Recently, I met a European gentleman at the pool who noticed my sacred thread. He commended me about following my tradition. I felt good to be praised for something which only my parents valued, It was also a rare occasion when I received praise for my tradition.
As a Brahmin, I had been ridiculed a lot in my school days. My friends interrogated me about my diet and looked disdainfully when I told them that I used to eat fish. It so happens that I come from a small minority of brahmins who are pescatarians from ancestry. Usually, most brahmins are vegans and not eating meat is an attribute of being a brahmin. I seemed like a renegade weirdo to my classmates. It was easy to be singled out when a long dangling thread sticks out of you. I remember kids at the swimming camp talk out loud and wonder what was the significance of wearing this thread i.e. being a Brahmin.
So what is being a brahmin?
Honestly, I can only answer what it is for me. Upanayan a ritual signifying coming of age in Hinduism, it’s now done to boys because it was discontinued for women a few centuries ago due to historical reasons. It is meant to make you wise and grant you access to the holy scriptures i.e. becoming a Brahmin.
To me, it started out as a humiliating experience. I was asked to shave my head by my parents (which was optional) and I had to hide in my native for a month for my hair to grow back. I wept as the barber shaved my head and my cousins laughed at me. In their defense it seems really funny right now, I am also grateful that there was no youtube back as it was recorded on tape :P. In retrospect, I had to be assertive to my parents about shaving my hair or should have reacted like an adult. To make things worse I was short and people would tease me for my height. I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire and I stayed back in my native. In all honesty, it was a fun experience at my cousins and I am glad that my baldness helped me spend time with them. In spite of everything I did my prayers dutifully and even do it today. It became my mini morning ritual so I guess it made me a slightly better(or at least cleaner) person because I did my ritual.
The ritual is pledging our Divine Mother who is the supreme deity of Hinduism to purify our sins. She is considered very sacred and a lot of other gods need to be worshiped before asking her to bless us. To be honest, until recently I didn’t know what the mantras meant, I have been babbling them at high speed out of force of habit (Gods are probably like “What the Heck was that” to my prayers). A few months ago, I looked up their meaning online and made a google doc. This small task led me to read more about Hinduism, I learned about Ishwara, Brahman and got some better insight into my own culture.
There’s a Zen saying “The way a person does one thing is the way they do everything”. I don’t think this can be generalized but I believe Sandhya Vandhanam was supposed to be a morning ritual to keep people healthy. Doing that one act probably made men and women of that time disciplined, which might have led them to become wiser. My opinion is that religion, gender, race and physical attributes are items you enter in your driver’s license. It should have little or no effect on how you drive through life. It’s ultimately what you do in your journey that matters. Also, learning a little about your tradition isn’t that bad.
On a totally different thread, I am visiting Miami to swim at Swim Miami for charity. If you can help us out please contribute here https://bitly.com/soulfree_milaap. It would also help if you could contribute by sharing it on your network.
P.S. link to my google doc if you happen to be a Hindu Brahmin from my community.