She pressed her palms together in front of her chest and closed her eyes in a moment of intense inward focus and then she began shuffling forward. One knee at a time she moved herself toward the goddess temple on a hill.
Our group walked past her as we approached the temple upright and I leaned over to one of the Indian girls in our group to ask what was going on.
“Do you know what that woman is doing?” Priyanka asked the group, looking over towards the woman in green.
No, our confused expressions relayed.
Namrata explained that in the Hindu tradition if you ask for something from God you may promise to do something in return if he fulfills your request. She said this woman had her wish granted and probably told God she would walk to the top of the temple on her knees.
I glanced back at her, moving slowly next to a man standing beside her holding a baby wrapped in cloth. His role seemed to be mostly morally supportive as he didn’t offer her any physical assistance.
Up the first thirty stairs or so our group stepped underneath a small awning where one by one we bowed to a seated man who put pieces of puffed rice and sugar into our hands. As we circumambulated the rest of the small room clockwise, we popped the sweet treats into our mouths.
“It’s to give you the strength to climb up the rest of the stairs,” Sheetal said, smiling.
Up another forty or fifty steps, my mind was back with the woman in the green sari. I turned on the stairs and saw her now holding the baby as she tried to tackle the first few steps with it in hand. After only five steps she handed the baby back to the man, but with no less determination to continue onward.
Now out of view, we stepped inside the temple of the goddess of Pune and immediately smelled incense in the air. Past the entry room, we stood in a line for the shrine of the goddess where we were handed an information card about her and the same puffed rice, sugar combination as before.
Sweets in hand, we were ushered out a door and up a couple more steps to an overlook where we could see all of Pune while smelling the sweet scent of incense.
We breathed the fresh air for a few moments before descending back down where we passed the woman in green again.
Sheetal interrupted her shuffling for a moment to ask a question in Maranthi before turning to us.
“She’s climbing all the way to the top of the temple on her knees,” she confirmed.
ll hundred or so steps.
“I bet what she wished for was that baby boy in her arms,” someone mused.
Never before have I encountered such devotion. Sure, most religions and cultures include some sort of prayer or way of asking for things, but rarely do we go so far to convey our gratefulness when things turn out as we hope.
I hope the woman in green made it to the temple that day.