I’ve just devoured a box of Lale’s fried chicken (a recent favourite) and now sitting back in the wonderment that how fried chicken could make a person so completely content? I mean this is a cooked carcass of a bird that’s probably died a long time ago. How could the death and the fried aftermath of another living thing provide so much happiness to another? Especially to a Hindu.
But of course that doesn’t stop me from reaching out for another wing, does it. Though this carnivorous state of mine isn’t entirely my fault. We’ve just come out of a 15-day vegetarian stint because of Ganesh Chaturthi. This is particularly a long period as far as Hindu religious festivals go (where most of us get reminded of our purpose as a human being and give up meat ^.^). The longest I’ve been through is a 9 or 10 day refrain at most, 13 if someone dies but 15 days is just absurd!
— Where is Shyamni? (@MaharishiSharon) April 8, 2016
In recent years, more and more festivals have seeped into observance in Suruj’s household to a point where my parents are now vegetarian almost 6 months a year! I remember a time in Fiji where all we knew was just Diwali and Ram Naumi and throw in an yearly rot and katha. But now the Hindu Sansthas publish a separate Hindu calendar marking festivals and auspicious planet collisions, which by the way hangs near Suruj’s pantry and is consulted on a regular basis.
Perhaps it is our access to more knowledge now with our local radio stations focusing on religion awareness or maybe it’s the easier travel access to the motherland or it just could be Starplus actresses with their glorious saree displays during a festival episode that’s making us sit up and take notice. But couple of years ago, not many of us had even heard of what a Ganesh Visarjan was! Last week Ganesha rode out in a parade through the Suva city.
Of course the increase in these spiritual activities doesn’t sit well with most of us. I mean my beef(!) is pretty much just with the protein (and the spirit) limitations but for many it’s a lot of other questions relating to cost, time and the return on their faith. I’ve heard many a conversations including Suruj who occasionally throws in the towel saying let’s all convert to Christianity! For one, to conduct a Hindu puja ceremony – it’s an expensive affair. The ghee, the agarbatti, the kappoor, the halwa and the yogurt is expensive. Ganesha demands ladoos which requires exuberant amounts of ghee. All worships take time. Long enough to cut blood circulation in your legs. And by the time you’ve run around collecting 9 types of flowers, cleaned the coconuts, found the shrivelling paan leaves, doop grass, kus grass and 5 mango leaves in one stem, fucking hell you’re a champion for making it through that havan without strangling the pundit; who’ll at the end of it walk away with a good chunk of your groceries. And God promise if you don’t question your faith and the point of it all in your running around, child, you’re destined for nirvana in this kalyug.
I’ve had my questions. Remember when I was going through why can’t we eat beef phase in Germany? Having traveled through India extensively in the last 3 years has opened me up to some different perspectives of Hinduism and I’ve come to deeply value the flexibility this religion allows you to question your faith. The mere fact that you can connect to divinity without the incense and havan kinda worship is bliss. I am so grateful for yoga for all that it is. But from Suruj’s perspective, I’m not at all religious and need to pray more especially during the festivals for some which I don’t even bother turning up to.
For example for Ram Naumi, ever since I was a child I couldn’t connect to the 9 days of glorifying Rama. A man who gave up his wife in the name of duty. My skepticism got firmly affirmed this year when I learnt via Siya Ke Ram, from television that is, that Rama had sister named Shanta! Who was sacrificed for a son that the kingdom wanted. See some things you just sense are wrong! I connect better at Krishna Janamashtami and think the Bhagavad Gita’s karma over duty philosophy is a much better. But is it really fair? I mean was Arjun really the greatest archer? Noooo. Then there’s Shivratri. I’ve been told by that mannnny people to do the 16-Mondays. *sigh* But you know what? I’ll do it. I’ll do it next year. If that is a sure-shot, bonafide way to find a maanchaaha husband, by God it’s time I do it.
Of course then there’s Navratri which I love because it’s such a wonderful worship time of the female Shakti. And then there’s the endless Ekadashis, utsavs, guru pujas that keep turning up week after week that makes one really, reallyyy question the point of it all.
But you know how most of my mornings start? It starts with my mother’s prayer bells waking me up and the smell of those expensive agarbattis she likes to buy – she justifies it with ‘only the best for her God’. Most days (if I’m not mad at her), I’d go and sit on the steps of her little temple and talk to her while she arranges her prayer.
Yesterday morning, there was a heap of laddoos from the night before’s puja sitting on the steps that she’d put out. I absently started chomping on one. Of course made with fresh ghee (not bottled supermarket one) because “Ganesha likes fresh things”. Suruj hasn’t noticed me yet and I see her hobble (the cold makes her knees weak).
I suddenly felt such a sharp pierce in my chest. And my eyes teared. It was as if my heart realised something before my brain could process it. I just realised how my mother was slowly ageing. Her hands still so beautifully firm (though she’s got a complex they are wrinkling) is touching each deity’s feet in a silent namaskar. I realised that she, just like all of us, one day isn’t going to be around. It was such a morbid thought and I hate it that now it’s entered my brain (like what in the world would I do without Suruj?). And just like that, in 5 minutes yesterday morning, so many questions on religion and worship that I’ve always argued about with her, simply got answered.
It really isn’t about the number of festivals Hindus celebrate or the ridiculous little things one has to do for one small puja or the cost of things, it was about faith. It was about using as many of these festivals to get closer to God. It was about coxing him, drawing his attention to us, making him listen to us. It was about knowing that God whether he/she/no gender, either they were a Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Jew God – had 7 billion other people to listen to. But despite knowing that, still with patience, we try in every possible way we can, to get their attention.
And for the first time in my life I realised, what my mother was doing. By offering the heavens above the best she could, everyday and at every Hindu occasion she celebrates in the hope that one day her bells and agarbattis and laddoos wafts so close to the Gods above noses that they have no other way but to bend down their ears to her and listen.
I shut my wet eyelids as tight as I can (yes without a shower – sin says Suruj) silently sending it out in the universe to tell God to not test Suruj’s faith any longer (because her knees are not as strong anymore) and to turn before it’s too late. Even God wouldn’t want to mess with my mother.
And before I open my eyes again, I hear Suruj saying “Morningggg, Shyamni – do we feel like a chicken curry today?” I smile, Suruj has no problems talking about chicken curry in her puja room.
Faith. It keeps us going. Our 101 Hindu festivals keep us going.
Disclaimer: This post is a personal reflection. No responsibility is taken for any misinterpretation of the Hindu texts & rituals nor meant as an offence to any other religion.