Saturday, November 29, 2008

Breaking Coconuts and Lighting Lamps

Yesterday I went to a gorgeous little temple in Changi Village. The Sri Ramar Temple. The scenic drive with the Changi waters on one side and the airport runway on the other side was itself a beautiful peaceful preclude to an audience with the divine. The temple itself appears quite nondescript from the outside and deceptively so. There is no tall gopuram and my friend Harish and I drove past it before we realized that probably we needed to U-turn. Upon entering the temple you see a few buddha shrines with chinese joss-stick holders on the left under the alamaram. That is the beauty of Singapore. Indian temples are a cultural melting pot where not only Indian practices flourish but that of other races and religious influences overlap. This necessarily reflects the community within which the temple operates and its diverse population that it serves.

The temple had a huge 21 feet hanuman. And it was a joy to behold him. Tall, mighty and black inside the temple compounds. Yesterday was also the first time I broke a coconut in the temple. The act of breaking the coconut is symbolic of dashing one's ego. The ego that separates one from god and other men. It was only on my 2nd try that the coconut shattered. But it was a grand feeling. We also lit a lamp for Hanuman and the 9 planets and committed to a Hanuman Jayanthi Puga on 27th Dec.

My mom also told me that my uncle NVV was a huge devotee of Ramar. I had never prayed to him. This was really my first visit to the temple. The Hanuman and the Shiva Lingam in the temple spoke the strongest to me. I will visit the temple again and see how my connection with the temple evolves. Unlike the other temples in the city this temple has a more humble and accessible feel to it. And the priests also seemed to have a strong connection to the devotees who come. In fact one of the priests even gave me his handphone number so that I could give him my parents' natchathira details for the Hanuman puja. Wonderful !!!!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Distance Healing

A few days ago I was called back to the Veerama Kaliamman temple. First to pray for a beautiful lawyer friend of mine in Los Angeles who I just found out was very ill. Second to celebrate my friend's birthday as he was coming down from Malaysia and wanted to start his birthday with a special prayer. On the first visit I was fortunate to be accompanied by my dear friend Harish who actually told me that I should pray to Kali. Goddess Kali is the remover of all evil and the protector so praying to her to remove all illness in the body would be ideal. So early last Saturday morning I showed up at 8am for the temple puja and prayed hard for my friend to be healed. My second visit a few days ago was to celebrate my good friend Jermyn's 37th birthday. It was Jermyn's idea to visit a temple on the morning of his birthday with me. And I could not have given a dear friend a better gift. The temple was beautiful and peaceful and we got there just when the morning puja was starting. Praying with a good friend heightens one's spiritual energies. I realized that it is a very special thing. It not only serves one's connection with a higher power but it also does amazing things for the bond of friendship. It creates empathy between friends and compassion for others. It serves as a reminder that we are all under the power and mercy of a greater force and that we should take care of each other and love each other. Often and well.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Veeram Kaliamman Temple

My mom used to tell me about how as a little girl she lived in a shop house across the temple. The temple which I seldom frequented is in Little India on 141 Serangoon Road. In Little India. One day out of sheer "coincidence" I had taken a friend of mine there to visit. My friend has just bought some jewelry from Little India and wanted the stones blessed before wearing it. Indians believe in the healing and energizing qualities of gemstones. And that stones carry vibration that can protect the wearer. When I stepped into that temple that day I realized it was a gorgeous temple and in particular it housed a gorgeous Durga. The Durga here was huge and had dewy eyes and a incredibly kind and loving face. And she was BIG !!! Very tall and had so many arms. I had been regularly praying every Tue to Durga this year. This was a new ritual I had started. So I was already cultivating a deep bond with this Goddess. So when I did see this beautiful Durga in this temple it really moved me. And it made me realize how we often overlook details and important things until we are truly ready to receive the wisdom embedded in them.

After this visit I did not visit the temple for sometime until another "accident" took me back there. This time it was an artist from Santa Fe who wanted me to take her to my favorite place in Singapore. I realized that the Durga in this temple was a favorite of mine and I know that it would be wonderful to take her on an early morning visit to the temple when it is quiet and deeply meditative. So last Saturday I woke up early morning to go to the temple. It was raining very hard. And rain for Hindus is a beautiful sign - washing away the old and bringing in the new. So braving the pouring rain I showed up at the temple at 8am. And bang - I was there for the morning temple puja with the musicians playing a tribute to the Goddess and a few devotees praying intensely. It was beautiful as it was very dark in the temple due to the rain and the sky being overcast. But the temple had switched on these beautiful fairy lights. And it was all quite magical. My friend I went with sat on the temple floor and said that she could feel the floor of the temple was so peaceful. And indeed she was right. There was a great vibration in the temple. After spending two hours talking to the priests, praying and taking some photos we left. My prayer when I left was that I want to come and visit Her every Saturday morning And I wanted her to give me a reason to do so. And she did very shortly.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Rolling in the Temple - Penance, Prayer & Purity

