Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My first Puja ! Vijayadashmi or Dussehra

My business trip to Chennai turned into much more than I had anticipated, as it coincided with one of the most auspicious days of the year for all of India. The day of Vijayadashmi or Dussehra, is the classic drama of Good over Evil; the day Lord Rama killed the demon god Ravana. My "adventure" is exposing me to all sorts of interesting cultural experiences, however, I never believed that I would be asked to participate in one! The day before the celebration, or Puja, people began decorating their cars with flowers. Typically, the celebration only pays homage to Rama, but in Chennai they incorporate three additional gods; Lakshmi, Saraswati and Shakti. A shrine was erected at the hotel I was visiting and employees placed various items they use for their jobs at the base of the shrine to be blessed for good fortune. The General Manager of the hotel made sure to point out that they also included the "cash box" to be blessed as well! The room was full and before the shrine stood two men in traditional celebration clothing chanting and singing things in Hindi. Prior to entering the room in which the shrine was erected, everyone was asked to remove their shoes, as this area was now considered a holy place. Not fully understanding if it was culturally permissible or not (of which I have a great deal to learn) I made sure to seek permission to take pictures of the event. My plan was to just try and get to the rear of the room so that I could observe what was taking place and get some interesting pictures. Throughout the ritual, the two men I mentioned are performing various functions including the placing of various items on the shrine, lighting incense, placing and throwing flowers on the shrine and the items presented as blessings. It was truly an amazing thing to be witnessing first hand. Then they brought around a small bowl of water, with flower petals floating in it; the "priest" had a small spoon, and he spooned some water into our hands so that we could wash them......after he made sure that everyone was clean, he started working his way around the room asking people to touch trays of blessings. All types of things were taking place at set times of the celebration. Unexpectedly, he made his way to me, and took me by the arm and asked me to "light the lamp" at the center of the shrine; after trying to back out and humbly pass the duty onto someone else, the entire room began insisting that I light the lamp. I had no idea that I would be asked to play a role other than observer. i returned to my place in the crowd, and just before the conclusion of the service, the priest asked us to again extend our hands, and he placed a handful of cut flower buds and petals in our hands, and as we left we were t place them at the base of the statue. My first Puja.......

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