Reconnecting with my roots
Updated: Nov 20, 2019
I was 10 when I first noticed my mum touching the ground before getting off the bed. I asked her the reason behind it and even mocked her slightly. She replied that she does it out of habit inherited from her mother.
My mum is pretty organized and her routine has not changed a bit. Her day starts with a walk, shower, prayer, gratitude to the sun and the plant (Tulsi/ Basil in our courtyard). Tulsi plant is like a family member to my Mum. She carries it to every city or house she moves. In fact, it's not unique to my mum as you will find it in every courtyard in Indian households. It is regarded the holiest of all plants in India. There is an entire festival dedicated to this plant called Tulsi Vivah (marriage) on the 11th / 12th lunar day. Like the basil, I have seen many different plants and their parts (roots, stem, leaves, bark, fruits, seeds, bulb, etc.) being used for the said purpose of rituals and ceremonies in my household and across India.
In India even river water is sacred and considered both pure and purifying. Thus you will find it in every household bottled as Gangajal (water of river Ganges). It is believed that bathing in river (Ganges) causes the remission of sin and facilitates Moksha. In fact, all the rivers in India are personified as goddesses.
Every temple you visit in India will have animals worshipped in myriad ways: as deites, like elephant (God Ganesha) and the monkey (God Hanuman); as avatars, like Vishnu's fish, tortoise and boar forms; and as vahanas, or vehicles, of major deities-the swan, bull, lion and tiger. There are also hero-animals, such as the Vanaras, and the totemic symbols of tribes later assimilated into Vedic Hinduism.
Some animals, like the snake has an entire festival associated with him called Nagpanchami. Some birds, such as the crow, are associated with the abode of the dead, or the souls of ancestors.
Because of all the traditions and customs, I believed that every creature is alive and energized with a common spirit. And share a deep connection with the nature. I love spending time outdoors and always had animals as my best friends. My favorite past time is talking to birds.
This love and care for nature, became my passion and a career choice, I thought I would love. But sadly, the same nature became an object of observation, a taxonomical name, a problem in the way of development, a resource to exploit and a law to manipulate.
Consequently, I rejected my cultural roots which saw the creatures as alive as humans. I considered them old and primitive. I attended pujas (prayer events) but with disinterest. I shunned anything non-modern or so called traditional. I liked to stay in touch with the contemporary rather than the traditional, be it home furniture or my way of thinking or language or way of dressing or the way I perceive the world.
I dismissed my Indian-ness until I came to Australia. One of my work colleagues, introduced me to Original Australian and their rich cultural heritage. I got especially intrigued by the dreaming stories, which is a link between the physical world and spiritual world. These stories took me down the memory lane. Growing up, my granny would tell me similar stories.
I looked deeper into Aboriginal culture. And subsequently looked at my culture with a new perspective. I noticed the beautiful relationship of participation, communion and co-creation these cultures share with the world they live in. Like the roots on a tree, cultural systems have roots that are impacted by their surroundings. A culture's rituals, traditions, ceremonies, myths, and symbols provide it with the nutrients it needs to survive.
I believe that we can learn from the traditional cultures, which are deeply rooted in the unique conditions of a place, on how to become native again. And be caretakers of this land, participating with our elder brothers and sisters, the plants and animals, in the physical and spiritual renewal of the earth and of ourselves.
Culture is widening of the mind and the spirits
- Jawaharlal Nehru