Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Havan

[Blogging's been rather light. Partly because the darn broadband modem can't really seem to keep a connection for too long, except late at night. Partly because I just didn't feel like it. Now, with Lent almost upon us, I can give up not blogging :-D]

Last Tuesday was the first anniversary of the death of my father. The family had organized a havan, a Vedic ritual of purification. Large numbers of the extended clan and close friends gathered. My brother and sister-in-law were the main "participants" in the ceremony, and mom joined in on occasion. I had been asked if I wanted to sit with the brahmin as he performed the service, but I declined. [I've written in the past about balancing a sense of respect for my family's religion, and the First Commandment. That post also describes well the general chaos -- compared to an ordered church liturgy -- that reigns at many Hindu rituals.]

A havan isn't a memorial service, in the way that phrase is generally understood in the West. The service consisted of various ritual actions that were performed by bro and sis-in-law, with the priest reciting almost non-stop in Sanskrit. Others hovered around periodically, while the bulk of the crowd was on the porch or in the living room chatting. I circulated taking photos. At one point, I was summoned since the close family was needed. They all had red sacred thread tied around their wrists, and a chandlo (mark made with crimson kumkum powder on the forehead). At the very end, the aarti was prepared, and this is when everyone participated, by singing a popular hymn (Om Jay Jagdish Haray), and taking turns with the aarti dish. Finally, there is the pagay laagvanu, to touch the feet of the elders, starting with veneration of a photo of my dad, and the elders present.

1 comment:

Sherry W said...

Fascinating stuff, Gashwin.

And it is lovely that you and your family seem to have worked out a graceful way to handle the family-faith tensions which must require you to think on your feet alot while back in India.

It always takes a cultural insider who is simultaneously a serious disciple and well-formed (or receiving direct wisdom from the Lord - I've been reading about Catherine of Siena!) to sort out the issues. Cultural outsiders almost always get it wrong - and it doesn't seem to matter whether you are coming from the perspective of an evangelical or a Catholic - liberal or conservative.

We can learn the words but we just don't have the tune - or the rhythm. :-}

Becoming fully bi-cultural (as you and I are in our very different ways) is either the result of having been born into a bi-cultural setting or having spent years actively living within and learning both cultures. And it helps a lot if you start young or have a charism!