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.


Laksh said...

Thoroughly agree with your last para. Each time we perform my dad or mil's thevasam here I end up feeling restless and disappointed. Our intentions may be well but the stark commercialism you mention takes away whatever joy is left.

Me said...

pongal vadai lam superaa irukku!

I did not invite a shastrigal for my fathers devasam this year because I feel cheated at the end...happened to me last couple of years...

they are very greedy...want more than what the temple says their fees are...they promise to bring 2 more ppl but they never do...they ask money for them and i don't believe they give it to them...India layum idhey range dhan...

Cham said...

I agree with the priest in US. So much of demand, they tell u one time and spot to noon and explain it is the best time. Because of fear and not break certain rituals, I agreed blindly to many things when I did th Ganapathi and Navagraga Omam.
We even drop him because he doesn't hold a driving licence :(
What Pooja is it? Did u made all those prasadam?

anudivya said...

Mitr, firstly I am totally envious about your home grown jaathi malli... where did you even get them!? Do they do well in pots?

ABout performing rituals in the US, have not done one, so moi would not be the right person to comment on it.

AJEYA RAO said...

Thats great! looks like great food too! :-)

Krishnan said...

Quite an interesting take on rituals in US of A.

mitr_bayarea said...


Yes- that is so sad to note that your experiences with priests in this country hasn't been great, either.

Me- yes, India le yum many shastrigals are purely money minded.

Cham- Prasadam was made by a mami and by some family members, I didn't cook a thing, was busy sitting in the puja.

Anudivya- Yes, pink jasmine is available in Bay area nurseies and is seasonal, it blooms for about 2 months from early April to May. Their fragrance is too good.

Ajeya- Thanks to the courtesy of my aunt, the food was super.

Krishnan- Yes, it is a whole different experience in organizing a religious ritual here, neverthless, I am grateful to be in a place where I can follow this.

Sachita said...

So that is the career change, I should be looking at then.

They are rituals for ritualsake probably(my parents will kill me for saying this but..). I never thought they had any connection with God(you can confirm with livermore gods on your next visit).

Jayashree said...

My family's vadhyar here drives a nice, comfortable car....his grandchildren go to the best school in the city, and his charges for his services are based on the person's job.

Aparna said...

I remember going through pains to get things ready for A's punyajanam and ayusha homam. The ayusha homam was a wee better, still felt pretty let down.

I get what you are saying in this post is what I am trying to say I suppose :D

mitr_bayarea said...

Sachita- Haha...yes, venumna side profession-a you can take that up!

Jayashree- Am amazed that your vathiyar in India also charges based on a person's job, what has the priest profession come down to?

Aparna- Hmm..I hear you, yes, kind of dreading those functions in the upcoming years for these reasons, but, still, knowing me, I guess, I will not be able to see logic and do away without doing these rituals.

Shruthi said...

Ah. The food and festivities make my mind reel back to Madras. :)