Despite being a Hindu by birth, my knowledge of Hinduism is very minimal. All what I know is from my religious education up to Year 8 – learning stories miracles performed by God or Gods’ men, and memorizing Thevarams in Tamil (poems praising God, and requesting blessings), and then watching what my parents and grandparents did. Most Hindu rituals are conducted by Priests in Sanskrit, a language I did not learn. They did traditional rituals, with or without understanding the motives for the rituals. I am the same, except, last weekend, when we offered ‘thanks’ (Thivasam in Tamil) to my deceased mother on her death anniversary.
The priest is a young man, an officer at one of the leading banks in Australia. He noticed my daughters, nephews and nieces, all in their teens, and decided to explain the rituals, as he went through them. Not only the teens, I too benefited from his prudence.
First, the priest wanted a list of names and Nakshatras (stars at birth) of all family members before the ceremony started. We are six children to my parents, all married, and from us there are thirteen grand children to my parents. So, the list had twenty-five names and corresponding Nakshatras. He also informed that that the ceremony involve six Poojas (steps, rituals, etc.).
Pooja 1: The priest read all names with Nakshatras on the list, and invited the souls to be present and accept our offerings. He said that by reading all names on the list, the Souls will be able to identify us and come to the occasion.
Pooja 2: Lord Ganesha, the first child of Shiva and Parvati is said to have strengths of both of His parents. Lord Ganesha was invited to witness and bless. This is a standard ritual at all Hindu ceremony.
Pooja 3: Earth, Fire (energy), Sky, Water, and Wind, the indestructible elements were invited ones to witness and bless. Interestingly, the Energy goddess (Gowri) is considered as the prime element of all.
Pooja 4: An offering was made to three generations of deceased. My parents, paternal grand-parents and paternal great-grand parents. Each ‘parent’ was symbolized by a ‘ball of dough’ made with rice flour. Other ingredients were ghee (purified butter), honey, and milk. In addition, a larger ‘ball of dough’ was made to represent all others deceased. For each ball, a bread (rotti), a savory (Vadai), and a sweet (Paayasam – Kheer), were offered. All these offerings are assumed to be accepted by a Bull (Rishabam – Lord Shiva’s mode of transport). I recall that the offerings are offered to cows or bulls in my home town, Jaffna. In the absence of a bull or a cow, they are ‘disposed’ in a stream. In our case, the priest accepted the responsibility to dispose them.
Pooja 5: Hand-washing – all attended were required to wash hands with sesame seeds and water. Sesame seed is said to have purifying/cleansing effect. The priest was conscious that all seeds were washed away.
Pooja 6: Food is served and the souls were invited consume the ‘flavors’, and bless.
Then we thanked the priest and gave him some grocery, fruits, vegetables, a sari and some money. He accepted them on my parents’ behalf and said that he was ‘satisfied’, on behalf of my parents, of course. The Ceremony took about 90 minutes. The combination of thoughts of my mother and understanding what was going on, were very refreshing to me.