I Really Hope Goddess Lakshmi Likes Cupcakes
The end of the year always creeps up on me. I feel like I just got back from Central America, yet here I am, only days away from my next trip. (And I already bought a ticket for my trip after that--typical.) I'm already overwhelmed and have a to do list a mile long that needs to be taken care of before I leave, and then I get the call from my mom, "It's Diwali!"
I'm not sure why, but five years ago I started making daily posts during the five days of Diwali explaining the significance and the traditions of the day. For example, this was my post today: "On the first day of Diwali, we celebrate Dhanteras. It's celebrated by lighting diyas (little lamps) around the house, buying jewelry (gold and silver) and utensils. In the evening, we pray to Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, to bless our homes and family with wealth. So basically, I've lit some candles, I'm on Amazon as we speak and I'm going to hunt down some local and foreign coins (because funemployment funds are getting scarce but I still want to travel!)"
Now when I was living in Toronto, I actually did something every day with my family or we had family friends who were having get togethers or we'd go to the temple--Diwali was busy! Once I left home, we would celebrate Diwali on the weekend through events on campus or in the community. Since I moved to Portland, I've always wanted to be more proactive and establish my own traditions for Diwali, but it just never quite worked out that way. Until now.
Maybe it's because I'm procrastinating from planning my trip (the one that I leave for in 6 days and still don't have a plan for). Maybe it's because funemployment funds are running out so if I was ever to participate in the traditions, now would be the time. Maybe it's because I just stopped making excuses and wanted to make that someday today. Whatever the case may be, I did it. Thanks to Google and my mom, I managed to figure out the basics that I would need to put together a prayer ceremony, puja, today and I somehow miraculously improvised what I think was a half-decent get up. Here's what I scrounged up:
- Temple/pictures of god - I bought a mini temple on a trip to India back in college that I've taken with me on every move I've made since. I have little pictures/deities that I've received over the years to put in the temple. Funny enough, most of them were favors from different weddings I've attended. Being a professional wedding guest came in handy! Bonus: I got some incense from a wedding that I found and used today, too!)
Diya/clay lamp - Yeah, I don't have any of those. I don't even have the little metal tower holder thingy. (They look like mini Stanley Cups to me.) Every Indian home has one of these and I remember my grandmother teaching me how to take a cotton ball and ghee (before it became popular in western society, thanks to Paleo) and form the perfect little diya for prayers. So instead, I used a candle.
- Panchamrut (Five Nectars) -'Panch' means five and 'Amrut' means secret nectar in Sanskrit. This is a nectar that's used in many Hindu prayers as part of the ceremony and offerings--and it's definitely something I don't keep in the house. Fortunately for me, it's pretty easy to make and you likely have the ingredients (or good substitutes for them) in the house. It's a combination of milk, yogurt, honey, butter and sugar. I'm sure there's a recipe for the real stuff, but for my purpose, I just put a few spoons of each item in a bowl and whisked away until it was somewhat smooth.
- Coins - Dhanteras is the day that we pray to Goddess Lakshmi to bless our families and homes with wealth. As a kid, I remembered this as the coin washing day. I have not one, not two, but three piggybanks full of coins and a ziploc bag for added measure. You need at least five coins for the puja, so I found five coins from five different countries and used those. (I picked a $2 coin from Canada to represent where I'm from, I took a quarter from America because that's home (for now), I found a 5 rupee coin from India to represent my heritage (and I went there twice this year), I picked out a 500 rupiah coin from Indonesia that I got on my trip to Bali this year and I found a 50 cent Euro coin which seemed fitting because I'm headed there next week.) I don't know if I'm supposed to use the same currency or what, but using a variety of foreign currency seemed fitting for me.
- Kumkum/Kankoo (Red Powder) - You use the red powder with a drop of water to create a paste and then make a mark on your forehead between your eyebrows (the dot!) before you do a puja. You also use the powder during the ceremony; after washing the coins you put a dot on each one of them, kind of like dressing them up after they've been bathed. Again, this is not something I have on hand with me. I was going to go to an Indian store nearby to get some, but it's closed on Monday. I thought I would see if I could find some sort of red pigment powder that I could use from the cosmetics section at the drugstore--no dice. Instead, I used a red lipliner I have. Thank you, Mac!
- Prasad/Offering - This is usually something sweet that you use as part of the puja. You offer it to god and then you get to eat it afterwards. My mom said to get something sweet, like fruit, but all I heard was sweet so I obviously got a cupcake (vegan though, because you don't want to include eggs in the offering). I really hope Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth likes cupcakes.
Once I got my supplies in order, I found a Diwali playlist on Saavn (the South Asian version of Spotify or Pandora) and started the ceremony. You start all Hindu pujas by welcoming Lord Ganesh because he's considered the remover of obstacles. I recited some prayers to Ganesh that I learned as a kid and found this sense of peace coming over me. Once I finished with the song I knew, I took the coins and washed them one by one. (FYI, I had three bowls. One of panchamrut, one of water, and one that was empty to pour into.) Using my right hand to hold the coin, I would take a spoon of the panchamrut in my left hand and pour it over the coin while rubbing it (as if I was cleaning it) with my right hand. Normally, this is something done by a couple or a pair where one person pours the spoon (with their right hand) and the other rubs the coin (with their right hand). Your left hand is considered dirty so you do everything with your right hand when it comes to Indians; eat, shake hands, transfer money, etc. After five spoons of the panchamrut, I would take the water and do the same thing, washing the nectar off. I would then dry the coin off and place it in my little temple and then making a red dot/mark on it. Once I was done with all of the coins, I brought out the prasad (cupcake) and then sat there and prayed for a little bit.
I can't remember the last time I've felt so calm and relaxed, to the point where I got teary-eyed without any warning. Traditions and festivals like this remind me of home and it always gets me, just a little bit. It was a welcome and needed break in my day, almost a reminder that hey, things are going to be okay. And afterward, once I finished up, once I had my cupcake prasad, and I went back to my computer to work on planning my trip, things started to fall into place better than they had all day. Hmm. Interesting.