It was on a November evening, barely a day in our new house, that Lakshmi made her first appearance.
I was stood on the empty third floor contemplating furniture and feeling weighed down by the ramifications of a new debt, when Tony walked up the stairs with a rather heavy looking package in his hands. “Here, open it”, he said, laying the package on the floor, “House warming gift for you.”
Within a tuft of crumpled tissue paper I laid my hands on something cold and metallic and I drew out my present: a brass sculpture of Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, prosperity and fortune. I got an eerie feeling. If my husband had shared the same country, religion and culture as myself, this present would have never been such a surprise.
I remember not being able to speak for a few minutes.
“Do you like it?” he asked, worried.
I had questions, so many of them that I almost didn’t hear him speak.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Know what?”, he asked.
“About Lakshmi and the significance of a new home?”, I asked, perplexed.
“Oh, I didn’t think so much. I went to the store, she was on the shelf with one of your gods on a ten headed snake, and there was the elephant-head god in there too. I thought you might like her because she is gold and red and looks antique … and slightly less scary.”
I wanted to call my mother to tell her about this sublimely strange coincidence.
My mother is a religious person. Her prayer room has idols and pictures of the many Hindu Gods and Goddesses, whom she prays to twice a day, every day. She takes her rituals very seriously but has never forced anyone of us to follow in her footsteps. Growing up I obliged her in many of the rituals but had never taken them too seriously. Hindu mythology wasn’t as important to me, neither was believing in it nor daily prayer. Praying was only a necessity drawn upon when desperate.
Goddess Lakshmi is a deity associated with good fortune and every home is encouraged to have her presence. Every worshipper believes that a home is blessed when Lakshmi walks in. When my mother heard about Lakshmi’s unannounced appearance in our new home in St. John’s, all she said was, “she is there because she wants you to pray … to her.” And every year since, I have.
The definition and purpose of prayer has evolved since then. I don’t know any holy chants and I don’t believe in knowing them. I don’t follow any set rules of rituals of worship like my mother. I don’t see it as a religious activity any more, more of a necessity in helping keep my perspective clear. I have evolved from having to pray to Lakshmi because I was asked to, to wanting to pray to Her because it calms me. I have evolved from praying for something to praying to thank and seek guidance through good conscience. To me, praying is a time when I can consciously leave my present thoughts aside and concentrate on the welfare of my loved ones. It helps me focus on trying to make good decisions and avoid complete self gain. I also pray to Lakshmi because I know this single act alone brings a lot of pride to my mother’s heart.
God or the Higher Power is a debatable subject for many. To me God is this Earth, God is us, and the Higher Power is within us. We create and destroy our own path and the ability to make decisions – good or bad – is within ourselves.
This year on Lakshmi Puja: day of worship for the Goddess Lakshmi, “Lok-khi” in Bengali, a part of the prayer offering, or prasad, for the Goddess was sondesh, a cooked ricotta sweet flavoured with coconut palm sugar. ‘Sondesh’ in Bengali also translates to ‘message’.
For a greater visual tribute to prayers, Steve McCurry’s vision through his blog is a worthwhile visit. His recent blog post A World of Prayer is a beautiful rendition.
Sondesh : Cooked Sweet Ricotta with Coconut Palm Sugar
- Full Fat Milk: 2 lt
- Calcium Lactate: 1 tsp or 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
- White Sugar: 1/2 cup
- Coconut Palm Sugar: 4 tbsp
- Nuts and Raisins: Optional
- Bring milk to a rolling boil. At this point add the lemon juice or calcium lactate and stir. Milk will curdle as you keep stirring. When the milk is completely curdled(the whey will look slightly greenish) pour the channa (curdled milk or ricotta like cheese) into a strainer lined with a muslin cloth. If you have used lemon juice you need to rinse the channa to remove the lemony scent and flavour in the channa.
- Once the channa is washed tie up the muslin and squeeze the water out as much as possible and hang it for about an hour or so.
- In a food processor with a paddle attachment add the channa and knead for a min or two on medium speed.
- Add the both the sugars and keep kneading till creamy consistency.
- Remove the channa and sugar mixture to a pan.
- Heat the pan in medium heat and keep stirring continuously to spread the mixture around the pan.
- After about 2-3 mins of stirring the mixture will start clumping together. Take off heat and cool.
- You can use a mould (I used chocolate moulds) to shape the sondesh or you can form small balls. You can add raisins and nuts as garnish.
- It is as good served warm as in room temperature.