I gazed up at the skies as I made my way to Singapore Chinatown’s Sri Mariamman Temple. The slightly darkened clouds foreshadowed the rain that was about to fall. I walked as briskly as I could in my heavy maroon lace saree. It had been twelve years since my last chopda pujan and I never thought I’d see the day where I’d preside over my very own. I watched my great-grandfather perform the ceremony annually growing up, but I never thought one day I’d be next in line.
Life must know things that I don’t.
For me, the preparations for this special and momentous day had been in the works for over a month.
Diwali (or Deepavali) is a festive occasion for Hindus all over the world. But for business owners in particular, it is the day when we invite Goddess Lakshmi to bless the business with wealth in all its forms. This ceremony is called chopda pujan. Along with Lakshmi Mata, we also call on Lord Vishnu, who teaches us how to takes responsibility for wealth, and Saraswati Ma – who gives us with the knowledge on how to best utilise that wealth for the good of society.
It was not an easy task for me to put this day together. Finding a priest, booking prayers, arranging for the right offerings and trying to piece together memories from when my ancestors performed this ancient ritual that has come down to me through the generations.
So much has been lost, and yet so much lives on.
I picked Sri Mariamman Temple because it has a special place in my heart. Mariamman (or Mother Mari) is the Rain Mother. She is a pre-Vedic Tamil folk goddess. In agricultural societies, abundance was contingent on adequate rainfall. Without rain, crops cannot grow healthy and strong.
I removed my red shoes before entering the temple. I sat through the opening prayers as I usually do. Puja is the loving offering of light, flowers, water or food to the divine. For the worshipper, the divine is visible in the image, and the divinity sees the worshipper. The interaction between human and deity, is called darshan, seeing.
In the midst of the opening prayers, raindrops began to fall from the sky. I smiled. The Vedic Indians believed that if the earth was Mother Goddess and the sky was Father God, the rains provided the divine seed from which life germinated and Mother Nature flourished. Rain is linked to the law of karma and the process of rebirth. I appreciated the heavenly sentiment. But a part of me was worried about my fancy saree getting soaked.
Once the opening prayers were done, I made my way to the deity of Lakshmi Mata to get ready for my Sahasranama. In Sanskrit, Sahasranāma means a thousand names and is considered a genre of literature where the deity is remembered by 1,000 names, attributes and epithets.
I placed my chopda, otherwise known as the accounting books of the business at Lakshmi Mata’s feet. Along with those, I placed two copies of The Little Light as well as a piece of gold. The priest brought the aarti and I said my name along with the names grandfather and great-grandfather: the two men who have continued to wield a considerable influence over my life decades after their passing. They have left so so much of themselves and their teachings in me.
A mere minute after sitting down, the rain came down heavy and hard. Thunder and lightning graced the skies. The temple has an open air design and I could feel the raindrops on my back as the priest chanted the thousand names of Lakshmi Mata. I remembered my ancestors, who had trusted me to continue the family tradition. And I remembered my own arduous journey that brought me all around the world and right back home. The thunderous applause of rain and lightning in the skies was adding a certain indescribable dramatisation to the occasion.
A gift of rain from up above to mark this momentous event in my life.
The whole ceremony took around forty-five minutes. I closed my eyes as I took in Mother Nature’s blessings alongside the ancient rituals. At the end of the prayers, a garland was placed around my neck.
An old dream was reborn. From tiny seedlings, great trees will one day grow.
It was still pouring when I left the temple. Between the short walk from the entrance to the taxi, my saree and hair got soaked despite the umbrella. On any other day, I would have been annoyed.
But on this special day, I accepted it as a gift from Mother Mari.
Thank you, truly.