Thursday, September 29, 2005
Today I went to Chartres Cathedral in the town of Chartres about 100 kms outside of Paris. The ride and tour cost me 53 Euros. ($60) Well worth the cost. In fact this one trip alone has made my trip to Europe worth it. I can not describe the breath taking experience of seeing the cathedral from a distance. It is overpowering! The cathedral is perched atop a hill in the center of the town. Stepping into the cathedral is no less overpowering. In fact overpowering is the word that best describes the whole experience of Chartres. In our language it is pure aisvaya-bhava. You feel like a speck inside this place and yet you feel face to face the divine. It is pure dasya-rasa.
If we describe the underlining purpose of puja as mystery and communion, this cathedral
has certainly achieved that purpose. It is like standing before General Shermon up in the Sequoias. stand in the center of this cathedral with a ceiling two hundred feet above your head and with incredible stained glass windows on all sides raising a hundred feet with shimmering bits of colored sunlight dancing at your feet. Even the most staunch atheist can not escape power of this place. Anna, I can take a thousand pictures and still not capture the gravity of this monument. The splendor of Chartres is truly awesome. Our tour guide was expert in describing the details of the cathedral, how it was built a thousand years ago and was nearly destroyed by fire in the 1500s, and how it was spared from the bombing in World War II that destroyed the town of Chartres, but what I got out of the tour was something much different.
I remember my first visit to Vrindavan, the land of Krishna, and on that trip I was expecting to see something wonderful. After all, this is
one of Hinduism’s most sacred sites. Instead I saw filth, broken and unappealing architecture, human feces and garbage everywhere. Then I was told that this was just the external Vrindavan purposely hiding the sweetness of Krishna underneath a sad joke and if you spend more than just a few days in this wonderland of lila you are sure to come down with hepatitis or typhoid fever due to the filth. What a let down that was! This is one of my greatest complaints against India and Hinduism, the disregard of its sacred sites. But here in Chartres I found what one would expect of a world class religion. And not only is the Cathedral clean and spectacular, the town of Chartres, which receives over one and a half million pilgrims and tourists every year, is also clean, first class and non commercial. I was most impressed.
After the tour they gave us a half an hour to walk around the town, so I went and sat inside the cathedral to be alone and feel the impressions of the ages. I touched the stone
steps where people have bowed and prayed for a thousand years. The stones are smooth from a billion hands and heads that have lovingly caressed them. I felt the stone walls which have been rubbed soft and smooth from a thousand years of devotees. I could not help but feel the devotion that is still pulsating from these stones. Tears came to my eyes as I felt their devotion. This cathedral is not merely a collection of stones, instead she is a living mother who has received the love of her children for a thousand years.