My parent’s 50 year old house in Rajajinagar, where I was brought up had small 2x2x2 place in kitchen..hmm..a cabinet I would say! It was made especially for Gods. All gods- Srinivasa (Tirupathi Balaji), Krishna, Ganapathi, and Lakshmi,..sat in that dark place for hours together. Make that years.. They still sit! A lamp used to be lit day and night for them. But on special days like festivals, wedding anniversary, death anniversary (thithi), their birthdays and our birthdays, they used to get some sweets too!. First, they would be served and only then we used to get our share. Mom had taught me that I should offer them a good Namaskar every morning and evening which I religiously followed. There was no question of why we had to do it. I just had to do it. Myself, along with my cousins used to chant Suprabhatam every morning. I was most attracted to the colorful pictures in Suprabhatam book where Lord Vishnu sleeps on his snake, Adishesha on the milky ocean.. Pictures on each page were like a fairy tales!. I used to begin dreaming of meeting Lord Vishnu, while looking at it!!.. Also, the stories about gods and goddesses, told to me by my granny, were a treat to hear.
There was an Ayyappa temple near my dance class. Every year, there used to be a grand procession in that area, before the pilgrims took off to Sabarimala. I used to wear my Jarilanga (traditional silk long skirt) and attend this religious gathering. My Amma used to give me some fruits, a coconut, beetle leaves and flowers to be offered to Ayyappa Swami, a bachelor god!. I used to love hearing the devotional songs sung in praise of Ayyappa...especially “Sabari Malayil Thanka Sooryodhayam”, a song sung by Yesudas. I used to love the Paayasam (made of rice and jaggery..paal paayasam) that they used to give as prasaadam.. The decorations made of coconut leaves, and the temple carts were very beautiful.
I would say, in my primary years, my main attraction towards festivals was to wear my new Jarilanga, and Bhakshanams(special snacks like chakli, thenkol, kolkatte, obattu, Holige, kodbale, thenginkayi burfi,….) During Navaratri celebrations, the fun was to arrange all existing Dolls and Idols in one corner of the house; make a miniature play area; put some wet mud to grow Raagi; leave some toy wild animals there picturing it to be a zoo!.. Every day, different sweets were prepared as an offering to God. Well, in the name of God, we all used to eat! :-)…Then go to all neighbours’ houses and invite them to come and take a look at our Dolls on display! One such time I still remember, when I was strolling along with my friends on the street, I saw an idol of Saraswathi made of clay, thrown into the street’s corner garbage dump. I literally put my hand through all that garbage took the idol out and brought her home. There was also a shiny garland that I found in the same dust bin. Saraswathi, adorned with that garland, also occupied a place in my dolls’ display section!
I would say the Ganapathi festival, was an all time favorite of mine. I had heard from elders that if one manages to see 108 Ganapathi idols on that festival day, it was a blessing in disguise; a very auspicious sight. I used to set off with my friends to 108 houses showing off my Jarilanga and jewels. Standing in front of every house, irrespective of whether we knew them or not, we used to shout…ree, ganesha koorsiddeeraa?( hello, have u kept an idol of ganesha??)..If they said “Yes” we would jump with happiness, not because they had kept a Ganesha there, but so that we would definitely get sweets to eat.. ha ha ha:)… what a life!.. Simple, innocent,. Will it ever come back I wonder!
During my middle school years, my Amma used to take me to Rama Mandira temple nearby my house mainly to attend Carnatic music concerts, during the festival seasons…. especially..Ramanavami; Ganesha chaturthi; Narasimha jayanthi. Before the concerts began, I would go and pay a visit to all gods there, have Panchamritham as prasadam and then sit and listen to the kutcheri. I used to love that Panchamritham..made of Banana, milk, ghee, sugar and honey!.. What a combo!. I often heard great stalwarts like MLV, Balamuralikrishna, Bombay sisters, Madurai somu, Flute Ramani; and so on…….
Then during high school, I don’t remember any close contact with God except that I used to learn few compositions in praise of God. I used to sit and watch in awe as my teacher Usha Datar practiced and performed different leelas of God. All looked so real. She had tiny eyes which were very powerful n expressive!
Also, that age in particular was meant for questioning. Questioning the existence of God; questioning every thing happening around us. I used to have long fights or conversations with my Grandpa (my mother’s father), who was a staunch Sri Vaishnava!. Sri Vaishnavas believe that Lord Vishnu is the ultimate god and all others are nowhere near his caliber. My Taatha never even used to step into Ganesha temple leave alone Shiva and other gods!.. I used to get mad at him. For me, all gods were same. There was only one God or Supreme Being or super power that we used to address by different names. But when ever Tata saw me performing dances on Shiva or any songs on Saraswathi, his face used to beam with joy. He used to call me Natyasaraswathi..!! When ever I performed, I used to just enjoy performing. I really didn’t know whether God existed. But I used to act as though he existed. Slowly as more and more experience I gained in performing, I really started feeling the power of Supreme, but still the question of his existence was always at the back of my mind. But the moment I was on stage, the story would be different!! God used to be my child; my friend; my lover; my guide; He took different forms!
