My Nepali sister is one of the greatest teachers in the art of discipline. Every morning and evening, without fail, she performs puja (prayer) at her little prayer table in the kitchen corner. Oil lamps are lit. Fruit and milk offered. A small cup sits, stuffed with rupee notes. She places tika (blessing with colored powder) on the foreheads of the statues and pictures of Ganesh, Shiva, Krishna and more.
For the past full month, she was on a special fast: Garlic and Onion were abstained from on certain days. The main staple of the diet, dal (lentils) was not consumed for the entire month. Her bi-daily puja’s were longer. Stomachs grumbled as we patiently waited until we heard the bell ring, signifying the end of her prayers. My ears perked up at this sound, like Pavlov’s reflex.
This morning, the local Brahmin priest is holding a special puja to end the fast for my Nepali sister. Yesterday, a trip to the market was made to prepare and purchase necessary items. Flowers were picked, red and yellow tika powder bought, and fruit gathered.
Sabita ran around as last requests were given by the priest. She would sometimes shout out for items to those of us lingering in the background. In one quick movement, she grabs a machete like knife and requests assistance from her Didi. (older sister) She moves fast, with machete in hand, as if a mission of slaughter is pending. What are we after? She nears a bamboo patch and eyes it up and down. With one quick scoop, the young outgrowth is chopped off. She counts the bamboo sections and is pleased that it is an auspicious number.
Back at the ceremonial site, the priest uses the colored powders to make geometric patterns in the dirt. A holy book is read from, oil lamps are lit and ancient rituals performed. A marigold plant, that Sabita places oil lamps in front of every morning, is placed near the site. It is tied with a string to the bamboo branch that is now jammed firmly into the earth. A string with an orange and some marigold flowers dangles from the top of the bamboo. The tied string indicates that the bamboo and the marigold plant are married, Sabita states. They represent Tulsi and Krishna. Marriage is important here. However, the difficult life in rural Nepal can strain many domestic relations and cause quiet suffering, especially for women.
Puja completed. The blessed fruit (Prasad) is share with the youngest of students along with a 5 rupee note. They smile, bow their heads and say Namaste.