For this assignment, I’m using my experience at a recent Pooja I attended a few weeks ago. The Pooja was for a family friend, to celebrate their new house. Poojas are rituals performed at auspicious events, either personal or religious. In this case, the family were celebrating their first real home and wanted to have a pooja to commemorate the event. Many people were invited, and it’s a generally somber and dignified ritual, although not melancholic at all. Friends, family, people of all ages are invited to gather, attend the Pooja, and stay for food and conversation. Women wear the traditional saris and are adorned with beautiful bangles that make music at the slightest movements and strings of white flowers in their hair. The men, though not as visually elaborate, still stick to the heritage by donning kurtas (long shirts, traditional Indian garment). Although the actual Pooja is very structured and respected, the following festivities usually involve music and heavy socialization.
During the actual Pooja, everyone gathers around the hand-made front altar that house several idols of Hindu dieties decoarated with s silk tablecloth, several garlands of flowers, and sticks of incense. To the right of the shrine-like altar, sits a priest, back erect and eyes closed. To the left, the family whose home is being blessed by this old-age tradition sits cross-legged. Everyone else finds a spot wherever they can, like in a movie theater, on the ground. As the priest rings the ghanti (bell) a few times, everyone quiets down, including the children. When it is completely quiet, the priest starts the typical set of three Oms. The first, shaky as people chime in is followed by a stronger second chanting of the harmonious syllable. The third, almost chorus-like, binds everyone in the room together. The Pooja is for the family, but the actual ritual is very much a group activity. As the priest starts chanting verses in Sanskrit, diyas (small hand-made oil candles) are lit and he rotates them clockwise in front of the diety idols. This lasts about 15 minutes, after which a second round begins, this time, everyone is asked to join along. Prior to everyone sitting down, booklets of selected prayers and hymns were chosen and printed for everyone’s convenience. Though everything is being chanted in Sanksrit, a very old language that I understand about 30% of, the pamphlets contain Sanksrit versions as well as the transliterated English versions. After the group portion is over, it’s well past the one hour mark. This begins the third portion of the Pooja: the finals chants and ensuing Aarthi (a melodic chant sung while rotating a plate full of candles in front of the idol dieties). During the Aarthi, everyone who attended takes turns rotating the plate while the priest rings the bell in harmony of the son to keep the rhythm.
This type of ritual, in the context of blessing a new home, could best be described as a rite of intensification. It could also fall under the category of an instrumental rite. While the ritual itself is sacred and old as the religion itself, its main purpose stands to serve the family which it is blessing, as well as bringing the community together. Everyone who attended stands at varying levels of the devout Hindu spectrum, but the event is more to bring the community together to celebrate the new home of a family, and catch up about their lives over food and music performed on tablas (drums) and sitars (guitar-like instruments). In reality, the actual Pooja is performed to ward off evil from the new home, keep the residing family happy, and make sure that the home remains a permanent one for the family. It gives the family a renewed peace of mind due to the priest blessing the home, but it also serves as a modern-day housewarming, as the first party held contains laughter, stories, and hordes of young children running across the entire house, occupied with games. It’s almost as though the people are there to bless the house with their presence more than the actual Pooja, which has almost become a cultural formality.