Well. I had lot of disagreements with my father too. Many questions like where is God; why can’t we see God; Why should we worship; Why should we chant; what is the meaning of these chants; what is the meaning and purpose behind celebrating festivals; and so on.. All these questions were unanswered. Only thing was - Do what elders say!. I completely protested. Every festival, there used to be big arguments going on; I always ended up in crying; Slowly, I started hating those festival days and even later in my life, I didn’t really feel like celebrating any of those. Now, for me, receiving guests at home is like a celebration....fun of being together; chatting together; doing things together; This was the purpose behind every festival I guess – lovely family re - union, which elders couldn’t put it across to us properly. In the name of God, a good family re union!. So much fun! Isn’t it?!
In the mean time, I had strong disbelief in few customs like.. Girls during their menstruation shouldn’t visit temple, should not attend auspicious occasions, should not light the lamp and so on.. Why? Did God come down and gave instructions like that!. God would never do that. I realized it was sheer due to hygiene reasons; our people from the past have put down these rules. But now, you are in a better world. Better hygiene is followed. So, I never had two thoughts to go to temple or attend any religious functions. In fact, I had to perform in a temple one such time and the priest took me directly into the Sanctum Sanctorum!. God didn’t say anything. In fact, I feel He was very happy after the performance and hence decided to bring me all the way into the Sanctum sanctorum!
Well, as I stepped into college for my graduation, my faith in HIM became strong. Probably I was in a relationship with my dear hubby!! Ha ha:). Probably, I wanted the relationship be strong and end in marriage. Whatever the reason, I started bribing Lord Ganesha with regular weekly visits to Rama mandira temple and daily prayers! Naturally, He seemed to be very pleased and granted all my wishes. Got married, had baby; settled down happily; lot of performances; traveling; bought house and very conveniently I forgot my God amidst family tensions and pressures of demanding life. I used to light the lamp only when I felt like. My feelings had changed.. One should not pray only when one is in trouble; one should not light the lamp when one is not in good mood; one should not keep asking god for more and more things in life; and so on…
Life went on until one day I was down with Chikunguniya in 2005 which turned my whole life and routine upside down; that was turning point once again in my life. As I could not fight the disease for almost 8 months, I joined yoga therapy for two weeks at Vivekenanda yoga ashram, Jigani, near Bangalore. Daily, the day used to begin with wonderful morning prayers; Bhagavadgita chantings; yoga sessions; Lectures on Gita and life; True meaning of rituals, sacrifices; pooja; festivals; were explained. It was heavenly. Bhagavadgita was such an eye opener. I was highly inspired. India truly has a rich cultural heritage but sad that somewhere down the line, all significance behind the religious activities had been misinterpreted and misled by unwanted elements.
Hmm.. In the mean while, I had stopped performing. But I continued teaching. Later, trekking and mountaineering occupied my life completely. I enjoyed every moment in the nature. Whether it was Sahyadris or in Himalayas, Nature was awesome and its grandeur was overwhelming! At times, I felt the power of God all over again. I started to live. Slowly I found my passion in dance crawling in my mind. In fact, God came in my dreams and yelled at me – “Seen enough of your stubbornness Indira. It is high time you started dancing. Wake up!” … Life was beautiful again!
Oh! I forgot to mention that I had struck a deal with Tirupathi Balaji a decade back when I bought a house that I would visit him every year. But due to various reasons, I could not make it. I also gave my own reasons for it. God is everywhere. He is in my heart too. He is in my work that I do. So, work is like worship and bla bla bla… But a few weeks back, I got to visit Tirupathi to attend Ram’s concert. We had good Darshanam. The moment I was in the temple premises, my mouth started chanting his Holy name..Om Sri. Venkateshaya namaha!..My mind suddenly stopped working and it said..Hello Indira, why chant only the name of Venkatesha. Poor women! Rich Lakshmi is there too!. So, I started chanting her name!. In few minutes, I was there right in front of Lord. My mom in my younger days had taught me not to ask anything from HIM but thank him. But I had my own conversation with HIM that day.. …………..“Oh god. Let everyone be happy. Let all have great health and be peaceful; Thanks for whatever you have given me in this life; But very sorry that I didn’t visit you every year as I had promised…Hold on!.. one sec.. Why should I tell sorry for not visiting you.. Who said I am not thinking of you. Of course, I have taken so much pain and trouble two to four days in a month to see you in the form of nature during treks. I slog; I sweat; I take so much pain; So, no sorry.. In fact I am going to Himalayas for my advance mountaineering course in few days time. So, you better bless me with strength and courage. After all I am coming to see you only carrying 20 kilo loads on my back; trekking steep hills; confronting extreme temperature!!!!!!...love you GOD. Take care..M u a hhhhhh J “
Well, this is my God. All of us have our own God; our own beliefs; our own faith; our own relationship with HIM. What ever it is, God is fun to converse with… only one way conversation!! God in the form of child; in the form of friend; in the form of teacher; in the form of nature; in the form of work… Why other places!?...He is right there with in us too.. All of us certainly have some good qualities. We just need to recognize that. That goodness inside each one of us is Godliness.. Isn’t it?!! ..But we fail to recognize it especially if one is our spouse …ha ha ha ha…….
10 years ago