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Saturday November 20, 2004: Lakshmi Puja: part two

         When I attend Catholic or Episcopal churches with friends or family, I sit politely in the pews while the faithful go up for communion. I would do the same here for this ritualistic puja, but V.G. insists on everyone participating.  Over and over I watch as people, one by one, take a pitcher filled with milk, yogurt, honey, bits of bananas, sugar, and a touch of saffron.  They pour a bit of this mixture over several statues that rest on a tray raised above a large bowl (to catch the overflow). I watch each devotee's offering, hoping when it comes my turn that I will show the proper respect and protocol. I try to focus on offering up my ignorance, my shortcomings to the goddess. I try to focus on giving devotional love to the divine in this form, but...I am not a ritual person. When it comes my turn, my focus shifts to carefully pouring just the right amount of mixture over each of three objects on the tray. Two small statues are still half visible above the pool of thick white fluid and the chunks of banana bits. One small round disk (I never did see what it was) has disappeared from view and I pour a bit of the mixture in that area of the tray.

        The next offering is of flower petals. V.G. instructs each to come up and sprinkle petals over each statue on the table. One by one, devotees fill one hand with petals; kneel or bow before the table, and with one hand carefully scatter a few petals reverently over each statue. I try to comprehend the inner devotion and offering that this outer gesture represents. I feel closest to the Indian god Shiva. In my heart, I want most to lay all my petals at the base of his statue. At the very moment when I stand before the table, however, I back down, dutifully scattering the petals as I have seen others do.

          The Brahmins complete the remaining rituals; V.G. calls people back up to receive some of the food, offered to and blessed by the goddess Lakshmi. As each person approaches V.G., he places a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts, or an Indian sweet in their outstretched hands; he mutters a Sankrit blessing. I cannot hear if it is the same blessing or if he varies it in the way he varies the gift of food.

            When it comes my turn, he looks at me, whispers "Janet, Janet, " mutters some Sanskrit, and chooses one of Indian sweets to place in my outstretched hands. I freeze for a moment. V.G. has chosen something special that I have not seen offered at other pujas I've attended. Perhaps it is a traditional sweet associated only with Diwali.

            I see V.G. once a year, perhaps once every other year; he has forgotten or is unaware of my blood sugar problems. Yet, this is not the moment to refuse a puja gift and ask for something else. I carry it back to my seat and sit politely with it in my hands while others stand in line, waiting their turn to share in the puja blessing.

           Back in my seat, I stare at what looks like Pillsbury cookie dough (the kind that comes in a roll and is sliced into round cookie sections before baking). This slice is perhaps 3/4th of an inch thick; an inner green center surrounded by an outer ring of plain cookie dough. I keep telling myself it may be something entirely different, but to my eye the whole thing still looks like raw cookie dough. Eating something sweet will wreck havoc with my blood sugar levels, will keep me up all night, will start sugar swings that may affect the entire weekend. My heart sinks because it seems wrong to refuse blessed food.

         I pinch off a small bit from the edge of the 'cookie.' The piece is not larger than the size of a pea and I carefully put it in my mouth, being hit instantly with the taste of sugar and butter. It indeed would be a treat and reminds me of eating chocolate chip cookie dough, but I could accurately predict the result of eating any more of the puja gift. Better to give it to one of my sons, I think. I have eaten enough to have participated in this part of the ceremony. If there truly is a blessing then let it go to my sons, though I suspect (as with all ritual) that the power and resulting affect lies primarily in the mindset of the participant.

           There are several new things this year. Mary brings out a tray of Lakshmi jewelry she has made --clear beads strung on elastic into something that looks a bit too small for the wrist. One side of the 'bracelet' has eight to ten strands of beads hanging off the circular strand. It has obviously taken much time and effort, and is Mary's contribution to the Diwali puja. Is it meant to be a necklace for Lakshmi statues? Yogis have been known to adorn their statues. One of the men puts the 'bracelet' around his ear and it becomes an elaborate ear decoration that makes those of us around him laugh good-naturedly. The girl in front of me pulls back her hair and uses it to hold her ponytail.

          To be continued...........


Posted on Saturday, November 20, 2004 at 11:24AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

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