On 9th October, 2008, My host parents Sreedhara K. and Sumitra G. held a fantastic puja festival for the blessing and honour of the temple to be built, commemorating the Hindu God Sri Raghevendraswami. I begin by saying that this was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and it has given me a hands-on opportunity to envelop myself into such rich Indian culture.
I arrived in the morning for the first puja, during which I witnessed (and photographed) pairs of other people attending the ceremony as they dug into the earth. This was done using a gardening hoe, and after the soil was combed back from where it stood prior, handfuls of puffed rice were thus poured onto the freshly exposed earth. This was a combined effort of the pair, as they received the rice and let it fall in unison into the gentle bed of the world. Couple after couple of guests came and went, performing this action with bright eyes and faces lit by smiles. Excitement filled the air throughout the entire process, as there was singing and chanting to different songs and prayers. To watch this first puja was a true blessing, and I loved seeing my host family as they directed and kept all the participants in order, while still managing to take part in the festivities and have a good time.
Next I had breakfast with a few of the guests. Upma and chutney, along with a sweet with dried fruits, was served on half a banana leaf. I found breakfast to be delicious, for I enjoy upma a great deal, particularly when it is served with chutney and green chilies. My favourite thing about upma is how it feels; I enjoy molding the meal with my fingers, letting the warm substance and the vegetables shape with the chutney, then savouring the rice South-Indian flavours!
After breakfast there was an intercession before the second puja, so the members could prepare all the necessary materials and settings. During this time I took to photographing and reading, as well as observing all the preparations. The effort and all the hard work that went into this entire festival truly impressed me. Undertaking the role of hosts on my host parent’s part was great responsibility that I could see they were more than ready for.
The second puja began, which was for couples attending the ceremony. It took place around a stone fireplace that was decorated with intricate chalk images and coloured powders. This is where various types of wood were burnt, along with ghee and coconut. The fumes smelt pleasant, as though a purifying gust of sacred wind was flowing from the flames. I took as many photos as my fingers would allow, while chants and prayers continued to the offering of wood and the procession of couples. At the end, the final puja, a loud ringing of the gong called everyone back around the fireplace. Guests threw flowers and coloured rice towards a God idol and there was distribution of bananas and rupees, as well as dried fruits. Women went to and fro amongst the crowd, offering red powder to place on the forehead, and coal mixed with water was also passed around for this purpose. I very much enjoyed being part of this, as I feel it gave me a chance to really be a part of Hindu religious tradition.
After the second puja, everyone made their way over to lunch. Let me ay that one of my favourite parts of going to pujas is partaking in the banana leaf lunches. I just love to try all the different types of curries and sambars, and I love mixing it all together with my fingers. Lunch was rice with man different kinds of sambar, as well as a variety of curried potatoes and vegetables, sweets with dried fruits and nuts, rice with curd, and so many other treats that I can’t name them all! The food was declious, and I’m sure everyone left the festival with a full belly and a satisfied mind.
My recollections of this festival are ones of joy and admiration for my host parents. They did a splendid job in organizing and maintaining the entire function, as well as making it very enjoyable. This was such a great learning experience for me, and I am very pleased that I was fortunate enough to partake. No doubt, I will never forget this Indian experience!
-Caitlin Rae Scofield
AFS Foreign Exchange
United States of America