It’s a Hindu death anniversary today – so shortly after a very popular festival. We sit to honour our grandmother – and other ancestors – with some fire worship. There’s quite some involved rituals involved – offering various prayers, a homa (fire yagna) and a ritualistic banquet to round things off. A set of priests bring in a further sense of solemnity to the occasion as they officiate using age-old customs.
Dad is looking a little tear-eyed, am sure he’s remembering his mom from a few decades ago. Perhaps memories of when he was a kid come flooding back – the joy and the sense of having someone to go to for protection no matter what. You cannot be too old to relive that.. Maybe he remembers the tenacious lady, who undeterred by a lack of education and the early death of her husband – brought up her many wards with care and discipline so they would shine in the world. Maybe, he’s just recapping the joy on her face when she experienced her first flight and wondering fondly what she would think of the life today – a life filled with more luxury than she would have ever imagined in her life time.
Now remember, people from dad’s generation weren’t encouraged to cry, that was for the women folk. They were encouraged to puff out their chest and be good but stern men. They were learnt to respect the priests, the gods and rule the home with an iron but honest hand. They had to grow into a stereotype to be admired by the society.
How things have changed today – we embrace niceties, becoming emotional is no longer sissy stuff. We can talk to our parents openly – and they can talk to us too. Isn’t that progress? It certainly is, provided we don’t use this new found freedom as a wall to hide our insecurities and weaknesses – and become a bit of a phony. If we do that, its hypocrisy – and the world sheds a tear for the irrecoverable loss of a timeless culture.
Which brings us back to the day at hand. Reflecting through the ceremony, the ancients certainly seem to have given it a lot of thought. For two days – they advocate a diet thats satvik – nothing that disturbs the mind – so we can focus on the thoughts for the ever-loved one who is no longer here physically. The ceremony honours ancestors of three generations – allowing us to comprehend that we are but the product of time – and we will continue to be so. Several offerings of elements – sticks in the fire, water, earth (some rice, food) – fill us with gratitude to Mother Nature, the sages of old and our very illustrious fore-fathers and mothers. We are invited to serve the priests to a lunch – which opens out the servitude in us – and they shower us with their blessings. Finally a lunch of nature’s bounty beckons – on fully recyclable banana leaves at that(!) – and the day progresses headily.
Yes, I think the ancients had it right. And the set of officiating people, a wonderfully expressive and poetic language, an appropriate diet and a sense of gratitude – go a long way in making us understand ourselves, Mother Nature and the gifts that we have received from our ancestors and sages. If nothing, it makes us understand that being born is a thing of wonder – and you need so many pieces to be just right for this miracle to occur – and encourages you to pass on this message to the coming generations..
In a sense therefore, the ceremony is as much for ourselves as it is for our ancestors….