Thursday, April 30, 2015

Temples and Traditions

On the occasion of Maharashtra Diwas (May१), here are a few of my favorite temples and traditions.

My earliest childhood memories are of Thane, so the first temple that comes to mind is the Kopineshwar Mandir there. It is located near the locally famous Masunda talao, in the busy market area of old Thane. It's a Shiv Mandir and like many a  Shiv temple in India, there is a myth surrounding this one too. It is said that the Shiv Ling grows in hight over a period and once it's reached the top of the temple, world will be drowned in great floods.

My mother was not a regular temple goer nor was she a daily puja doer; however she made it a point to go to the Ghantali Devi temple in Thane during Navaratri to offer what we Maharashtrians call oati (ओटी) - a set comprising a traditional sari with blouse piece, topped with a coconut, fresh flowers, sweets, and haldi- kunku to the goddess. This she did, without fail, every year.

Green and red saris and kumkum on sale in a shop
A typical shop selling saris, red Kunku bottles, flowers, coconuts and prasad (sweets) outside a temple.
In spite of having grown up without many traditions or rituals, as I grow older, I miss the small things that are or used to be mark of home and community. Among Maharashtrians, when guests are leaving after a visit the lady of the house says to the woman guest, especially a married woman guest, "Thamb, tula kunku lavate (Wait, let me apply kunku (to your forehead)). Small silver containers of kunku powder (red) and haldi ( turmeric) are kept in home shrines. First, you dip the fourth finger of your right hand in haldi and place a small dot on the woman's forehead between the eyebrows closer to the nose. Then dip the same finger or the third in red powder and place a dot slightly above the yellow one. The host does it to her guest first then the guest does it back to her host. Is it just a slightly elaborate way of saying good bye to wish guests safe return home or does it mean something more - I really don't know.


I am also, unaware if it's done in other parts of India, but when I go to see my mother's long - time neighbors - who are not originally Maharashtrians - and as I am leaving, the husband says to the wife - "tila kunku lav," or something similar -for he says it in his language and I only understand the word kunku, but it sounds like music to my ears.

Before Bollywoodwallas started making mockery of it by touching every Amar, Akbar, Anthony and Sita or Gita's feet on stage before the cameras, touching feet of elders' to show respect used to be a custom confined to home, family and close friends. When we visited our grand parents, first thing we did upon seeing them was bow and touch their feet. They would then hug and bless us saying something like, "live a long life" or "live to be a hundred". How many parents teach their children to bow before elders at home these days -who knows! Thanks to the movie people, I am afraid, generations of Indians might grow up thinking that touching someone's feet is a stage act to be performed before an audience.

When we moved to Dadar from Thane, my mother had to find a new Devi to bring oati to, during Navratri. Luckily Goddess Mahalaxmi wasn't too far.


But the temple close to home was the All Mighty Siddhivinayak. It was a nice, old-fashioned temple back then not the modern, multi-storied structure with security fortifications that stands in its place today. And it used to be crowded on Tuesdays, not every other day of the week like it seems these days.

In Prabhadevi, we are closer to Siddhivinayak than my mother's apartment was. Since we are there mostly for vacation, it's enough for me to keep track of the days very vaguely, like say from the traffic pattern: If we get stuck in traffic right after coming out of our lane- then it must be Tuesday and devotees waiting in long line to get into the temple for Sidhhivinayak's darshan are contributing to the traffic jam; If traffic congestion is a little further north on Savarkar Marg, it must be Friday - a busy day around the Mahim Darga; And if the bottleneck is even further, near causeway, it must be Wednesday - the day of Novina at Mahim Church.

When I moved to New York, there wasn't really any temple here that looked like temples back home,  for a long time. It took Flushing temple years to take the shape that it is in today. One difference between temples in India and in the US is that, here they have cafeteria in the basement which temples in India generally don't.


I never went to the Babulnath mandir when I lived in Mumbai but try to go there now when I am visiting. Just like the Mahalaxmi mandir, it's a little bit of a climb but once you get up there its spacious and peaceful. Mumbaikars are lucky to have these two beautiful, sprawling old temples in the heart of the city, but I wish they were not so hidden behind cables and poles and all sorts of structures that surround them.

I have tried to make this post visually appealing by adding images from google. In most cases, if you click on the picture, it will take you to the original web site. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. Thank you for sharing all this with us. There are so many places to visit Thane that can be explored by tourists.