We had the chance to go to a Temple opening celebration called Pran Prathistha (the installation of the Indian idols in a Gujarati village). Neel, one of the students studying on this program, is a native Gujarati, and still has family living in the area. Luckily because of this, we had the opportunity to go to Neel’s family’s village, Ashoknagar, for the opening of a new temple. This incredible experience reminded us all that we were foreign. Again, hundreds of Indians surrounded us all looking amazed that they were actually seeing a foreigner, remember–we are celebrities here!
Upon arrival to Ashoknagar, we met Neel’s humble family, were given fresh mango juice, and then directed to the main celebration. Imagine a long hall, the length of about five city blocks, covered in vibrant drapes and decorations. There are areas to sit and eat, as well as the new temple, complete with traditional artifacts and loads of villagers completing old traditions.
We proceeded to enter the new Temple and one by one, approach the new idol statue. The priest was standing next to the new idol, waiting to say a prayer to us in Gujarati, called Pooja (prayers) to make the idol holy. Then, the priest gave each of us a chandla (the red paint thumb marking placed on our foreheads, red being the holy color of God) and then a sprinkling of uncooked rice that is a customary tradition when one is welcoming something new (in this case, the new idol). We were then handed a flower to put on the idol to signify the holiness past from you to the idol.
Then, we walked through the chaotic festival to the inside temple where we were told to be seated on the ground and watch what was happening. We slowly started to imitate the joyous community members who were singing and clapping.
We were directed out of the temple, and proceeded to an enormous, outdoor food hall where we waited in line for food. The attention we got from the town people was a bit overwhelming, so we were moved to a local school in the town to sit and have lunch. We were presented delicious (and spicy) food which consisted of rice, paneer masala (Indian cottage cheese in spicy sauce), poor (Indian fried bread), buttermilk, lentils, and gulab jamun (basically an Indian donut soaked in a sweet syrup). After lunch, there was a ceremony set up for us to see the installment of the new idol, which was the culminating event! This was definitely a day to remember, and a big thanks to Neel and Neel’s family!