Bonalu July 25, 2011

Bonalu is a holiday celebrating Kali and the Dark Mother. My understanding is that it’s observed over the course of four Sundays, but as the Hindu calendar is lunar the months shift and I’m not clear on exactly what occurs when. Bonalu celebrations, from what I’ve read, involve a procession of decorated pots containing a sweet rice dish that are offered to Kali. Women carrying the pots often enter into a trance state from the drumming and chanting, and observers throw water on the women’s feet  – an act of purification and honor as the women are considered to embody the goddess (also known as possession, but that word is often so loaded with negative stereotypes; I prefer embody, which is more positive in my mind). There is feasting, thanksgiving to Kali for promises kept, and fortune-telling for the year to come. Like most holidays in the Hindu tradition – and in all religious traditions – Bonalu is meant to be a communal celebration. Not having any Hindu community here I had to modify greatly. In the end, it was a quiet, short and simple affair in my house. Here’s what I did:

I basically treated the pooja like regular morning devotions. I swept and tidied the dining/altar room. I readied the altar. I bathed myself and my kids (necessary anyway as the three year old had spat milk all over the baby). I put on a bright blue skirt with a white top (white being a color of purity); I adorned myself with colorful jewelry and put on some makeup  – you know, all festive like. I spent the morning cooking and preparing the luncheon feast: a roast chicken and carrots covered in curry and turmeric, a sweet potato and chili dish, home-made chai, and sweet rice pudding. I set aside some of the rice pudding and mixed it with turmeric as an offering for Kali.

Once we were ready to eat, I called in the family. The devotions were shorter even than my normal morning routine, because the three year old wanted to help. He disrupts things, but I think it’s important to let him do what he can. He bowed and lit the incense using the altar candle. He then ran around waving the incense in front of everything and refused to put it on the altar. Eventually he consented so that he could put the bowl of the rice on the offering plate and put a glass of wine on the altar too. I said a brief ‘hail and welcome’ to Kali and then we sat down to eat our super tasty meal.

After the meal, my husband and son went to go do other things and the baby went down for a nap. I took the opportunity to clean up the dining room (again, yes. I’ve got kids) and sat down to meditate and chant for about 15 minutes. It was peaceful and energetic at the same time. In fact, it was the first time since I started observing Hinduism that I felt ‘connected’ to the deity. I felt….. something more present, not necessarily more personal, but more alive. This concept of personal connection with the gods is something I want to write about later this week. It’s something I need to grapple with in a personal, public way. I’m not sure I can be very articulate about it, but I have some ideas and questions about this idea of personal connection with the Divine.

This morning during devotions I did a fortune-telling of my own: I gave myself a tarot reading. Yep, I read tarot. I’ve been practicing for about eight years now, but it’s been about 6 months since I touched my cards. My focus was on this portion of my ashram project. I received some interesting information, but nothing unusual or out of the blue.

While there was no drumming or dancing, trancing or community, I am glad I observed this in the way I was able. I got the sense that Kali didn’t care so much how I worshiped, just so long as I did! She is not a god to deny. I’m not sure she can be denied, even if we want to!

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