“Every Hindu home has an altar.” Anu wanted to conclude with the importance of rituals in Hindu practice. Both place rituals and time rituals, and how the two are often intertwined. Home altars in Hinduism are as various as the families who tend to them, but the tending is paramount. Even if brief and uncomplicated, offering gratitude in this one place every day is a form of puja, or reverent devotion. Dedication to puja isn’t so much because the gods need it but because we humans need it. Centering oneself with and within a conscious sense of the Divine through ritual makes people feel connected to more than just the prosaic each day. And this feels good, and right. This makes the everyday things we do and touch and experience feel more meaningful. She referenced again her ritual of touching the altar in her dance studio. She also described the most simple and beautiful way that her grandparents touch the world each day. When they wake up, they give thanks to Mother Earth for her support and blessings in the coming day at the moment their feet touch the ground!
Anu then summarized the religious historian Mircea Eliade’s distinction between Sacred and Profane Time and Space. In Sacred Time and Space, life is cyclical. It returns and repeats and regenerates in so doing. Having a cycle of rituals and a dedication to the repetition of these rituals marks our time as special, connected to the Sacred. “For those who live in “profane” time, time is linear. There is nothing to mark it, nothing to come back to, no touchstones. So, nothing feels special. It’s very sad really. People feel lost in this way.”
A week later, as we sat in a darkened theater awaiting Anu’s dance recital, I noticed that in front of Anu’s altar, something called a kolam had been poured out in an intricate filigree pattern. She danced magically, as ornately and precisely as that moment of art on the floor. I later asked her about the kolam. “It is made of rice flour and is more than a decoration. It is made at altars as well as the threshold of the home everyday, traditionally. It brings prosperity–the energy of Goddess Lakshmi–into the home by providing food for ants and attracting birds and creatures that represent prosperity and abundance of life. The design is made free hand and in a continuous stream without lifting the hand and stopping the flow.”
Something that beautiful, made simply to be both generous and auspicious. So generous that you even want to include ants! And, the requirements to not lift the hand nor stop the flow, to just keep doing it. Flowing, cyclically. Yet another practice and another metaphor for making time sacred. I hope to surprise my girls with an effort at a kolam as we conclude our consideration of Hinduism. And, I hope that this year encourages us to find more ways to dedicate time to the Sacred in our lives. Please wish me luck… on both counts!