H.Rajput-Week Three-Description of a Ritual

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.

2 thoughts on “H.Rajput-Week Three-Description of a Ritual

  1. Coming from an outsider’s perspective and having absolutely no previous knowledge as to what a Pooja is, I think you did a nice job; I really liked the section where you described what is worn at this event, and then even further explained what “traditional clothes” were instead of just assuming that the audience knew—this section allowed me to visualize the event in a sense, as well as hear it; you really catered to the senses of your reader. I’m also really fascinated with why the mood of Poojas is somber and dignified, yet you stated that they are typically used to celebrate successful events in one’s life. Is this a community style event, where all members of the community come together to celebrate someone’s accomplishments, or is this typically a event reserved for family members and select friends? When you say that Poojas are structured events, does this mean that every Pooja is typically the same, or that they follow the same general structure for how it is set up (i.e. simply that every Pooja has an alter decorated with the gods, the decorations and music, etc)? You also said that this event is a time for people to come together and eat—what is typically served and why?
    You did a nice job describing what type of rite this event could be considered, and I think you hit it spot on by describing it as a rite of intensification in the sense that it binds the community together by inviting them, as well as an instrumental rite in the sense that people of the community as well as the priest try to contact and pray to dieties in order to ward off evil spirits. I think parts of this celebration could’ve fallen under “Aiding in adjustment” as well in the sense that the family was being comforted by the community and the priest and having prayers spoken on their behalf in order to ensure a warm home that brings prosperity and remains theirs for the duration of their life.
    I wish you would’ve let the reader know what dieties are typically celebrated on the alter and what each of them are the gods of. I think this would’ve added more to your writing. It (symbols during a ritual) also is an integral part of a ritual symbol in any religion.

  2. Hello,
    Thanks for sharing one of your cultural rituals! After reading your post, I consider the Pooja to be a very intricate ritual. You were very detailed in your description and there were obviously many details to give. Judging by the elements that you provided in your post, I would agree with you on your choice to classify your ritual as a Rite of Intensification. As you mentioned, although the main purpose is to bless the home, it is also an opportunity for friends and family to reunite and fellowship. Everyone is coming together to bond and support the family of honor. Also considering the “Value Repetition” element. The hymns that you all sang in unison, chanting, and the ceremonious actions of the priest are all repetitive elements characteristic of a Pooja and a Rite of Intensification. You also covered the Three Stages of a Ritual. You covered separation with practices like lying of the silk cloth. The women wearing the white flowers, traditional saris, and jewelry was characteristic of the Liminal Stage. Finally, people gathering following the Pooja for food and conversations is considered reintegration.
    Have a great week,
    Victoria

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