“Some may place their faith in idols. Some believe they will be redeemed by the Goddess. Unless we invoke the deity that resides in our hearts, we may never truly understand the purpose of our faith. There’s a God within us all. And, we tend to forget that,” said Kumar as we walked to the temple.
The sun rose bright and warm this morning. After some tea and biscuits, we sat amidst a small but fairly scattered crowd of fishermen gathered at the tea stall. They all discussed the impending rituals and sacred rites that would be performed in order to sustain the well-being of the community. “Tonight, we shall have a feast. We had given up meat for a few days. And, to mark the end of the festival, every household will prepare rice and chicken for supper,” said one of the fishermen.
On reaching the temple, we spotted a young man set up a meat stall under a tree. Beside him, a group of boys sat on the ground chatting amongst themselves. A little boy squinted his eyes as he stood up to catch a glimpse of the procession. He turned around exclaiming, “They are here. Come on, let’s go.”
And, almost in an instant, we heard familiar beats resounding in the air. Enclosed before the lord, a group of men and women swayed in unison, thumping their feet to the syncopated rhythms. Their dramatic pauses and fierce postures lured everyone into the circle. Amidst a frenzy of flailing arms, kids scurried towards the crowd as the chosen ones stepped forward in a blissful trance. It was time for the lord to descend from the heavens into their flesh and bone. Her ferocity and benevolence would be felt by all today.
We asked Kumar how the Goddess chose someone as her human vessel to confer blessings upon the devotees. “Devi resides in the deepest corners of our hearts no matter what stratum of society we belong to. There are times when we all feel that divine mass of energy pervading our souls. Some are able to tune into it better. And, that’s how they form a connection with the Goddess and channel her strength and energy. It’s an inner turmoil that they answer to. Once they attain that state of absolute serenity, then Mariamma shall make her presence felt,” he said.
Clad in yellow veshti and garlands, a group of young men stood before the idol as they conjured up the guardians of immortality thereby purifying their body and spirit. For, they would be tested beyond their limits, urged to prove their faith and accept the Goddess within every particle of their existence. “Many believe that their sins would be forgiven. From toddlers to adults, anyone can come forward and express their desire to participate in the ritual. Some of these rods are 30 cm long while others are almost 2.5 feet in length. While the former is used by children, the latter will be preferred by teenagers and adults. These bars could weigh anywhere between 2.5 kg to 5 kg. This year a young man will pierce his cheeks with two massive rods weighing 5 kg each. I partook in the act when I was very young. It requires a great deal of resilience and will power,” said Kumar.
Soon, the atmosphere turned electric as we turned our attention to the faint strains of chants coming from a distance. Building a cadenced staccato, the steady pattern gradually rose to greater intensities as the men succumbed to the sounds, vibrations and energy of the spiritual realm. Eyes rolled back in their heads, they sought refuge in the depths of divine wisdom. Whilst a few believed their spirits would be cleansed by their creator, others showed moments of vulnerability as their companions refused to yield to fear with dauntless dignity.
They were escorted into the temple as the community waited in nervous anticipation for their arrival. In a few moments, a young boy emerged from within. His forehead was smeared with vibhuti while a trishul was embedded in his cheeks. Although his body language indicated valour, his eyes betrayed his triumph. There was an eerie sense of calm in his demeanour as women poured drops of water on his cheeks to stop the bleeding.
Pain had ceased to prevail for his soul was no longer caged within the mortal confines of his existence. An older boy accompanied him no sooner than later. Bearing the brunt of a heavier rod, his face was stretched and slightly distorted. His expressions were frighteningly intense. Perhaps he fought the urge to acknowledge pain; perhaps he felt none and all he wanted was to dissolve his individuality and traverse the divine spheres of eternity. Nevertheless, he fell into a state of stupor silencing the noise around him. And, in that moment, no one existed save himself and the lord.
The queue now grew longer. Gradually, the priest and a man walked out with two rods penetrating his cheeks. He had only gone a few paces before he stopped again. His friends rushed to him to adjust the piercing. Drops of blood splattered as they hit the ground. However, it was forbidden to acknowledge his agony for the Goddess does not reside in the heart of a coward. Thereupon, most of them cloaked their fears and regrets in metaphorical veils. A right of passage to some and a monumental victory over cowardice for others; the ceremony was a true testament to raw human emotions…
(to be continued…)
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.
Through #RestofMyFamily, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….
Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502