Puja in the Hindu religion is the act of showing reverence to a god, a spirit, or another aspect of the divine through prayers or songs or rituals. My understanding is that the essential part of the puja is to make a spiritual connection to the divine--I don't know if it has to be through streamline ways, or this connection can be done however the devout wants. Many times the connection is facilitated through an object--maybe a tree, a sculpture, a vase, or a painted piece of art.
A month into living in Calcutta and I knew this: There were a lot of celebrations. I felt like every other day, Indians marched through the street, exuberant with joy, dancing to loud music that made sense to everyone but this foreigner. Why were there so many holidays here? Why didn't we have more in America, and why didn't we join together to celebrate like this at home? I wondered.
Two of my friends and I piled into a taxi to head to the Hoogley River, where we had heard there would be "a puja." Always curious, I went down to witness whatever was happening. There was a lot to see. Dozens and dozens of Indian men pushed homemade statues (of a deity? of a family member? I wasn't sure) into the Hoogley, then lowered that statue into the river. They cheered, jumping up and down with excitement, as the statutes drowned.
We Americans are so reserved and private. The phrase "too cool for school" comes to mind when I think of how we refrain from being too exuberant (except sporting events, I realize as I type...what's up with that?). How surprising and exhilarating to watch this ceremony where throngs of men celebrated and honored a beloved together. This was such an example of what I saw again and again in India: a ceremony I only partially understood. I was a bystander in a foreign land, trying to figure out what was going on without the necessary information. At times in India I felt like such an outsider, who shouldn't be there at all.
But there I was, peeking at a life so very different from my own. Before leaving, my dad had asked, me why I feel the need to travel, and to try to answer the question or unfold the answer a little more every day I was away.
I still didn't know, and I wanted to figure it out. But now, looking back, I wonder--do all questions need to be answered? Can't I just travel because I want to? Does everything need to have some huge saga or lesson or reason?