|Celebrating Pillaiyar Chathurthi with Kozakkattais|
OLD DIARY: From 1996 to January 2003
I am just trying to put forth my experiences in writing. I hope I am able to get the message across right for what it is.
I have always believed in God. I was born into a Hindu Brahmin family and grew up in Chennai. My family is quite religious and follows most of the rituals quite conscientiously.
My nature has always been to question each and everything, earning the wrath of all the elders. They were all quite convinced that an elder’s words are to be considered the ‘oracle’. I rebelled most of the time, either verbally or silently with a quite strong body language. That was the reason I was not quite the favourite amongst the family elders. That is quite a number since my grandfather had many brothers and sisters and so had my grandmother. Even my great grandfather on my thatha’s side and my great grandparents on my paatti’s side were alive then and I managed to gain their disapproval too.
I never went so far as to not follow the systems - just questioned them, all the time much to the irritation of everyone. Only my mother never considered this strange. She used to answer me whenever she could and let go the other times, allowing me to form my own opinions.
Today, I am 41 and have a fairly contented life. One thing I have learnt about myself is that I never regretted my past. ‘I never cry over spilt milk’ to put it in a nutshell. I have realized today that life is meant to be lived, second by second, not worrying about the future and most definitely not regretting the past. Life is a gift to be lived in the ‘present’.
Well, the journey has not always been smooth
I always objected to formal prayer. I had to ask ‘why’? Sentences and sayings were quoted to me from the various scriptures, which are considered very important to our religion, not to much avail. I was quite rigid in my own way, preferring to form my own beliefs rather than take someone else’s word. This rankled with many since the aged always thought they knew better.
My pet theory was on ‘periods’. I hated that we were not allowed to join in prayer sessions when we had our periods - not that I had showed extreme enthusiasm when I did not have them, but then I felt that the decision had to be mine and not someone else’s. ‘Periods’ are the very basis of procreation and how could any God say that he did not want to meet ladies who had their periods? This sounded quite ridiculous to me. My one other question was that our scriptures very clearly state that God is everywhere. Then where do you think we sorry females could hide during those days?
Anyway, the same elders had no answers to my questions and hence had nothing convincing to tell me. They were very clear about right and wrong and the dos and don’ts. When asked ‘why?’ they just seemed to go to pieces or rather were ready to tear me to pieces.
I took matter into my hands when I set up my own residence. I always garland the pictures of Gods in my home and light the lamp during all days of the month.
Then came another problem. The formal poojas, where the onus was on the different dishes to be prepared and very sadly, I felt, was not on God. My father-in-law used to drive me crazy listing the various items to be prepared. The saddest part was when he used to complain that I spent lavishly when the provision bill turned up at the end of the month.
The logic behind this, as I see it, is that in the olden days, the families were big and so any number of items prepared would never go waste for one thing. For another, there were many people who were ready to pitch in doing the work.
Today, although the quantity may be less, some people expect the same types of items, all made in one day and probably thrown away for lack of people to eat them all. I would call it a damn bloody waste. In case we are of the mind to feed the poor we can do that with wholesome rice and dhal rather than these fancy items. We will be better appreciated, I am sure.
By the time I finished everything on Pillaiyaar Chaturthi, I used to be a nervous wreck and had I had time to think about Ganapathy? Absolutely not! I wondered at the purpose of the whole thing. In yonder days, they probably thought of making kozhukattais (modaks) since handling rice flour is an art by itself and then shaping them into kozhukattais was another thing altogether. The ladies used to sit around and make 108 of these while the men did the pooja. [Ladies were not considered fit to perform poojas]. While at this, the ladies used to mutter their prayers and heavy concentration was required to mould this item. This probably kept their mind on Ganapathy. Anyway, this was the most logical explanation - given by my chitti, Revathi - which I could accept.
In all these rituals, how much time do we actually spend thinking about our Creator? And after all, is that not the reason why we celebrate these festivals? Questions, questions – my mind drove me up the wall.
Festivals are a time of joy – to whom? The poor who cannot afford new clothes or crackers or sweets during Diwali? Or the middleclass father who had to stretch his finances to bring a smile to his wife and children’s faces? Or the rich people who spend money obscenely to make ten types of sweets and buy twenty sets of silk clothes and run from one party to another? [Please understand that I have nothing against the rich here. It is just an observation of what is happening]. Do we get to think of our Creator for at least a short while on these days?
Why the compulsion? Why the stress? And as everyone knows, there is no end to the number of Hindu festivals. For me they started turning out to be nightmares, since it became a compulsion that I had to keep cooking and cooking. To the point where I started hating cooking while there was a time when I used to enjoy it.
What was the result? The moment my father-in-law passed away, I felt such a sense of freedom and was quite happy not to celebrate festivals for a year.
Next is this ‘Divasam’ [rituals performed for the dead]. Another terror for me! My father-in-law’s parents’ death ceremony in which my mother-in-law refused to participate. I used to find this strange because the situation at my mother’s place was quite different.
Now, so many years later, I could appreciate my MIL’s attitude. If I could not take my FIL’s pressures for a few years, I am sure they must have saturated her during her lifetime.
Again the pressure was on me. I had to handle the purohits and the kitchen, etc. God, how I hated it! But believe me, there is someone up there watching the whole thing and He most definitely allows us to have just the life we ask for, whether consciously or unconsciously.
I willed myself away from these rituals and I live my life the way I want it. I can just hear someone screaming that I will never acquire moksham not performing the yearly ceremonies for my FIL and MIL. Believe me, we have to go back to God since there is nowhere else to go after death, whatever we do in this life. Then what about those people who don’t look after their parents when they are alive? Nothing will happen to them either. They just have to be aware of what they are and accept themselves for what they are – WITHOUT JUDGEMENT.