Come October, there are several things to rejoice, so much to look forward to. A month where the entire household reverberates with ‘Athithi Devo Bhava,’ as many friends and relatives are invited to be part of the Navaratri Golu festival celebrations.
During this time, the elders and the young alike, get together with exuberance, as they unwrap all the dolls out of their deep slumber that were tucked away in the attic. After several rounds of deliberations, a consensus is arrived as to the artistic and creative display of the dolls on each of the steps. The good old dolls which are customarily that of the Gods and Goddesses occupy the top rack and the ones bought in recent years take the bottom ones!
The significance of ‘Golu’ is about bringing to light, the steps of evolution from the lowest form of existence of life to the highest spiritual state through the elegant display of dolls. The nine-days of celebration pave the way for ascending the ladder of life, as represented in the form of nine steps in the Golu. This is the time of the year when our home is flooded with visitors. Two things remain inseparable from Golu. The sundal- an offering made from nine different grains to the Goddess and the compositions sung in praise of the Divine. Right from lighting lamps, decorating our home with rangoli, offering to the Goddess, the hymns or songs sung in praise of the Divine and the hospitality, every aspect of the festival is done with zeal, love, purity and sincerity.
Thamboolam - the offering to the guests, comprises of beetle leaves, turmeric and kumkum that are believed to bring auspiciousness for both the giver and receiver. This is given away with utmost de-votion to the guests, as they are seen not just as friends or relatives but a form of the Divine Mother. The hospitality soaked with devotion and purity brings about tremendous amount of positivity that permeates throughout the household and the guests too.
However as the nine days passaway swiftly and the dolls go back to their homes in the attic, our minds too steps back to the hustle bustle of daily life. The “feel good, be good factor” seems to slowly wane away too. I wondered what made it difficult for me not tosustain it beyond such festivals while Muthu could do it every day.
Muthu, a childhood friend of my husband’s took to working as a mason in our small native town of Coonoor. Even today he works hard to make his ends meet in spite of hitting the fifties. Right from the time I met him as a newly wed to this day, he and his family have treated me like a queen, undeterred and consistent. Each time we visit our native, the host is invariably Muthu! His family welcomes us like the Gods and soaks us in their hospitality. Our ability to consume three sumptuous full-fledged vegetarian meals, specially made by him every day, can only be limited by the small space reserved in our stomachs for air. He could probably not even afford two full meals a day however, that did not deter him from offering us food with genuine love and affection.
While we travelled light to Coonoor, never have we returned back home the same way. The fruits, flowers, nuts, tea packs and the food for the return journey, what not…! His entire family would stuff us with food items thatwould suffice the need of a family even for a whole week. More so our hearts were filled to the brim. Yet, he always wore a dis-satisfied look of not being able to give more; rather should I say ‘we couldn’t carry more!’ He never plansfor us; neither does he take additional effort to make us feel happy and comfortable. He expects nothing in return either. It’s a part of him!
Even during festival times and withpossible abundance of resources at hand, why have I many a time refrained from that kind of hospitality? The thought kept haunting me. While my mind struggled to seek an answer, I recollected the narration that I heard during my childhood.
When an old lady cried her heart out for not being able to provide bare minimum hospitality to a young child of five, toeradicate the poverty of the old lady, Kanakadhara Strotram was showered on humanity by the great Saint Adi Sankara that has shown us the path of seeking abundance in all spheres of life. This incident from the life of great guru Adi Sankara, made me wonder, how many more miracles like this could take place for the betterment of humanity, if we practice the virtue of seeing the Lord in others and welcoming everyone as a form of the Divine all the time? While this virtue is imbued inMuthu, I know for sure that it may take many more years for me to get there.
Navaratri is just an excuse created by our ancestors, a boon in disguise for us to transform ourselves. I do hope that I would have moved one more step closer to the ninth step in the journey of transformation next year. Many more living examples like Muthu are sure to surface and inspire us. Though I may never get to be one of them, I know that I am scaling the right steps.
This Navaratri has helped me learn one importantlife lesson. The virtue of hospitality and seeing God in our guests! Athithi Devo Bhava! While Muthu reverberates in me, day in and day out I resolve to become like him someday.