Some pics of Dussera related scenes from around here.
Happy Pooja'fied Truck
Happy Poojafied Bus
Get your auspicious petrol here!
So will this make the power more reliable in the next year?
To fulfill everyone’s needs for attaching banana leaves to vehicles, buildings, etc. during Dussera, banana leaf vendors sprung up like Christmas tree vendors do in western countries during December.
Banana Leaf Vendors on Hosour Road
It is currently Dussera in India. As far as I can tell, it is an almost Christmas-like festival. It lasts for ten days and nights and culminates with a celebration of good winning over evil during the Durga Pooja, to be held tomorrow. The actual story celebrated – at least in South India – is the goddess, Durga, winning her battle against the demon Mahishasura; whose home the south Indian city of Mysore is named after.
One of the interesting things about Dussera is that many places are decorated with what westerners could best describe as Christmas lights; lots of Christmas lights. Some people also decorate their homes with makeshift stairs. On these stairs, covered with white cloth, are idols representing all of the gods and goddesses who came down to earth to watch the battle between Durga and Mahishasura. The stairs below are from the home of Daniela’s boss during the year we are in India. They are a Brahman family and apparently there is a long tradition of spending many months every year hand crafting new idols to add to the collection; which grows every year. It resides next to their Pooja corner, which is heavily decorated with pictures of gods and goddesses, as well as famous gurus and yogis. I’m not sure how common it is for people to actually do this. A couple of people (non-Brahmans) who I have asked about it do not build these stairs.
Another common thing is to conduct a pooja with vehicles or anything work related. This is done to bring good luck. A carpenter might bless his tools this way. The Palm Meadows electricians blessed the transformer down the street. Many businesses were blessed and everyone it seems blesses vehicles. Our neighbor next door had his two cars blessed. They were each decorated with a string of flowers, had four bindhis painted onto each tire and had a lime positioned under each tire so that it would be crushed when the vehicle started moving. It is common to conclude poojas by breaking a fruit – often a melon – and driving away was the conclusion of this pooja.
Raju's Car dressed up for the Pooja
So the puja was over. Now it was time for everyone to go over to Guru’s house for lunch. We hopped into various vehicles and drove the short distance over to the “house”, which lay down a dirt alley. It was a typical three level concrete box, ringed by concrete balconies, that is used for a house here. The thing is… the house did not belong to them. They had rented it out for the occasion. Was their house too small? Were they simply embarrassed that it was not “good enough” for the expat guests?
Then we were called into the living room to eat. There was a television running, with some cartoon channel on. Why they had a TV on, I’m not sure about. Was it because Indians are all like my mom and just leave the TV on at all times? Or did they want to make us more comfortable by running the TV? It could be the latter. It could also be the former. Back in grad school, we would often go over to eat at the house of one of Daniela’s labmates, a woman from Jaipur. She and her husband also always had the TV on.
We were served lunch, rice with a delicious type of red vegetable stew that I commonly see in budget restaurants when they offer a generic “South Indian menu”. As we ate, Guru’s boss, a German who works for the same company as Daniela and I, told us (in German) that they had to spend about $2000 on bribes in order to start the business; mostly buying the goodwill of the local police inspector so that background checks of potential maids could be carried out in a timely manner. It seems that you have to bribe them ¾ of a year’s salary to get them to do the job that the public is paying them to do.
What I did not notice at the time, but Daniela did, was that only the expats were eating. All of the Indian guests waited outside during this time. I know that often women in conservative Indian families won’t eat until after the menfolk, but I never realized that that this extended to certain categories of guests eating before others. Dani was particularly disturbed by this. Somehow, after being here for a coupel of months, I’m not surprised by it anymore.
We went to a Pooja yesterday. I’d been invited by the guy who hooked me up with my driver’s license to attend the pooja for opening his new custodial brokerage. His name is Guru. For those of you wondering what a pooja is – and I also wondered what exactly the pooja part of pooja room meant; it is a Hindu prayer. Our driver and his family were also in attendance as Guru had invited many of his colleagues.
We had a bit of stress as the pooja was supposed to be between 10AM and 12PM and we were 15 minutes late. Never fear, we were among the first there and the first Brahman priest was still setting up. He was a portly middle aged fellow with three gigantic white streaks across his forehead. I’m not sure whether each streak is called a tika or whether the ensemble is a tika. Anyway, his tika was enormous. Later, he was joined by a companion, a well built young man who appeared to be in his early twenties.
As they were preparing, Guru’s sister was instructed by the Brahman with the tika to place a bhindi dot at each corner of the company’s new sign (which was riddled with misspellings). I asked Guru what that was for.
We Indian people do that Sir
Since he did not know and we were reluctant to bother the Brahman priests, I was resigned to not understanding what was going on. People watching would be plenty interesting however.
There are a few things I learned about poojas:
- Even if you don’t know what is going on, people watching at one can be fascinating.
- These two Brahmans have probably gone through this same ritual with the opening of every shop in the neighborhood. They oozed boredom. At one point during the ceremony, the younger one was reciting a (Sanskrit?) chant from a set of hand written notes on sheets of dog eared notebook paper. His mobile phone beeped. Without missing a beat in his chant, he fished it out of his bag, read the SMS and put it back. It took to calling them tikaman and handyman (after the german slang term for mobile phone, “handy”)
- It was not just the bored Brahmans who were distracted. People kept stepping in and sitting down to observe the ceremony, stepping out for fresh air and a chat, stepping back in, etc.
- The only people who seemed to be really earnest were Guru and his wife.
- At one point during the ceremony, somebody’s uncle’s autorickshaw, which was parked out front, became an impromptu playground for all of the smaller children.
- People continued to filter in for the entire duration of the ceremony. Guru’s wife, one of the central participants, showed up about halfway through. Others, cousins, siblings and accompanying family, showed up only at the very end as the ribbon was cut and the priest with the tika was giving out sugar laden banana stew for everyone to eat as part of the ceremony. Yuk!
It was a lot of fun. Next time we’ll pester the bored Brahmans to explain what they are doing.
And in addition to the Hindu idols being put up in the shop, Wrenzo brought a portrait of Jesus for Guru to put up as well. Looks like he has all of his bases covered.
We have ways of making you eat this sugary banana concoction