. A powerful reminder of how under the spell of time I am.

I had one of those Zen moments when I was sitting with Grandmother discussing spiritual topics in the pavilion by the kitchen. Above us in the dance arbor, the bhajan was going on, and over to the side the teenage girls were softly singing some sweet traditional song, sounding as if the Apsaras, the handmaidens of Indra the Thunder god, were singing.

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