Although it was much bigger, far more worn and centuries older than his copy at home, Trey Scott knew immediately what was in the exhibit case before him. “It’s the Bible,” he says, turning to see his father, Will Scott, nodding in agreement.
Moving on, 7-year-old Trey tries his hand at playing a rebab, a Turkish fiddle used in religious ceremonies. Then he pastes a sticky note onto a large world map to identify the place he would someday like to visit and learn about local traditions – Australia. “That’s a good one,” his father says, clasping a hand on his son’s shoulder.
Since opening Aug. 29, the National Geographic Sacred Journeys at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has been drawing a multitude of visitors of all ages to see the special exhibit that will end Feb. 29, 2016.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Stefanie Rose, watching her family discuss the exhibits. “There are so many different religions and different people in the world and to be able to see this is really wonderful.”
With so much hatred and bloodshed in the news – much of it based on religion – it is an eye opener to see something like this in Indianapolis, she adds. “It is bringing so much information together in one place.”
Each year more than 330 million people around the world journey to sacred places as part of their religious commitments, museum officials say. Some seek enlightenment or healing. Others perform acts of devotion that are expressions of deep faith.
“People travel the world in search of transformative experiences, whether they journey to perform acts of faith, pursue enlightenment, or seek healing. Those who seek to understand the motivations for these sacred journeys develop an awareness of cultural diversity and respect for religious traditions,” says Dr. Jeffrey H. Patchen, president and CEO, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
Museum officials note that America is home to followers of hundreds of religious faiths, yet few know much about their neighbor’s beliefs, practices or traditions. The goal is that by visiting the exhibit families will be able to observe, discuss and begin to understand some of the beliefs and sacred journeys made by people around the world.
“Children and families will have the opportunity to learn about pilgrimages, festivals and important objects connected to a variety of sacred sites in the world,” the museum CEO adds. “These smaller, intimate displays will focus on stories of personal experiences and will be an excellent stepping-off point for families to discuss their own religious paths.”
DALAI LAMA THRONE
Stopping to look at a brightly colored exhibit case, Arianna Scott sees information that the throne was built for the Dalai Lama’s visit to America in 2010. And it is on loan, a sign notes, from the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana. “Bloomington!” the 5-year-old exclaims. “That’s where I live.”
Next is a mandala, a special sand art work created at the museum by Buddhist monks visiting the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington. The beautiful intricate mandala was built by hand pouring colored sand in complicated designs. Later, the monks will disassemble the mandala and release the sand into moving water.
“Why”” Arianna demands. “Why do they have to tear it up?”
The ritual, she is told, symbolizes Buddhist beliefs about the temporary nature of life and the material world. That prompts a discussion between Anthony Martin and his father, Joe Martin of Indianapolis, about the importance of not using life to accumulate “things” but to live as a good person. “Like the Ten Commandments tell you,” adds 8-year-old Anthony.
The traveling exhibit was created by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the National Geographic Society with a $1.25 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. When it leaves The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the ground-breaking exhibition will travel to another museum venue.
Featured Sacred Journeys sites include:
– Western Wall of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
– Dome of the Rock mosque, site of Muhammad’s ascent to heaven in Jerusalem.
– Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of Jesus’ crucifixion in Jerusalem.
– Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to which all Muslims are expected to make a pilgrimage or Hajj once in their lifetimes.
– Tepeyac Hill and the Roman Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
– Allahabad and Sangam at the confluence of three rivers sacred to Hindus at the Ganges River in India, site of some of the largest gatherings of humans on earth.
– Bodh Gaya, birthplace of Buddhism, and the Bodh Tree where Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment in Bihar, India.
– Caves in the bluffs along the Dead Sea in Qumran, Israel, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.
PRICELESS ARTIFACTS ON EXHIBIT
Among the artifacts featured in the 7,000-square-foot exhibition are fragments of the Dead Sea scrolls from Israel; large stone from the Western Wall in Jerusalem; Jewish devotional objects taken into space by former astronaut David Wolf; trunk Brigham Young carried from New York to Utah; piece of the Kiswa (a gold-embroidered fabric, which drapes the Kaaba in Mecca; replica of the Shroud of Turin; and Ganesh, the Hindu god of good fortune.
Sacred Journeys also offers an exhibit guide to explain what visitors are seeing and to suggest possible discussion questions. For example, for the Seder plate used by Jewish families to commemorate the story of how the Israelis escaped slavery in Egypt, questions include “Do you celebrate religious events at home? Do you have special foods?… Why are these things important to your family?”
Interactive programs include a 20-minute session on Sacred Sounds, giving visitors a closer look at musical sounds and instruments that have special meaning to different people around the world. “Music can transport us back and make us feel things,” says Katie Wantuch, gallery facilitator.
Finishing his Sacred Journey, Will Scott says the exhibit opened his eyes to the differences and the similarities of people around the world. “I didn’t know there were that many religions in the world. It is good for people to see all the things that are here and to understand that we shouldn’t hate someone because they are different.”
For more information: Contact The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis at (317) 334-4000, www.childrensmuseum.org.