Sharing Shrines

our Hindu house has a Pooja room, set up by MAnjula it’s still used for certain festivals. Other households would use it everyday. Our next festival is likely to be for the big rotund guy, my favourite: Ganesh.

No two houses are the same which might be due to the specific Gods, they worship, their caste or maybe just because India is incredibly consistently inconsistent.

In memory of MAnjula as with many households a photo, is placed in the hall (lounge/living room) when people die. For the first year we’d place flowers around her every month, with a special Pooja on her annual death anniversary. This all part of a series of rituals to help her soul spirit find another body and be reincarnated into her next life.

Tanuja at Manjula’s second death anniversary.

In our house there’s a main photo of MAnjula in each of our two lounges. Fact is there are photos of her everywhere. My son thinks The whole house is becoming a shrine.

Sowbaghya who did all the preparation, cooking, decoration for each of Manjula’s death anniversaries.

Now after two years I’ve decorated her like a Christmas tree with lights all around her.

Sometimes she’ll get a little extra treatment with red or yellow dots and we’ll do a little Pooja. It’s essentially a prayer with a request to god.

We’re flexi here.

Her pic is also found on the tree out the front of our house, T-shirt’s and masks her no 1 place is in my heart.

For me it’s especially important to acknowledge our being together and celebrate Manjula as many didn’t know about our relationship.


That will feature in our story.

New beginnings are disguised as painful ends

It’s late at night and the page is blank so I turn to Laozi and Pooh bear.

Actually that’s not true. I turn to you…… to help me get the ball rolling, to create and share my and Manjula’s story. It’s the age old writer’s conundrum. As you see I have a pile of full notebooks but how to get the blank page filled to begin to start the actual story. Can you help?

If you know Manjula and I or even if you don’t 🙃 what’s the key ingredients of our story that might interest you or a wider audience. What are the main themes that will interest people?

The eleventh day

Fresh from the Pooja

We travelled to the 11th day pooja. Held by Manjula’s brother in the village maybe four hours drive away

I’ve already relayed some of the sensitivities when we met to plan this Pooja. Here. They’ve shifted the day so our closest Indian friends Tanuja, Satish and Vasanth aren’t able to come, bugger. To support me I do however have Tom and Amy, and two other friends Steven (thanks for the photos) from Australia and Imran, who was going to prove to be a godsend, as he’s the only one to really understand and be able to interpret!

The Pooja or ritualistic prayer is mostly a request. The 11th day Pooja is part of the process of helping Manjula’s spirit be released from her body and the here and now. This helps her break away and start her new life in a new form or maybe hang around a bit!

As we arrive the cooking of curries (plenty of meat) and rolling of the Ragi balls is being completed.

We’re ready to rebuff any attempt to try hang on to her jewellery. Within minutes they’re asking for it to be left here until the morning. As agreed I’ll be taking it with me immediately after the Pooja.

Raju, Manjula’s brother is having his head shaved. I’d floated the idea of me being shaved but this was dismissed out of hand by my Hindu advisors Tanu, Satish and Vasanth.

Together with anyone else wishing to express an opinion, there was a clear consensus. It would be toooo complicated. A sort of Indian open house has spoken. (Everyone has an opinion about everything, of course)

Manjula’s photo was the centrepiece she was garlanded and then surrounded by offerings. Of things she liked, maybe.

I placed my garland, her Mangal

Sutra and ankle chains on her photo.

We took it in turns to do twirls with the incense and fire.

It’s obviously an important ritual for a Hindu. It’s also an essential part of bringing communities together.

As one of our party said. There were two people there with tearful red eyes. Manjulas cousin also called Manjula who you can see in a couple of photos here and her brother, Raju. Otherwise it seemed like Manjula was just a quiet voice almost incidental to the whole thing.

On reflection

We now have a clear view of what would have been Manjula’s life if we hadn’t met and fell in love.

She was brought up in the Bamboo bazar slum in Mysore so not a village but most definitely this level of poverty

But it’s not the living conditions or the poverty that seems the greatest challenge but the harshness of some of the people. the sister-in-laws branch of the family are astonishingly direct and focussed on money, Manjula doesn’t really seem to figure

It was time to go

Relatives were asking for Imran’s cell no in case they needed help ie money and so they could make a call if anyone was in hospital or otherwise needed help.

We’ve done our bit and it’s time to go and now realise how hard it was for Manjula and how she’d escaped this life and blossomed in her new one from nine years ago.

Happy Ganesha Chaturthi

Happy Ganesha Chaturthi

Vakra-Tunndda Maha-Kaaya SuuryaKotti Samaprabha

Nirvighnam Kuru Me Deva Sarva-Kaaryessu Sarvadaa

O Lord Ganesha, of the curved trunk, large body and with the brilliance of a million suns please make all my works free of obstacles, always.

