Saturday, July 09, 2016

Indian Prayers

In early January, I posted a hugely popular post about Natasha and Prien’s Wedding. I intentionally omitted a key aspect of the wedding: the fact that neither Natasha’s mother nor father were present.

Despite the joy the wedding presented, there was a somber note as well. Every time that reference was made to the bride’s father, shadows passed over the faces of all in the ceremony. Natasha’s father had passed away only six days before the wedding.


As a result, my lessons on Indian wedding traditions included a brief foray into Indian funeral traditions. For example, much as there are a series of rituals that occur in the week leading up to a wedding, there are a series of prayers held on specific days following someone’s death. While Indian weddings are brightly colored affairs, white is the color of mourning.

And, much like Basotho grieving customs, the wife of a deceased man must stay home until the first series of rituals have been concluded, in this case, sixteen days, which is why Natasha’s mother was also unable to attend the wedding.

Natasha’s father, George, had been sick and while he was hoping to survive to attend the wedding, he had also been adamant that the wedding go on as planned. As a result, the couple honored her father by moving forward.

The more I learn about Indian culture, the more I appreciate it. Much like in Basotho culture, grief does not end at the conclusion of the rituals in the first sixteen days. There are specific moments throughout the following year for prayers. In June, my dear friend Venilla invited me to join her family for the six month prayers following her husband’s death.

At Venilla’s request, I arrived early for the prayers with my sari in tow. We finished working in the kitchen, preparing the food for the prayers while laughing together. The meals for the prayers are all vegetarian, to maintain mourning.

As we finished cooking, the oldest daughter still at home set up the ritual area. It included a variety of foods for her father, incense, and flame. We changed into our outfits and began the prayers.

I remembered from the wedding that the ritual area is sacred and therefore we approach barefoot-a cold task in Lesotho’s winter months! Starting with Venilla, we each took a turn kneeling and saying prayers.

As we finished, we left the room so that the deceased could come and eat the food laid out for him. It would remain there for a few hours and would be sprinkled with water before being cleared.   
 As we transitioned into the dining room to dig in, our somber mood was released and we celebrated dining together. As usual, Venilla insisted I eat more food than I could manage and her children kept us all entertained.


Finally, just before sunset, after too many photos and too much food, I headed home, filled with joy at being included once again as a part of the Naidoo family, even in the difficult moments. 

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You should choose as your life's work whatever feels the most like play.
-Harvey Oxenhorn