My Journey Part 2 of 4 parts
So, it was only natural that we packed the ashes from the Ganesha homam, a prayer ritual where pieces of coconuts with the shell on, various fruits and flowers, and ghee, clarified butter, were offered in a wood burning fire in front of Lord Ganesha. While the blazing fire consumed the various offerings, we chanted special prayers to Lord Ganesha to propitiate him. He was the deity who removed all obstacles when one set out on a trip, took an exam or started a new endeavour. Of course I needed his blessings for my new life in the States.
One week before I set out for Chicago, in January 1964, I did another prayer ritual of Ponkala, to please Goddess Lekshmi, the goddess of health, wealth and happiness. This, I did at my Maami’s house. I called my mother-in-law Maami, meaning Aunt in Malayalam, my native tongue. After my marriage, my Maami’s house was also my home. I had stayed on with her even after my husband had left for Chicago.
For the Ponkala prayer, I cooked rice in milk and water, in our front-yard, on a makeshift fireplace made up of three piles of bricks. The distance between the three piles, each about five bricks high, was determined by the size of the glazed ceramic pot that I was using. A fire was made in the center with dry coconut-palm-leaves and some firewood. While the rice cooked, I chanted prayers to Goddess Lekshmi. The blazing fire consumed any bad vibes or spirits that hovered over me. In time, the wood-burning fire got doused by the milk and rice boiling over from the cooking pot. Symbolically, even as my wishes boiled over, this was also a gesture of food offering to the Bhoomi Devi, Goddess Earth. The bonus was that I collected double blessings from the Goddesses, Lekshmi Devi and Bhoomi Devi, to carry with me over the oceans that I had to cross on my trip to Chicago.
We Hindus know that there is but one God, but each time the Lord appears on earth to help the ‘good’ triumph over ‘evil,’ the form in which the Lord appeared is revered, temples are built in his or her name, and each deity blesses us to make different facets of a person strong.
Then came the goodbyes. In the last week that I was home, I bid farewell to many uncles and aunts, cousins and second cousins of my parents, all with vested interest in my success in America. I was the first one from our extended family to travel so far from home, especially to the new world. I bent down and touched the feet of each family elder. The act of touching the feet of an elder signifies a show of respect for the age, maturity and divinity in them, and at the same time it was to seek their blessing for my upcoming trip, but more so for my journey into a new life. When you touch the feet of an elder person and then place the fingers in blessing to your own forehead, you are paying reverence to the God-power within that being, and evoking that power for your own benefit. Each of them in turn placed both palms on my shoulders to confer their blessings on me. Some smiled, and some cried, and one great-aunt, Thankamoni Maami, sobbed so hard, she could not complete her act of blessing me.
To voluntarily pay homage to another is to empower that God-power in both parties. To be compelled to do so, if you were one of those who questioned this practice, would be ineffective, and unthinkable.
Part 3 to follow