Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fall Celebrations

Last weekend, I went to Nashville with an old music-making friend to contribute vocal tracks to the latest in a series of projects called poetry scores – long poems set to music as one scores a film. Click here to read a post about that trip, and listen to MP3s of the songs with me on them.

Mowgli did not go with me – the reality of owning two large dogs makes it difficult for us to take weekend trips together. When friends asked what he’d be doing, I said my best guess was that he’d be watching football and cleaning the house. I was right on both counts.

The reasons for the football are self-evident – men like sports, ugh-ugh. The cleaning is less obvious unless you’re privy to the Hindu calendar and realized that Saraswati Puja, a major Hindu observation, fell on Sunday.

Saraswati is the goddess of the arts, learning and knowledge, and she also governs language and tools. Her connection to tools mystified me until Mowgli explained that because you need knowledge to use tools, and she rules knowledge, she therefore rules tools.

We’re not just talking about hammers and screwdrivers here; the Hindu concept of tools encompasses everything that helps you do anything, and thus includes appliances, books, flashlights, computers, phones, watches, doorways, lightswitches, pens, keys, and vehicles. All of these things get daubed with both kumkum (which I think of as blessing powder) and sandalwood paste, but cars get a special treatment that’s meant to cast out the evil eye.

The passivity of being a passenger on a five-hour trip allowed me to think about the puja, and get bummed out by the prospect of missing it. Participating in Hindu rituals with my husband lets me crawl into his cultural skin a bit, and it’s plain fun to see him prepare for them rituals with joy and excitement. When I got home, I was happy to find that though Mowgli had daubed everything with the sharply sweet sandalwood and kumkum, he had waited for me to start the ceremony.

I puttered, unpacked and settled in, then showered before we lit an oil lamp, incense and camphor, and prayed over an assortment of fruit, hot milk with sugar and cardamom, and a few books, watches, keys and musical instruments. (This part of the ceremony is the same as for Ugadi, which I wrote about earlier this year.)

The serious, reflective part over with, we proceeded with the fun part. We moved the cars, one at a time, to the front of the house. Mowgli had cleaned them inside and out, and anointed the hoods and trunks with the aforementioned powders. He had also prepared the lemons by washing them, daubing them with kumkum, and scoring them widthwise before we prayed over them with the rest of the fruit.

I took four lemons and wedged one against the front of each of my car’s tires; then I drove forward slowly, squashing them, and drove around the little park in our neighborhood. As I pulled into the driveway, I could see Mowgli smiling and waving from our front porch. I smiled and waved back. I picked up the lemons I’d squashed, and watched Mowgli repeat the process with his car. As I stood on the porch waiting to see him come back from his short drive, it felt a bit like Christmas morning, with our simple actions and the smells of incense, sandalwood, lemons and cardamom standing in for the smell of a pine tree and opening presents.

Seven years ago when I first met my husband, I could not have imagined this ritual, much less that I would ever take part in it. Two years ago, as we started our married life, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that I would look forward to it. Realizing that I cherish it makes a pretty good anniversary gift. Thanks, honey.

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