A reminiscence

In the South Indian city of Madras, the reigning Deity of Krsna is known as Partha Sarathi. And as in many Krsna temples, on festive days the Lord goes out on procession. The main Deity stays in the temple, and the pujaris (priests) bring the Lord out touring in a form known as the utsava-murti, or festival Deity.

"Amma," I shouted, throwing down my school bag. "Give me tiffin."

I'd just returned from school and wanted to go quickly out for play.

"Wash your hands and feet first," my mother responded from the kitchen.

I ran into the bathroom, splashed water everywhere, and ran back into the kitchen.

"I saw a procession of Lord Partha Sarathi going somewhere," I volunteered as I sat waiting for the tiffin to appear.

My mother, reaching into the upma pot, suddenly stopped, turned around, and fired a volley of questions "Lord Partha Sarathi? Where did you see Him? Why is He going out today and at four in the afternoon?"

"I saw Him being carried on a palanquin near Luz, that's all. I don't 'know why or where He was going just please give me my tiffin now. It's getting late," I cried out, sensing the imminent delay.

My grandmother, who always sat in one corner of the kitchen silently observing all proceedings, was now intently peering at the calendar.

"Today is the harvest tax collection day," she announced. "The palanquin I will be passing through Eldams Road."

My mother began to calculate how long it would take for the Lord's procession to pass by Eldams Road, one block from our street.

"When exactly did you see the procession near Luz?" she demanded.

"At three-forty," I said. "Just before I caught the bus."

"That means He'll be here in twenty minutes," my mother said, her voice now full of anxiety. "What can I make for the Lord in twenty minutes?"

"Rava-keshari. That's the easiest," my grandmother replied, cool and alert.

By now my mother was already putting the steel wok on the stove and pouring a cup of farina into it, simultaneously setting a pot of water to boil.

"Just what is harvest tax collection day?" I asked, resigned to a delayed tiffin.

"Once a year Lord Partha Sarathi visits the fields He owns just outside Madras city," my mother explained. "The farmers bring the harvested grain in front of the Lord, measure it, and then pay a portion of it as tax to the Lord. The grains are used to make offerings at the temple throughout the year."

"Why does the Lord have to go?" I asked. "Can't the pujariscollect it?"

"Well, the pujaris feel that when the Lord is in the field there's less chance of the farmers trying to reduce the tax by hiding some of the harvest. But, as important, people who live far away from the temple get to see the Lord."

"This also gives the Lord a chance to get out of the temple," my grandmother sagely added.

By now my mother's cooking was nearing the end. "Five more minutes and the Lord will be here," she calculated, looking up at the clock. "Now go to the corner and stand there till you sight the procession. When it nears our street, wave to the pujari to stop. Go right now run!"

I reached the corner in no time. Shielding my eyes against the evening sun, I peered across the street.

"What if the Lord has already passed by," I worried.

Suddenly, there it was, turning onto Eldams Road! A stately but small procession of four palanquin carriers bearing the utsava-murtiof the Lord, a Sri Vaisnava pujari in front. I was surprised to see the procession moving so quickly, the palanquin carriers almost trotting. I waved frantically, afraid I would go unnoticed, since the procession showed no signs of slowing down for me.

As it neared, I looked over my shoulder and was relieved to see my mother appearing out of the house, practically running. Grandmother was behind her, making slower progress. My mother was carrying the pot of rava-keshari covered by a fresh banana leaf.

"Please, stop!" I shouted to the pujari. "My mother has brought an offering."

The procession halted, and the carriers set down the palanquin. By now my mother had arrived. Handing me the pot she said, "Give it to the bhattar."

As I struggled with the weight of the pot, the pujari reached over and took it.

"Namaskaram," he brightly greeted my mother.

By now my grandmother had joined us. She pulled some camphor from the corner of her sari and gave it to the pujari. He placed the pot of rava-keshari in front of the Lord, removed the banana leaf, and put it next to the pot. He placed the camphor in a brass holder, lit it, and then offered it to the Lord, sonorously chanting Vedic hymns, all the time ringing a bell. The three of us folded our palms and fell before the Lord to offer our respects.

As the pujari returned half of the offering to my mother, he said, "In this Kali-yuga, not many people know how to receive the Lord when He comes in procession. May the Lord bless you and your family for your loving devotion."

My mother responded, "May He always remain glorious and keep us as His servants."

My grandmother offered advice as usual. "Don't go too fast," she told the pujaris. "On a hot day like this, you should make sure He's comfortable."

Soon we were back in the kitchen, and I was busy eating my evening tiffin, now supplemented by the keshari prasadam freshly offered to the Lord.

"Delicious!" I exclaimed. "I don't mind a late tiffin every day if you can make a sweet like this."