Two years ago the first One Tree Gathering took place at a large Hindu Temple in Birmingham. It was envisioned as a meeting of Druids with followers of Dharmic spiritualities, that is to say Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. At that time there were a few Buddhists and Jains, but the main contingents were from Hinduism and Druidry, the latter being represented by various OBOD members and the Grove which was geographically closest to the Temple, Cornovii.
We learnt much over the two day event, and as well as conducting a Druid Samhain ceremony we were honoured to be present at a variety of Hindu rituals where the meaning of the various aspects was explained to us. At the end of the weekend both groups were filled with enthusiasm for a repeat gathering the following year.
Due to circumstances beyond our control, this did not take place until 2013, when on Sunday 19th May the two groups came together once again at the home of Keith and Fran Southall: Whitlenge Gardens in Hartlebury, Worcestershire. The venue was suggested by Ram Vaidya, the organiser of the Hindu side of the proceedings, once he had visited Keith during the early stages of the negotiations and had seen the possibilities such a beautiful environment had to offer.
It meant hiring a marquee and chairs as well as organising some catering for the event, the latter being very ably taken in hand by Fran Southall and her team from the Whitlenge Gardens Tea Room.
Attendance was fairly evenly divided between Druids and Hindus, although one lady who I had assumed was Hindu turned out to be Christian and we had a very interesting discussion under the topic of ‘What do the four elements mean within your spirituality?’ On that particular topic we found very much in common with the followers of Hinduism although they work with five elements:- earth, air, fire, water and space.
In spite of the prevailing bad weather both before and after the event, that day in Hartlebury proved to be an oasis of sunshine and warmth in an otherwise disappointing start to the summer. The approach to the Marquee had been decorated with plants and flowers from the nursery and as delegates arrived they were greeted by Dr. Kumar who marked the centre of each person’s forehead with red and yellow powder which he explained has the intention of opening the sixth chakra, or third eye.
After an opening greeting from Keith and Ram, delegates left the Marquee to assemble just off the lawn and await the commencement of the Druid ceremony of Beltaine modified slightly for the day by Philip Harris. The Lord and Lady of the Land were gracious in their welcome as all present formed a circle and the celebrants took their places for the familiar rite. This was so well received that many of our guests spent the rest of the day wearing their sprigs of May blossom and a number asked for a copy of the script to take away and study.
After a break for tea and coffee we split into five smaller groups for ten minute discussions on two different topics along the lines of the chosen theme for the day which was ‘Nature as Teacher’.
Each of the two main groups gave a talk on the theme of the day followed by a question and answer slot and the Druid one was very ably presented by our very own author and Editor of Touchstone, Penny Billington.
After a sumptuous, vegetarian lunch we again split into groups, a different composition this time for even more cross-fertilisation, and we again had two different topics suggested by Ram Vaidya who managed to hold the entire day together to such good effect that even with half the contingent consisting of Druids, we managed to stay strictly to the time as scheduled! Actually, we learnt at the last Gathering that our friends often have the same problem that we do with sticking to schedule, only in their case they refer to it as ‘Hindu Time’ !
We did not know what to expect when the programme reached the time for the Hindu ritual in the afternoon, and I think that it came as quite a surprise to some. Two young men explained to the circle of participants that one of the practises which it is quite common for them to carry out on a daily basis is a series of Yoga Asanas accompanied by the chanting of mantras, and they proceeded to demonstrate. Nearly all present then ‘had a go’ with varying degrees of success and not a few yelps and groans. I recognised the series of postures from Yoga classes as what we referred to then as The Salute to the Sun. The last time I attended a class was some years ago, so my aches and pains the following day were probably quite as bad as the rest of my fellow Druids. Dr. Bhala of the Hindu contingent informed us all that he personally performed the ritual 57 times each morning and the same number each evening, which we found quite staggering especially as he was closer to retirement age than the original demonstrators – I think that next time we meet we should start the day with the Dance of LIfe!
Our wonderful day ended with an Eisteddfod presided over by the inimitable Arthur Billington and Rashmi Dave whose son Niraj accompanied her beautiful voice on keyboard. Barry Patterson was the epitome of a Druid Bard and Jim Faupel had everyone joining in with the refrain of ‘Burn, burn the Wicker Man’. The far too short Eisteddfod ended as Sagar Solanki played his drums to accompany Arthur as he regaled us all with the sad tale of the hard hearted woman who put his boots in the washing machine… not Penny, surely? For photos of the event see the picture gallery here.
After being cordially invited to the world event to be held in India next year, reluctant goodbyes were said and red cords were tied around our wrists, reminding us of promises, to really, this time, make The One Tree Gathering an annual event.
See: The One Tree Project