I was asked this week to write about yoga and Hindu spiritual practice. The issue that arose, in the interest of not making this a health or spirituality column, was, how to shed light on this topic as a researcher who is also Hindu? I am neither a spiritual leader nor a scholar of religion and, therefore, will not venture into that sphere. I leave such discussions to others with more knowledge than I have. What I do possess, however, is my narrative formed from years spent moving from text to experience as a way of understanding my own spiritual practice. It is an ongoing narrative which reshapes itself from time to time as experience leads to further understanding of one’s place and responsibility within the world. How people use religion to understand their place and function in the universe is my major concern this week. And so, I begin with the personal as a lens through which I understand the larger picture.
I had once left rituals and mūrtis behind in my travels, discarding them as unnecessary. I had figured that I was enough and so began a failed attempt at atheism. See the issue wasn’t an attachment so to speak, to the rituals and icons but rather that I realised after much contemplation, that the reason it had been that difficult to adopt atheism as a belief system was that in any case the final destination was the expansion of consciousness. I had been brought up in a tradition where the idea of God was one without form. As a musician too, the fact that everything is vibration also clashed with the no-God belief because in any event, it was not the belief or non-belief in God that was the problem, but that I had been ascribing a very narrow meaning to the concept of God as simply deity. This was of course an idiotic proposition given my upbringing but I saw it later on. (I don’t think that I truly believed that I could pull off the atheism affair. This was simply an act of rebellion but one that impacted on no one but myself).
Furthermore, in situations of distress, I found myself reverting to the simple act of fire offerings (havan). There is a simple comfort sitting at a burning fire, the combined scent of the ingredients that come together when one makes these offerings, filling the air and grounding me into a space that is familiar because subconsciously perhaps, my mind immediately connects to a space that is safe. The physical act of preparation for havan focuses the mind on the present task at hand.
These very practices and visuals (albeit mental images) return as grounding mechanisms in such times not only because they entail physical and mental action but because one is also emotionally connected to this familiar and safe space. It is similar to the migrant who, separated from her homeland, hears the music of her country in a foreign nation and immediately feels some level of comfort in the familiar. I have been thinking about this idea of grounding in the context of the Navratri observances that ended on Thursday last.
October 9 to 18 marked the Navratri (or nine nights – Nav = nine, Ratri = nights) celebration. It is an auspicious period dedicated to the worship of the feminine divine – the goddess Durga being the major focus. That being said, however, the first three days are dedicated to the worship of Durga – the protector, the second three to Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity and health and the last three to Saraswati, goddess of knowledge and music.
While at this celebration the focal point is on the feminine, it also reminds us that each goddess is accompanied by a male consort – Brahma/Saraswati, Vishnu/Lakshmi, Shiva/Parvati or in another form she becomes Durga. The male/female represents the idea of complements. Neither can exist without the other. The concept of the complement becomes more important not only for us here in Trinidad but for the world. As Raviji, former head of the Hindu Prachar Kendra explained it, "The idea of the complement takes into consideration difference. One is a complement of the other because there is a difference between them." Together they become a whole.
This concept of Devi worship, therefore, grounds us in the reality that the male/female are equal not because they possess similarities but because they are also different. This celebration of difference also celebrates our oneness. And I have found it to be a particularly relevant point to offer in a country striving to establish its centre in much the same way that we all are on individual levels.