Posts Tagged ‘rites’

Pouring out…ghee and grief

August 16, 2019

The young daughter pours the oblation of ghee into the sacred fire of the “havan”…and her tears pour down her tender young face.

My own eyes fill as I see the sorrow of the toughest part of growing up. If Agni and Swaha do not take her love up to her father, surely those twin streams of salt and grief will do so.

IMG_6042 Outpouring of ghee and grief, Blr, 160819

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A few trees that are entwined with Hinduism…

February 28, 2014

As I wandered around the kalyANa mantapam (festivity venue) at Chromepet, it struck me that there are so many trees that are inextricably entwined with Hindu rituals and customs…and I was lucky to be able to photograph some of them, right there. I am giving the Tamizh names and the link to the Wikipaedia entries about them, too.

One is the

pArijAtha or “pavazha malli” (literally, “coral jasmine” maram (maram is tree is Tamizh).

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The flowers of the tree are very beautiful:

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They fall like stars to the ground, where they are gathered up for worship by devout Hindus in the morning.

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Though the wiki entry mentions the mythology of the tree being the focus of a tussle between Rukmani and Sathyabhama, two of Krishna’s beloved, there is a story about Hanuman having his abode amongst the roots of this tree:

“AnjanEyam athi pAtalAnanam/ kAnchanAdri kamanIya vigraham/ pArijAtha tharu mUla vAsinam/ bhAvayAmi bhava mAna nandanam”.

My parents had a huge tree in the garden, and I would gather the flowers, distribute them amongst our neighbours, and take some to the nearby “vyAyAm ghar” (exercise place) where there was an image of Hanuman, and offer them there. My practice of reciting the Anjaneya Ashtothram (108 names of Hanuman) dates from the time I was 14 or 15…and in spite of my agnosticism, it’s something I never fail to do, till date!

Another tree that was common in gardens of temples is the

Vilva maram

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The fruit of the tree is used for both food and medicine, even today. In folklore, the tri-foliate form of leaves symbolize the trident that Shiva holds in his right hand.

The third tree, that is used everywhere in Hindu rites and rituals, is the

<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana&quot; Banana or Plantain tree, called vAzhai maram

Every part of the tree is useful; the stem is used as a vegetable (yes, I cook it, too, and it’s one of my daughter’s favourite vegetables!) as is the raw fruit; the flowers are also cooked; the “petals” of the banana flower were often used as informal containers during meals; the leaves are an essential part of the south Indian feast…an “elai shAppAdu” (leaf meal) is a must, where the food is served on plantain leaves, with the “nuNi” (tip of the leaf) intact. (The leaf-tip must face to the left, I don’t know why that rule!)

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The banana stems are chopped, and the mantapam entrance is decorated with the leaves and the banana flower forming a graceful arch of welcome for the guests.

Many of our dishes are also cooked or steamed in banana leaves, which form a great traditional lining. Even today, I enjoy unwrapping the spiral of banana leaf which encloses the “kadubu”, a Kannada dish somewhat like an iddli. Kerala dishes made with jackfruit and rice flour are also steamed in plantain leaves.

I photographed a very huge variety of this plant at Lalbagh, on 080211:

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The plant was mis-labelled as “Crown of Thorns”, though. I also clicked the stamens, which are cooked after the pistils are carefully removed:

crwn thrns flower 080211 photo IMG_3144.jpg

In Coorg tradition, the bridegroom chops down several banana stems in symbolism for wild animals, to show his manly prowess. In Tamil Nadu, we sometimes had young women married to symbolic banana stems when the grooms could not be physically present. No, I refuse to go further with the banana symbolism!

Another tree that is always associated with Hindu rites is the

mA maram (mango tree).

The mango is considered the king of fruits in India, and the wood is used for cheap furniture; the leaves are an essential part of the “thOraNam” decorating doorways to homes, and the fruit, in its baby (mAvadu) and raw (mAngAi) forms are used in making delicious pickles.

In this photograph, taken before the varalakshmi pUjA, you can see both banana trees and mango leaves for sale, to decorate the goddess’ mantapams in people’s homes.

IMG_0183 Banana trees and mango leaves to decorate

I won’t write much about the

Coconut palm…thennai maram …as it is so ubiquitous!

