Om Ayim Hreem Shreem…
Eyes closed, palms together, I give in to the murmurings of the meditative mantra. Wisps of sandalwood incense invade my nostrils, transporting me to the innumerable other times that I have sat like this, blanketed in the bhajans and bell tolls of a temple celebration. Aromas of soap, talcum powder, hair oil, and human bodies band together with the usual temple smells, seeping into every pore until they become a part of my own odour.
Ayim Ka Ee Ila Hreem
Women clad in saris of every hue bustle around me, peacocks battling rainbows. The colours mix and mingle in a paisley haze. Men sit to the side, their dhotis gleaming white against the black marble floor, hair oiled and combed. There’s less jostling amongst them, their devotion is ordered.
Hreem Ha Sa Ka Ha La Hreem…
Every grain of my being trembles with the ceaseless mumble of the faithful. My soul reverberates with the released wisps of hope winging their way heavenward on clouds of incense smoke. Obsecrations for passing grades tussle with wishes for newborns, while suitable suitors wrestle painless passings for the ears of the gods. A priest lifts me from my place, and carries me forward to the altar. Today the puja is for me. Gently, he places me on the raised stone pillar and steps away. I look out at the swarming swaying sea of devotees and smile beatifically, wondering briefly if they even notice my expressions.
Sauh Sa Ka La Hreem
The libations begin and I feel honey oozing onto the crown of my head. As it drips across my hairless pate, around my ears and down my neck, a shiver shimmies its way up my spine. I feel the prickle of rough hands as they massage the sticky substance into my arms and across my back. Then the shrill coldness of the milk cascades on top of me, sluicing off the last of the gooey mess. The same priest who carried me so gently, comes now to wipe me clean and dress me. He wraps the thick red silk sari, shimmering with its intricate gold embroidery, around me like a lover. His touch is light, fingertips barely grazing me, tucking and pleating with attentive tenderness. As he finishes, he touches my feet, then raises his hands to his eyes, guiding the blessings from me to him.
This is the signal the congregation has been awaiting. They shift and shuffle, rising to their feet and inching forward. Each one touches first my feet and then their own eyes. Blessings, like horoscopes, are required to be generic enough to be picked up by anyone, while simultaneously individually tailored.
A small boy, recently turned three, steps boldly forward to receive his blessings. His mother lifts him and he reaches out his chubby hands. I feel the touch of his flesh on my foot, then his hands recoil, and a frightened yelp escapes his lips.
Ma! Durga-Devi is made of wood!
Addendum notes: The goddess Durga is celebrated over the nine nights of Navaratri, in her nine forms. This is a prayer to her, in its uninterrupted form below.
Om Ayim Hreem Shreem
Aim Ka Ee Ila Hreem
Hreem Ha Sa Ka Ha La Hreem
Sau Sa Ka La Hreem