- An Eye-Opening Experience
I travelled to Mumbai, India with my boss three days ago. Coincidentally, they arranged a prayer called puja to celebrate the Mumbai office’s relocation to a bigger and newer premise. It was an eye-opening experience.
Do you see the red dot on my forehead? In Hindi, it is called tika, an abbreviation of its original name tilaka in Sanskrit. It was applied on my forehead by a Hindu priest as a customary way of honouring special guests.
The tika is positioned at the space between the eyes just above the eyebrows. This spot is deemed by yoga practitioners to be a crucial spot to focus on during meditation. It is also a “psychic opening” which symbolises a third eye is opened to see beyond ordinary perception. Literally speaking, it was no exaggeration to say that I had an “eye-opening” experience (laughs).
- Why Do People Pray?
The puja experience set me thinking deeper about the meaning of prayer. In recent years, I have learnt about prayers from my Catholic and Christian friends who encouraged me to seek strength from God in times of needs, sickness or problems. I saw prayer as an act of supplication in needy times. Over time, I have also learnt to say proper prayers for friends in sickness. I am thankful that prayers had brought strength to me and friends.
But that did not seem to be the case for the puja ritual. It was held to celebrate the opening of the new office, which I thought was purely ceremonial in nature. I was wrong.
(Picture on the left: The priest or locally addressed as a pandit, was a Hindu scholar learned in Sanskrit and Hinduism. He was getting ready to commence a one-hour ritual in a small meeting room which was temporarily converted into a prayer room.)
The pandit chanted mantra and sang in Hindi, a language that I did not comprehend. But quickly it became an invaluable learning moment when a colleague translated his instructions. The pandit said, “Keep in mind your parents as you hold these grains in your hands.”
“Also, keep in mind your beloved teachers.”
And of course, he also paid homage to the Hindu gods.
The reverence for elders was unmistakable. The ritual reinforced the values of filial piety for one’s parents and teachers. At that instant, I realised that praying was more than asking for favours and protection. It was also a moment of gratitude for the people who had loved and supported us in our lives. I was touched.
There was, however, just one part about the ritual that I had second thoughts. I always have a weak stomach for Indian food. Still, out of respect, I swallowed the some milky liquid with raw leaves that was supposed to bring me and my family bliss and happiness.
(Video above: The priest insisted that I ate everything on my palm, which was worrying because I had absolutely no idea of what it was. It tasted like a mixture made of condensed milk and peppermint leaves, added with some flowers and pebbles. Luckily, the pebbles were not meant to be eaten (laughs). )
In my mind, I was thinking, ” Oh no… I am going to get the runs later…” Surprisingly, nothing happened. I am all well and healthy. God bless.
William W.K. Tan
04 May 2018