You can see how palm fronds are used for decoration:

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In this pic you can see coconuts rolled up in dhotis, to be gifted to the priests:

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We cannot do without coconuts for any puja!
It’s a great pity that our strong links to trees seem to be getting diluted these days…and we seem to think of them not as living beings, complementing our lives, but hindrances to “development”, especially to the faster flow of motorized traffic!

Love lost in the details….

June 21, 2008

“How many people will be having dinner?” (Remember, the idlis we bought from the nearby restaurant ran out yesterday morning because eight extra people showed up.)

“Is there anyone else who needs to be informed? Goodness, I nearly left out that cousin in Mumbai…and his wife had open-heart surgery last week and I was supposed to call and find out how she was doing, too….”

“Please do come in (who on earth is this, is this my sis-in-law’s official colleague, or someone who knew her dad earlier?)….yes…it was all rather unexpected…”

“No, I have not asked my sis in law what she wants to do about the ceremonies (you insensitive person, let her get over crying first), I really can’t tell you what will happen, or when…”

“Bedding….do we have enough pillows?”

“Make the list of the various kitchen items that are required…where are the milk coupons? Is there someone to just go and get enough milk to provide coffee for all the visitors?”

“Hello…yes, this is A’s sister here….yes, thank you for your condolences (you have been on the phone talking about your own illness for twenty minutes, lady, can you release the line, you seem to have known my brother when he was about sixteen…I do value your reminiscences, but they are upsetting me and I don’t want to hear about your “uterus operation” and why it is preventing you from visiting, right now…) I am so glad you called; keep us in your prayers…”

“We DID try and take him to the hospital, and no, he was NOT ill….”

“Hold on, I’ll pay the pall-bearers and the pundit, but why is he charging us SO much?”

“Did you get the death certificate? It has to be xeroxed umpteen number of times….”

“That aunt won’t eat anything made with onions in it, and the other gentleman wants hot water…”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter that so-and-so didn’t come to see A. People keep away for different reasons…”

And then everything comes to a complete halt as I see my brother’s writing: it says “Funti”, which was his own Orrible Pet Name for my daughter, and her telephone number next to it….

The tears fall inside my eyelids, inside my heart. My voice doesn’t waver. I don’t break down. I am the strong person, I am the one who can cope, the one who can manage, the one in control.

It’s necessary also to keep every guest in the house reasonably happy; I don’t want any arguments or ill-feeling erupting or even festering quietly.

He just went off, my laughing, sardonic-sense-of-humour brother, he’s left us to deal with this mess of how to conduct the death ceremonies, which he had no faith in, with a bunch of relatives he used to laugh at…

Crying inside is tougher than crying outside.

A death

November 19, 2007

We got the news late yesterday evening, and went across early this morning.

The man was 70 plus. He had been keeping good health; he went to play golf and felt ill….and didn’t even make it to the hospital from the golf course.

The no-longer-the-man was stretched out on a refrigerated casket. Rites were performed which made no sense to me, because I firmly believe that what was dear to the family left on Saturday evening. Now it’s only the empty shell that is being subjected to rites.

But the family was inconsolable. The wife yelled, “ask them not to take him away”. I felt,oh my goodness,lady, don’t cry now….the “husband” in that body went away two days ago. What’s left HAS to be taken away and destroyed, before it decomposes. The flesh without the spirit is just…dross.

Do the prescribed rites give comfort to the family? If they do, that’s all right. But today I saw the family being agonized afresh by rituals which did NOT comfort them at all. There was NO dignity to some of those rituals.

There were crowds of people. How many of them were there from genuine sorrow? How many to watch? And to mark their attendance? I heard two people quietly discussing how the lady would not like to live with either son because “she doesn’t get along with the daughter-in-laws”. Felt like telling them to stop…but they had a right to say what they felt like, so I kept quiet.

I was most uncomfortable, because to me, the fact of the man’s dying without illness, without suffering, was a good thing. I would have been lynched if I had expressed that thought, though. So I kept quiet.

Life is SO chaotic…death even more so.

How am I going to take it if such a loss happens to me? Will I be philosophical?

Don’t know.