So the big event has arrived. Today is the day. Boys in groups of ever increasing size have been touring the area, for what seems to be weeks, knocking on doors asking for donations to build their shrines.

The traditional potters street in Mysore (see below) sell the many varieties of the terracotta Ganesha. Others sell them on street corners throughout the city.

Our good friend Rob Thomas has taken some great photos of them for sale in Mumbai. I must say that the one’s in Mumbai look great, (maybe its Rob’s photography) they are beautifully painted.

The older boys and men build temporary shelters, with completely over the top decorations, lights leading up the road, colourful Ganeshas and music blasting out of speakers. Its great fun.

It’s not a particularly ancient festival in its current form as it was popularised by a chap called Lokamanya Tilak (there’s a back story there about fighting the British colonials and the development of Hinduvstan) in Mumbai in the late 19th Century.

P1150273So here at home Ganesh is installed in our Pooja Room. We choose to have the simple version with no or natural paints NOT the Plaster of Paris version with paints that damages the environment.

There are a set series of days, with a few different options (this is India) we’re supposed to keep him at home and then immerse him in water. We usually go the ‘whole hog’ and immerse him in the river Kaveri on Srirangaptnam at Paschimavahini (featured on our world famous cycle tours) in five days. This year we’ll delay the immersion to coincide with the arrival of Alex , my niece from the UK and on her second day we’ll give her a ‘right-old’ introduction to India 😉

Our Pooja Room also has a much larger Ganesh, bought cheaply after the festival had ended a few years ago. He was bought to go in the roof garden but he just hangs out here! that’s cool!




It’s all action

It’s happening at Moksha (meaning salvation) Manor.

They have a saying here in India that there are seven days in a week but eight religious days. Well, I reckon it might be true.



Today is Gowri Habba or Gowri Ganesh or Swarna Gowri Vratam! (Remember in India there is NEVER just one way of doing or saying or understanding things.) It’s the festival day dedicated to Goddess Gowri a form of Goddess Parvati (aka Ganesh’s mother) who on this day visits her devotees. It’s especially important for the ladies. Married women will wish for a happy and peaceful married life, the unmarried will look to get a good husband.

Manjula and I wish you all a Happy Gowri Ganesha

Lucy is objecting to being on the chain, the girls are really active, Manjula is doing Pooja with Ganesh but really Gowri and if you look closely you can just see her in the bottom left. I’ve enlarged it above. The silver containers are posh and new and hold the Sindoor (red vermillion) and Haldi (Tumeric yellow)

It’s the day before one of our most important festivals in Mysore (it’s REALLY REALLY big in Mumbai and pretty big here) Ganesh Chaturthi. Ganesh arrives tomorrow. He’s actually already here  but maybe that’s just the English way.

More later…..

It could be anywhere!

Could it?

We’re on Srirangapatanam at Satish’s house to join them for Pooja on his mother’s death anniversary.

It’s the usual laid-back affair. No particular timetable. We turn up to find a gathering of women in the hall (lounge). Children careering around in and out of the house. Three men: Satish, his brother in law and me.

There’s offerings in one corner and garlands on the family photos. Manjula and I eat next followed by the kids and finally the ladies who’ve been preparing it all and Satish. (It’s usual for hosts and those that have prepared the meal, to eat last)

I begin to wonder out loud whether it’s in India or UK that we have the bigger meals. I mean volume not calories, although that could also be interesting, of course.  I reckon that the meals are bigger here. Maybe that’s a future photographic project.

Poor Satish, who seems to be first mate on our rickety ship, has to put up with me bending his ear about my wishes for the next year….. More of those projects later! I wonder, does he realise I sort of throw out loads of ideas and that only some of them see the light of day. 🙂

I realise there’s an interesting conversation going on between the women. Of course I’m bordering on being completely hopeless in the language stakes so will have to wait till later for my debrief.

It works out it was about Manjula. Well this is the bit of the conversations and jokes I’m allowed to hear about! Crikey she’s either holding forth about her travels or intriguing them in other ways. Well they were talking about their size (big) and reflecting on their lifestyles, children, one or two hours sleep in the afternoon, and how trim Manjula was. It seems they all wanted to be like her. Could it be a conversation anywhere in the world between women or men for that matter?


They being Village women and she being a city gal it was Quite the opposite to what I expected. There’s a sort of joke doing the rounds. Village women wanting to put on weight to look like richer city women and city women wanting to look more like the thinner country girls.

Is the grass always greener on the other side?