Sunday, September 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Ganesha!

Yesterday we celebrated Ganesha Chaturthi. For most people this consists of purchasing a clay statue of the big-bellied, elephant-headed god (and possibly one of Gowri, as mum Parvathi is sometimes known,) and installing it in the home alter. He's garlanded with flowers and generally worshipped for an odd-number of days, then taken to a river or lake and submerged. Meanwhile, on the big day, all of Ganesha's favorite foods are prepared and offered to him. Fortunately, we also get to partake of these yummy, high-calorie foods.

My Ganesha Chaturthi was pretty low-key. I went with a friend to purchase an idol in the morning, then in the afternoon visited one of the many temples in town dedicated to Ganesha. The temple was overflowing with people, and every available inch was garlanded with strings of colourful and fragrant flowers. The temple priests were very busy, offering blessings to worshipers and conducting special "pujas" (prayers) for people's vehicles. I gathered around one little shrine with about 20 other people. First the priest came around with a small flame on a tray. We placed small offerings on the tray, "grabbed" the smoke and received ladlefuls of sweet rosewater in our right palms. This we drank, wiping the remainder in our hair (don't ask me why!) Then he came back and offered everyone flowers and some kum-kum (red powder) to put on our foreheads. When he got to me, he added two bags of prasad (literally, "a gracious gift." Prasad is flowers or food offered to the deity, who "enjoys" a bit, that is then consumed by the devotees. My bags contained one laddoo and some sweet pongal, still warm.) This is not the first time that I, a non-Hindu, has received such preferential treatment at a temple. Perhaps they are pleased that someone from outside is taking an interest.


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