A Geordie In The Himalaya

Celebrating death.


Papanasam beach, Varkala. To dip in the waters here is said to wash away one’s sins.

What do you pray for,
Your lips moving,
Palms at your heart,
Turning, turning,
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
The gods.

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.

dl.11.01.17. varkala


The priests setting up for puja, Papanasam beach, Varkala.

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.


Honouring. Papanasam beach, Varkala.





This entry was published on November 6, 2017 at 1:36 pm. It’s filed under Kerala and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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