It was Pitru Paksha or the fortnight when Hindus remember their Pitra or ancestors. In the lunar calendar the two weeks are sandwiched between the Ganesh festival and Navratri Goddess festival corresponding to the Krishna Paksh or waning fortnight of the Bhadrapada (September) moon. It is believed that your deceased loved ones are close to the living realm, and time should be spent praying for them. When I got recurrent dreams of my dear father, grandfather and great grandmother, I packed a well-worn red bag and booked my air tickets across the Atlantic to spend some time in my family home in Mumbai in the loving presence of my mother.
My mother is a lovely lady whose angelic personality has emerged through the cobwebs of Alzheimer’s disease. To spend time with her is to be constantly reminded of your self worth, kindness and grace. Her beauty fills the home and hearth and overflows into the seaside subdivision. It was my daily ritual in Mumbai to wake up before dawn, climb down the stairs to wish Mom good morning. Then turn the geyser on for a quick bath and go to for a brisk morning walk. As I stepped into the veranda, I stopped to admire the potted hibiscus plants of yellow, red and pink hues. I plucked the best one and offer it to God and then gift it to my mom.
There are two temples in the vicinity of our house in Sector 8, Vashi, I visited both of them. The Shiva temple is near a village pond which is used for immersion of Ganesha clay idols during the festival, a gesture symbolizing that we must part with everything we hold dear in this realm, even our beloved Ganesha idols. This Jagurteshwar Mahadev Mandir has a Shiva lingam where the yoni is expanding and is believed that the Lord Shiva is awake or Jagrut. The lingam is in the deep inner sanctum flanked by a black marble Nandi or Bull and a turtle. At any time of day there are devotees silently offering Bilva leaves, white flowers and milk to appease Mrityunjaya. I offered prayers to my ancestors, touched the glow of the lamp to my forehead and gently sounded Shiva’s instrument or damaru, believed to produced spiritual sounds that created our Universe. Then I circled around the precinct bowing before Radha Krishna, Vithoba, Ram Parivar, Gram Devta, Satya Sai Baba, Datta- treya, Tulasi, Shitla Mata, Mari Aai, Shani Devta and my mother’s favorite Lord Hanuman. On my way back I sat under the pipal tree greeted other devotees, noticed an old man clad in white clothes and paid respect to the Naga devtas under the banyan tree.
Then I went to the Kerala temple with a 16th century style Gopurum. Built in the indigenous South Indian style with tall wall, the temple’s main idol is Guruvayurappan, the infant form of Lord Krishna. The deity represents the Purana rupa (full manifestation in a standing pose with four arms carrying the Panchajanya or conch, the Sudarshana Chakra or the disc, the Koumudaki or mace and padma or lotus revealed by baby Krishna to his parents Vasudeva and Devaki in Kamsa’s jail. It is a stark contrast from the North Indian temple. The inner sanctum is dark and the black bismuth or “Patala Anjam” idols are ensconced in their own alcoves secured by heavy carved wooden doors. The deities are lit by rows of oil lamps, immediately focusing your attention on the Divine image in front of your eyes. The temple committee frowns upon unnecessary chatter, chanting, or offering flowers and fruit from outside. You can purchase a prayer or Archana and the priest will conduct it for you, giving you the sacred Aarthi and holy ashes as a blessing.
As I prayed for my dad and his dear departed ones, I could feel their benevolent presence upon me several times. Let me illustrate: One afternoon, a big crow appeared in the veranda as though he had flown straight out of the “The Thirsty Crow” from the Panchatantra, I noticed the black eyes on top of a rather long sharp black beak as dad used to describe to me from the ancient tale. Acknowledging his presence as an ancestor, I requested him to wait and went to the kitchen and brought down a spoonful of sweet halva for my apparition of Kak Bhusundi ( a crow who was supposed to be a great devotee of Lord Rama), which I placed on the washed marble floor. Then I waited behind the screened door and watched him as he ate the sweet offering. The crow circled close to the black dog Kali and took a very comfortable sip of water from her water cup as if very familiar with his surroundings and then flew away into the green leaves of the mango tree.