Firewalking or Thimethi (thi means fire in Tamil and methi means step) is a major festival in Singapore's Mariamman Temple and for many generations devotees have been either firewalking or rolling around the temple to show their love for the Goddess. Today, two days, before the actual fire walking ceremony, I went to the temple to observe the Kumbhudustaam (rolling with the neem leaves in your hands). Devotees in wet yellow ceremonial wear lay flat on the temple grounds and rolled clockwise around the entire temple. A demanding task it also another occasion where penance and prayer are intertwined to inspire purity in a devotee's heart and mind. And to instill in them a sense of courage and heighten their devotion to the Goddess. Way before yoga became hip and asanas became a way to look good naked, Hindus have been showing their love for their goddess through rigorous physical acts like this. I was deeply moved to see this event. The vibration in the temple was also intense and just 10 days ago I had danced for the Goddess there - again another form of physical prayer.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

9 weeks for Durga

The Shiva Durga temple in Potong Pasir in Singapore is famous for the Goddess Durga. Many Durga devotees come to pay respects to her and to ask her to grant their most deepest wishes especially on Tuesdays. Tuesday is Durga's special day. In particular there is a tradition to light lamps on green lemons for Durga for nine consecutive weeks in order to manifest your desires in the physical world. Today I just finished my 9 weeks of lighting lamps for Durga. It was an incredibly moving and satisfying experience for me.

For a long time I was not ready to do this 9 week ritual. It did not particularly resonate with me. It felt superstitious and greedy to me. To ask God for certain things in my life. But with greater spiritual maturity I realized that doing something in a steadfast manner for 9 consecutive weeks is actually a great way to deepen your connection with the Goddess. This is regardless of what you ask for. Asking for something specific actually helps one get closer to God as it makes one more humble - it is a recognition that there are higher powers at work and that you are at their mercy after you had done everything that is physically possible on your end. It is an opportunity to set the ego aside and let honor the divine's hand in our everyday lives.

The vibration in this temple is also incredibly strong as many devotees come there with an intense spiritual focus. This I witnessed over the 9 Tue when I was there. There is very little socializing or chit-chat. Many mediated and prostrated before the Durga statute. Through kneeling, lighting lamps and walking around the Durga shrine you see faith in action in a powerful way. That in turn reinforces your own spiritual conviction and brings you closer to the divine.

The smell of the burning lemon and the intense heat the that tray of lighted lamps exude is also incredibly energizing. It stimulates and activates your senses and beings you in touch with your natural elements. The flowers, incense and the temple music also help raise the vibration. This is what makes the 9 week ritual powerful.

If you are ready to take a vow or to ask for some help the Durga temple in Potong Pasir maybe a wonderful place to start and to re-invigorate your connection to the divine.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Born Again Hindu

Yesterday I went for a fancy dinner for commodities brokers in Singapore. One of the white boys there decided to lecture the rest of us on the table about Hinduism and how he has embraced it with vengeance. Selling ice to an eskimo eh? These born-again Hindus are a scary lot. These people have not been born HIndus or brought up within the Hindu faith. They have very very limited contact with the Hindu community and have never travelled to India, the birth-place of Hinduism. BUT have picked up some technical jargon. But no context. They pepper their conversations with dharma, karma and all sorts of vedic references. But often fail to get even the fundamentals right. Many of these people are very vulnerable to the Hindu cults that proliferate today. Hinduism is a lived faith - there is no one way to pray or one way to be a Hindu. But Hindus are against conversion and the best Hindus treat their faith as a highly personal encounter with the divine. The devout Hindus I know are humble people who often radiate deep contentment on their faces. They know that Hinduism is a heart-centered practice. Not just a intellectual practice.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Does it Hurt? Dumb Questions to Kavadi Bearers

Today I interviewed a kavadi bearer. He told me about how a CNN reporter had interviewed him during a Thaipusam Festival and had asked him "Does it hurt?" If someone had asked me that question - after I had fasted for 42 days and then pierced my body with 108 piercing I would have flipped. I would have wanted to know:

1. Why is that Western reporters come so ill-prepared when it comes to minority traditions? Why do they ask questions that reveal such deep ignorance? How about doing some reading and research on the concept of penance and the experience of trance-like states in religious ceremonies?

2. Or more simply why not assign a TV journalist who has some depth as opposed to throwing an entertainment reporter on the scene?

3. How about giving the reporters some cultural training and cross-cultural communication skills? And some context?

Journalists have such an important role as cultural intermediaries. Why not use this opportunity to celebrate what is common between cultures - the quest for higher wisdom and spiritual light? And creating a feeling of true empathy between the viewers and the subject matter. That used to be Oprah's greatest gift. She was not judgmental and in her earlier shows really tried to get to the essential truths and values that drove people to do certain things. How about pitching things at that level for a change?