What do you pray for,
Your lips moving,
Palms at your heart,
Before the offering set
On banana leaf:
Milk and oil,
Marigold and clay.
A pinch of sand
Is gifted to the sea.
The offerings held
Upon the head
As you walk to the water
And throw them to
A spectator of your holy interaction,
I leave non-the-wiser.
As I walk along the tideline
Used prayers wash up, and I wonder
Am I walking through hopes and dreams?
Marigold petals touch my toes,
Banana leaves curl in the hot sun
Dusty now with sand.
A boy runs off with the broken clay pot,
Laughing with his friends.
Having arrived in Varkala, on most mornings, I would walk to Papanasam beach, buy a ‘shot’ of chai, sit on a rock and greet the day. My seat was a distance away from rows of priests sat on sand ‘beds’, waiting for individuals or families that would arrive. I observed from the sidelines the steps of the ritual: the laying of different objects upon banana leaves, the blessings and prayers, the walking to the sea and these offerings thrown to the waves.
I wondered at the purpose of the ritual/celebration that I was witnessing, but always felt too shy to ask, or that I would be intruding if I did. Shyness was one of my habits that I was breaking out of, but on this occasion, it felt more honourable to stay silent. If I was meant to know, I’d find out.
When I finally asked one of the local cafe owners, he explained that it was a ritual to honour the dead, but didn’t give me any more information. I ended up doing some research on the internet, and the ritual that I was witnessing was a puja to honour the recently deceased and the ancestors.
I loved the beauty of this – I love the embodiment of sacred ritual to honour an event/ celebration/ passing/ birth, as my actions are a direct part of that event. There’s a much stronger connection than comes from merely witnessing. What really stuck me was the lack of visible grief (and I have been in a space in India where grief was expressed openly so I don’t believe it was hidden due to cultural conditioning),… there was serenity, joy,… there was a peace and what I feel is a beautiful honouring of those who have gone before.
What I witnessed on that beach I vowed to take with me through my life – to not be sad that those whom I love have passed, but to be in celebration and gratitude always of the part of them that still flows in my essence.