The next day I placed the halva under the ancient banyan tree and on my way back I saw a graceful white crane( a harbinger of long life) near the pond, it sat there silently as I said my prayers and then flew into the bay, leaving me with a blessing of spirituality.
As I hurried towards the Vashi Vaikundam Kerala temple, I heard footsteps behind me, as I turned, I saw a slender lady dressed in saffron robes, a large golden aura emanating from her. I hurried to the temple entrance, taking s furtive glance at her, she was still there. Bells were tolling in the temple, as I reached the priest with a white thread gleaming against his bare back was standing in a half dhoti in front of the shrine dedicated to the seven planets and the Sun and the Moon, chanting the Navagraha srotram. I prayed to counter any negative astrological influence of the planets on my six generations as I received the holy water from the white conch in my right hand. I saw that the lady wearing Buddhist yellow had witnessed my prayers.
On the last day I decided to offer food to a Brahmin. As per mom’s housekeeper Rekha, the watchman Bimal Shukla is a Brahmin, so we could feed him. I thought that was a good arrangement, so she cooked the traditional “pukka khana” and we served a platter of food to Bimal, potato curry, puris, pickles, and kheer. After he had eaten to his heart’s content, I gave him dakshina and betel nuts. We also offered a portion of food to Gau mata believed to represent ancestors.
Hindus believe that food offered to a Brahmin on this fortnight goes directly to our ancestors. As per legend even the altruistic Karna who had donated a ton of gold in his life time had to be reborn because he could not consume any food in the heavens as he had failed to offer food to his ancestors during the month of Shradh.
Then I busied myself in painting the pretty hibiscus flowers for my mother because we have to celebrate our parents in their life time as much as we can so that their soul departs from the earthly abode peacefully. As I painted, I used as reference the pictures of the bud and half open flower with a fluttering yellow butterfly I had captured as reference on my phone. I prayed to Krishna, the notes of his magical flute mixing in the colors of my palette, pink, mauve, radiant! I completed my painting and as I painted the blue sky, I thought how we would all merge into the eternal blue with the Lord.
My picture was on a thin paper, so I gave it to Bimal to have it laminated. Then I took a nap. I got ready and wore a pale pink tunic to match the fringed petals of the pink flower. Pulling my hair up and adding a pair of pear earrings, I opened the door. To my dismay, I was locked in. I fumbled with the lock and could not release it. After a prolonged panicked scuffle was able to release it. I felt as if someone did not want me to leave…Free at last, I hurried down the stairs, and opened the door to catch a glimpse of the object of my prolonged contemplation. The hibiscus that would be fully open by high noon. To my surprise the flower had vanished. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. No hibiscus! What happened to my flower? I cried out in indignation. I had pictured it perfect arranged next to the lacy yellow scarf on Mom’s forehead. Oh… said Bimal nonchalantly: I fed it to the turtle! What?! I was aghast. You… fed my perfect pink hibiscus to the albino turtle? Why? He only eats hibiscus, was his matter of fact reply. I heaved a deep sigh and plucked two purple Vinca blooms from the garden and arranged them on mother’s scarf, she smiled humored by the hullabaloo. I imagined how utterly stunning she would have looked holding the pink hibiscus but having none, I shrugged because after all Vishnu in his second incarnation was a turtle and perhaps through a Brahmin’s hand my obeisance was indirectly accepted by Shriman Narayana. ( it was serendipitous that the breakfast manager on the way back to America was named Vishnu.)
– Monita Soni
Monita Soni MD is a pathologist who has served the Tennessee Valley through her diagnostic laboratory, PrimePath PC in Decatur. She is the past president of the Huntsville Literary Association and has published poems and essays in news papers and journals ( Poet’s Choice, Alabama Writer’s Conclave, Limestone Dust,Tabula Rasa). Her book of poetry “My Light Reflections” speaks to the heart. She is a regular reader on the Sundial Writer’s Corner on WLRH and thrives in the arts community in Huntsville. She is inspired by twentieth century poets (Robert Frost, Keats, Shelley, Browning and Tagore) and ancient Sufi poet like Hafiz, Rumi and Faiz. From Mumbai, India and living in Alabama for fifteen years, her life and writing style is a pleasing hybrid of eastern and western cultures.