The nine days/nights of Navaratri are over: the celebration of the Goddess in her tamas, rajas and sattva forms ends with a day marking the victory of good over evil, going beyond the limitations of these three gunas, finding that which we are seeking. The Goddess was first celebrated for three days in her fierce tamasic form, of Durga and Kali, followed by three days dedicated to Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth, representing the Goddess in her golden rajasic glory. And now, after the worship of knowledge and enlightenment, embodied by Saraswati, the Goddess in her simple sattvic form, we have the tenth day of Vijaya Dasami. It is the culmination of a festival that focuses on having respect for all aspects of the Divine She, for all aspects of life, for all that contributes to our wellbeing. This journey to discovering the sacred that lies within each of us, having reverence and gratitude for all that we have, and honoring all that we are, is also Reshma Thakkar’s journey.
Oprah Winfrey’s seven-night documentary series, “BELIEF,” began during this Navaratri season, and explores humankind’s ongoing search to connect with something greater than ourselves. In Episode 1, Reshma’s journey to the Kumbh Mela is captured by Oprah’s team – it is a celebration of the Hindu belief that the Divine resides within every individual, waiting to be discovered. Reshma shares her journey here in her own words in this guest post. (Also check out Reshma Thakkar After Belief!)
My Journey to “Belief”
Growing up, I was the “perfect” Hindu daughter; I knew many of the Sanskrit prayers, the mantras, rituals, ceremonies, holidays, traditions, etc. I
knew the prayer for waking up, for showering, for meals, for meal offerings, for bedtime and I loved them all. They brought me a sense of peace and calm most of the time. I grew up with a very strong knowledge of the Hindu philosophy but I still felt something was missing and my faith wasn’t strong enough for me to find support in it. There was a disconnect between what I knew in my mind and what I felt in my heart. As I got older, this disconnect resulted in a feeling of discomfort and isolation, a pull in my belly, a longing for clarity, a deeper understanding of life, and a sense of meaning and purpose.
After experiencing that feeling of emptiness for many years, the pull became so strong that I made a drastic move. I decided to leave everything and travel to Allahabad for the Kumbh Mela, the largest Hindu pilgrimage and the largest spiritual gathering on the entire planet. I thought if there was any place in the world I could go to figure things out, this was going to be it. I packed up my belongings, stored them away, moved out of my home, left my car with a friend, and bought a one-way flight to India, not sure when I was going to return. Was I completely crazy? My family and friends already thought I was a little crazy and different; I hadn’t followed the cultural norms, I should have been married years ago, had babies, become a good mother and wife, so I was already out of the norm. And as if that wasn’t enough, I ditched my six-figure career, my home, my car and was leaving with a one-way ticket to find myself?! And then, on top of everything, the Oprah Winfrey Network finds me. As I was looking to go into the space of discovering me, and on this journey to find myself, the OWN team was on a journey to follow 33 people who were discovering themselves. I became one of those 33. I contemplated whether this was the right move for me at this point, because it’s one thing to sit privately and ask yourself the hard questions but it’s just a little different when there is a big camera crew over your shoulder watching you, representing a network that can show this journey to millions of people. The only reason I agreed and said yes to allowing a camera to follow me in my less than polished season was because I knew there was a message greater than me in my journey. This wasn’t about me… it was about the millions who would see this and be moved or touched in some way.
So off I went to the Kumbh Mela, and after spending 7 days in the midst of millions, talking to sadhus, families, elders, children, people from near and far, I came to realize what I was looking for was within me the whole time. My Hindu roots had laid the perfect foundation for my life and my job was to ask questions to integrate the teachings in a way that made sense to me. In my opinion, it isn’t just about the rituals or the prayers you have memorized, those things mean nothing when the intention and understanding behind them is off. The core of Hinduism is about the way you live your life and how you show up in the world. This philosophy can be applied to any person in the world, regardless of what God looks like to you. It is a universal truth and practice. After going on my journey halfway across the world, I realized that I did believe in the core principles of Hinduism, such as Karma, Ahimsa, Dharma and the idea that there is one Supreme Being, who has manifested time and time again bringing the same teachings to humanity, just in a different package. And if I can live my life in accordance with these principles, I am on the right path.
I am so grateful to Oprah, the OWN team and Part2 Pictures for creating this amazing series showcasing the common thread among many of the world’s religions and humanity as a whole. I didn’t realize the impact the series would actually have until I attended my first screening in Silicon Valley. After seeing episode 1, people rushed to come speak, many in tears, letting me know how much they could relate to the life I had – one full of success and material wealth, but lacking in meaning and purpose. After seeing this reaction many times over, I felt called to share more. I created the Belief Explorer Quest, in which I sit down with the teachers and mentors that have impacted my journey in some way over the last several years and created a compass to navigate your own spiritual quest, one that doesn’t require you to pack your bags and go to India! Through the Belief Explorer Quest (www.beliefexplorerquest.com), I discuss what steps I took on my journey, a journey that started even before the Kumbh Mela, and has resulted in a life in which I find more peace, abundance and love.