- 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.
It is Pitru Paksha, the fortnight of the waning September moon when Hindus remember their Pitr or ancestors. The two weeks are straddled between Ganesh Chaturthi and Navratri. This year Pitru Paksha commences from the 20th of September full moon till 6th October 2021. Hindus believe when a person dies, his unpaid debts outlive him. Only after repaying these debts, can they cross the river Vaitarni and enter Yamaloka as Pitr.
Every mortal being has ancestral debt or Pitra-rin. During Pitru Paksha, the deceased loved ones are close to the living realm. Time spent praying for them, performing shradh rituals bestows blessings on both the living and the dead. Hindus believe in rebirth. It is said that the Pitr are constantly awaiting marriages and childbirth of their descendants so they may be reborn to settle any unpaid karmic dues.
In 2019, I was in India with my mother whose angelic personality shines through the cobwebs of Alzheimer’s dementia. Her beauty fills the home and hearth and overflows into the seaside village. I woke up before dawn, wished mom good morning, and went for my morning walk. I admired hibiscus flowers of yellow, red and pink hues. I plucked the best ones to offer to God.
There are two temples in Sector 8, Vashi. I visited both of them. The Shiva temple is near a village pond which is used for immersion of the Ganesha clay idols during the Ganapati festival. A gesture symbolizing that we must part with everything we hold dear in this realm, even beloved Ganesha for final dissolution. I offered prayers to my ancestors, touched the glow of the lamp to my forehead and gently sounded Shiva’s instrument or damaru, to produce spiritual sounds that created our universe.
Then I went to the Kerala temple with the 16thcentury style gopuram. The temple’s main idol is Guruvayurappan, the infant form of Lord Krishna. It is a stark contrast from the North Indian Jagruteshwar temple. The inner sanctum is dark and black bismuth or “Patala Anjam” idols are ensconced in their own alcoves secured by carved, heavy wooden doors from Kasargod in Kerala. Rows of flickering oil lamps throw light on the deities. As I prayed, I could feel the presence of my ancestors upon me.
Back home, a crow appeared as though he had flown straight out of the story of “The Thirsty Crow” from the Panchatantra. I offered a spoonful of mashed grain halva or pinda to my apparition of Kak Bhusundi (a crow who was supposed to be a great devotee of Lord Rama). The crow ate it and took a sip of water from Kali the dog’s water cup and flew away. Then I placed halva under the ancient banyan tree. I saw a white crane (a harbinger of long life) near the pond.
As I said my prayers, the crane flew into the bay. I hurried towards the Vashi Vaikundam Kerala temple, I heard footsteps behind me. I turned. A slender lady dressed in saffron robes, a golden aura emanating from her, came in my vision. I did not know her. I kept walking forward. Bells were tolling in the temple, as I reached the priest with a white sacred thread gleaming on his bareback, standing in a half dhoti in front of the shrine dedicated to the seven planets and the Sun and the Moon, chanting the Navagraha Stotram. 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. The lady in yellow had witnessed my prayers.
On the last day, I offered food to a Brahmin with my right hand, serving him with my wrist turned away from my body. He ate potato curry, puris, pickles, and kheer. I offered a portion of food to Gaumata hoping that the food she ate would satisfy the yearning for grain in my ancestors. It is very important to offer food in Hinduism. As per legend even the altruistic Karna who had donated a ton of gold in his lifetime, could not consume any food in the Devloka as he had failed to offer food to his ancestors.
Then I busied myself in painting pretty hibiscus flowers for my mother. We must celebrate our parents in their lifetime so that their soul departs from the earthly abode peacefully. I went to the garden, hoping that the pink hibiscus would be in full bloom by noon. To my surprise, the flower had vanished. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. No hibiscus! What happened to my flower? I had pictured it perfectly arranged next to the lace yellow scarf on Mom’s forehead. “Oh,” said Bimal (the watchman) nonchalantly: “I fed it to the turtle!”
What?! You fed my perfect pink hibiscus to the albino turtle? Why? He only eats hibiscus, was Bimal’s matter-of-fact reply. I heaved a deep sigh and plucked two purple Vinca blooms from the garden and arranged them on my mother’s scarf. She smiled and was humored by the hullabaloo. I shrugged because after all Vishnu in his second incarnation was a turtle and perhaps through a Brahmin’s hand in feeding the turtle, my obeisance was accepted by Shriman Narayana himself.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published many poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.