I come from a strict, ritual-loving, God-fearing Hindu Maharashtrian joint family from Hyderabad. Our mega joint family was governed and looked after by my father. My father, a strict disciplinarian, needed things to be done as per his orders and dictum. I can distinctly remember those morning scenes as if all of it is happening now as I am typing.
Every morning our home resonated with Vedic hymns chanted during Shodashopachara Rudrabhiskekam. One Shri Venkataramana Murthy Garu, a purohita used to come over around 6 -6:30 am every day to perform the Abhishekam. We used to address him as Pantulu Garu. Every morning, Pantulu Garu prepped up with the cleaning and arranging for the Pooja. And, waited for my Papa to finish with his morning Sandhyavandanam. While my Mumma helped by providing the Puja Samagri and also prepared Naivaidaiam in Sovale/Madi. Most of the Samagri used to come from our backyard. Fresh milk, curds, and Ghee needed for the Abhishekam were from our little Goshala (Cow Shed). Coconuts, Banana leaves, Mango leaves, all were available in plenty in our backyard.
As I recall, we have never bought flowers and Tulasi for our daily Pooja. Though nothing like the modern landscaped gardens of today, our front yard was beautifully organized in its unique way and brimmed with every type of colorful bloom. I remember spending hours just walking around on the lawns observing and enjoying the different types of arrangements of petals, sepals, and leaves. It was like being in a different world, completely immersed and lost in those intricate veins and ducts…and catching butterflies and dragonflies was an important and beautiful mission.
The powerful and heavenly resonance of the Vedic hymns like the Rudram (Namakam, Chamakam), Purusha Suktham, and Shree Suktam filled our entire home along with the sweet fragrance of flowers, dhoop, and Agarbathi. After the Abhskekam, Shiva lingam along with other idols was decorated. Our Pantulu Garu came up with this innovative idea of teaching us some easy basic shlokas as Papa did alankara to the God of Gods (Maha Deva). Alankara was followed by Naiviadaim, Tamboolam, Mangalaarthi, and Mantrapushapam…On most days, we were all expected to complete our morning ablutions and sit through the 2 hours of Pooja. There was no choice. But some times, we were given certain privileges when we could join in during the alankar and learn all the Shlokas.
So, that’s how we learned some shlokas like Ganesh Stotra, Maha Lakshmi Stotra, Shiva Panchakshari, Dwadasha Jyothir Linga Stotra, Shree Suktam, Shree Krishna Ashtottara Shatanama Stotrum, and Navagraha Stotra along with the usual basic shlokas. After taking Mangala Aarati and Prasad, we used to have a quick breakfast, and we were off to school.
It sounds too idealistic and perfect when I am reminiscing. It sounds as if I enjoyed all that… Not that I hated everything about it… I enjoyed making the Rangolis, decorating the Mandap, making malas of different types, and beautifying the idols with Chandan, Turmeric, and Vermilion. A bit rare, but I do remember being immersed in this sublime ambiance of exalted glorious happiness, especially during Shloka chanting and Mangala Aarti. That feeling of being Prasanna and Prafulit.
I think mostly, I just followed and did what was expected without questioning and challenging. However, my inner voice became more and more vocal as years rolled by, especially in my college days, where I came to learn about the ideas of American Objectivism and American Idealism. Like a typical Indian youth, I wanted to abandon my motherland and fly to the land of opportunity. During this phase of my life, I was quite rebellious, questioning everything, and was quite critical of all that ritualistic Pooja. I needed scientific proof for everything and anything and scoffed at the idea of God/ Universal Energy. I was also very proud of my scientific thoughts.
And, by sheer coincidence, I got married into a family that was not very ritualistic and did not follow strict rules. It was quite a chilled out environment, in the sense they did just basic Poojas without fretting about all the details of rituals and shlokas. So, at that time, I kind of felt relieved from the burden of too much ritualism. And as they say, life went on with its usual ups and down…
Now cut to April 2002. This was when my fighter sonny boy had his third brain surgery. I was allowed to stay with him in the post-operation ward of the Neuro-surgery Dept of Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru, for that night as he was just a tiny baby of 9 months. This was the time when he had already gone through the entire process of being in the NICU. And also had his subsequent two surgeries. I was exhausted and scared of life. The strength and resilience I had shown for all those earlier months seemed to had vanished, with these constant onslaughts of testing troubles. I was unable to cope with the situation of seeing my darling go through all the pain.
That night, out of sheer fatigue, frustration, and fear, I had (almost after a decade!) remembered the all-prevailing, pervading, and omnipresent almighty Bhagawan. I remember I could neither sleep nor think anything positive as I lay there staring at my heavily sedated little bundle of joy and hope. Unable to bear the pain of being in such a hopeless situation and just to keep the negative thoughts away, I had started chanting Om Namah Shivaya, followed by Om Gam Ganapataye Namah. I even tried to remember all the shlokas I had learned in my childhood. I just couldn’t remember a single verse. Anyhow, I continued to chant the two Beej Mantras. I might have chanted thousands of times as I slipped into an unknown slumber of an uncharted realm.
When I woke up the next morning, I cannot say I emerged a completely different person. Or, some kind of miracle happened with all my problems solved and miseries wiped away. But, I felt a strange optimism and strength to face the day with some renewed energy. It definitely was new dawn! That was the day I had restarted my Shloka chanting journey.
After we came back home, I had asked my Mom to get me all the booklets of Shlokas, which our Pantulu Garu had taught us. And I can say I have never looked back. I picked up all the Shlokas within no time. They were just there, deeply ingrained within me to come out at the right time. That is what is called Sanskar, I guess.
They are part of my daily morning and evening Pooja routine. I say this with a lot of humility without an ounce of ego or pride. Lest this post is perceived as boastful and lofty.
I will take a break here as the post is getting too lengthy. Will share more in my next blog. I have provide simple meanings for the Puja related words.
Kalyani Sreedhar Kakade
Shodashopachara Puja : The 16 different rituals or steps followed during a Puja. Service worship or formalities. Widely accepted and followed in most temples and also during major ceremonies and celebrations.
Abhishekam : A ceremonial bath with panchamrut (5 ingredients) accompanied by Vedic chants.
Pantulu Garu: A Hindu Priest
Madi achara/Sovala : A set of rules for rituals to be followed during preparatory stage and even during the Puja.
Rudram : Vedic hymns in praise of Bhagwan Mahadev in the Rudra avatar.
Purusha Suktam : Vedic hymns describing nature of Purusha (Human form) and the spiritual unity of the universe.
Sri Suktam: Vedic hymns in praise of Ma Lakshmi.
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