It’s Dasara time again. Schools are closed for this 10-day festival and there’s a festive atmosphere in the air. Like each year my landlady has dusted off her painted statues of gods and goddesses and set them up in her puja room. Displaying these statues or ‘dolls’ on a multi-tiered pedestal is a Dasara tradition in many families.
On Saturday afternoon she invited me to come over while the ladies from her vedic chanting group were there. They were all dressed in resplendent peacock-blue saris. “This is the colour for Saturday,” I was told.
“This is my tenant!,” my landlady announced loudly, introducing me. I smiled while the small crowd of ladies dressed in blue scrutinized me. “She knows Sanskrit and Kannada!” she announced proudly. I started to reply, reminding her that I had only studied Sanskrit for a few months and that I’m still very much a beginner when it comes to Kannada, but she was keen on telling her friends more about me. “She’s a Bharata Natyam dancer!” The ladies nodded to each other in approval. I again opened my mouth to explain that I am now learning Odissi but my landlady was carried away by her enthusiasm. “And one more thing… she’s a writer!” she concluded with a broad smile. I could only smile meekly while the ladies again murmured their approval.
They sat on mats on the floor and started to loudly chant the prayers in Sanskrit which they recited from little books printed in Malayalam. Then it was time for food. The ladies in blue swarmed around the dining room table, filling their plates with idli, vada, chutney and black channa with grated coconut, followed by payasam for dessert. My landlady had spent the morning cooking up a small feast, with some help from her sister-in-law.
A small tray was passed around filled with strings of jasmine flowers, and kumkum and sandalwood powder. The ladies took turns smearing the powder on their foreheads and tucking the flowers around the buns in their hair. We also got glass bangles, red and green, two of each. (I have quite the collection of red and green glass bangles by now!)
Before leaving, we were asked to sit on the sofa which faces east, and holding a tray, my landlady presented each lady with tamboolam. This is a small decorated bag which contains a coconut, betel leaves, betel nuts, kumkum powder, turmeric and a one-rupee coin (see the photo above).
Tomorrow is the ninth day of Dasara which is Ayudha Puja: the day when everyday tools and machines used to make a living, including vehicles and computers, are blessed. In the streets there are flower garlands for sale everywhere, as well as pumpkins and stalks of banana leaves. The people at the office across the street have already had the puja. A priest dressed in saffron broke a gourd filled with kumkum before the front door decorated with flower garlands and banana leaves. Each of the employee’s cars was also decorated and smeared with kumkum, as well as the office’s generator and I imagine, their computers! The employees then passed around a box of sweets as the priest got on his bicycle and went off to the next office or house to perform Ayudha Puja.