I may not have said this yet, so it’s worth saying: I’m a very fortunate man. I can hear you now: “You must have evidence, sir, for you are a scholar and scholars must have evidence!”
Well, the American Academy of Religion saw fit to fulfill one of my scholarly ambitions this year, and it funded my return to Bangalore, India. This time, I visited in October so that I could observe Ayudha Puja, a ritual celebration generally translated as “rite of the implements” or “worship of the machines.” Ayudha Puja has a long history in South India (and is related to a festival celebrated in North India), but scholars have strangely neglected to investigate it. I did some interviews about it in 2012-13 (to be engaged in my forthcoming book) and my collaborator was present for it in October of 2012 (to be engaged in his), but we both had more work to do. So, we met in Bangalore this year to see the festival celebrated at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), India’s finest scientific research institution.
In addition, I brought Laisett, my Travel Fish. As an explorer, world traveler, and aficionado of the world’s wonders, she wears an Obscura Society pin on one fin. You can frequently find her sitting on the podium when I give lectures and public talks.
Buildings are decorated with kolam, banana leaves, and mango leaves. Outside one building on campus, Laisett takes a moment to rest next to the kolam drawn at the entrance.
Machines are decorated with lemons, flowers, and tilak (the horizontal white lines, some with a red dot in the middle of the middle line, that you see drawn on the tools, the desk, etc.). Here, we see see various cleaning tools honored in the lobby of the Centenary Visitors House, where I stayed on campus.
On the wall above the desk-turned-altar, you’ll see a divine image–some departments had just one (Saraswati, the goddess of learning, or Durga, the goddess of victory, who is celebrated for nine days prior to Ayudha Puja) and others had more than one, including Ganesha, for example. Whatever gods or goddesses are present get honored by a priest who attends the festival to recite mantras to the divine. Afterward, sweets are distributed to the attendees. I started feeling guilty accumulating more and more as the day wore on!
Naturally, Laisett enjoyed the festivities also, and shared her gratitude for the tools that make our lives possible (next year, she might need to honor knitting needles as a special thank you!).
As soon as my collaborator and I publish our research on Ayudha Puja, I’ll note it here on the blog. The same is true for our respective books, which will engage some other matters. Laisett and I may never again be lucky enough to visit Ayudha Puja in India, but I hope that other scholars will follow in our footsteps and add to the world’s understanding of the festival!