Tuesday, May 12, 2009
The ABCs of a Hindu Ceremony in US
The last couple of weeks have been exhausting,to say the least. We organized and hosted a traditional and religious ceremony at our place. This was not our first time doing a religious ceremony in the US, but, nevertheless, the scope of the event turned out to be larger than expected. Of course, it was my choice to have it this way and I shouldn't be complaining. But, putting together the whole event drove some simple home truths into the mind.
First of all, in order to perform a hindu puja or a ritual or a homam, a lot of prep work goes into effect atleast a few days in advance to the event. This is true, no matter in which part of the world the event happens. When growing up in a traditional brahmin household in India, a religious event happens atleast every fortnight, be it the simple amavasya "tharpanam" for which the vaathiyar (priest) comes home or the more elaborate varalakshmi viratham for which also the vaathiyar comes home. Vadai and payasam and more varieties of delicacies are prepared from the start of dawn. Until now, when I had to organize a function/puja at my house, I hadn't realized how a lot of things have been taken for granted. Back in India, i used to sit in front of the TV or try all sorts of means to escape from helping poor mom in the kitchen. Here, even though, I had some family and well wishers pitching in to help, I still had to make sure everyone knew where things were in my kitchen and had to do a lot of the logistics.
The second part of the organizing and planning is for the ritual itself. Buying the necessary puja items and arranging them prior to the day of the function was the most time consuming and tedious project ever. I can now fully appreciate the efforts that my dad put in every time before we had a puja at home to go to the market to buy all the stuff. Inspite of living within walking distance to Indian stores, it still isn't the most easiest task cut out.
Another thing that I noticed about these festive/religious events is the people. What makes a simple puja/ritual complete is the people who dress up in traditional attire and show up for such functions. It takes the rich silk sarees, jewellery that is not worn on normal days and the fresh jasmine flowers (yes, we got home grown jaathi malli as its the season here in Bay Area) to bring the cultural aspect of the event to its fullest.
Last, but not the least, is the religious significance of the whole ceremony. It is one thing to have an Indian priest who drives a C-class mercedes come and perform the puja. Hindu priests are in a lucrative business big time nowadays. They may not make the pay that your typical software engineer does, but, nevertheless, their income level is closely comparable. Being an Indian priest, more importantly, in a place like California, where the desi population is abundant, the demands on their services are pretty high. Not only do they charge exhorbitant fee for their services, but, also get mileage reimbursement, hidden fee during the ritual itself saying that it will be given to God X in India (goes straight into the pocket of the priest, not the God) and also take with them the leftover stuff after the puja.
The sanctity and true significance of the ceremony are sadly lost in the stark comemrcialism and business needs of these priests. I maybe biased if I state that all Indian priests are like that, but, honestly, the majority of them fall under that category and hence even the few ones that want to be sincere and genuine need to modify their ways in order to make a livelihood and to stay in business.
All said and done, as long as our belief system is still ritual based and we fear that some ill fortune may fall upon us if we don't adhere to those practices, the trend of priests exploiting us will continue. Of course, it takes a tough mindset to shed those beliefs or even question them(especially if you've grown up with them) and to embrace the idea that God will bless us no matter whether we follow these religious rituals or not and that true faith and belief in God alone is enough to carry us through life.