Posted by Amrit Raj Sastry, Bhuvaneshwar, Odisha
“I need to prepare for the marriage, house warming and sacred thread ceremony, shanti homa (peace ritual) and in return receive dakshina of a few thousands” – were thoughts that hovered in Rabi Nana’s mind before he slept on the night of 12th March, 2020.
Rabi Nana is a priest at the Maa Dakhin Kali temple, Gajapatinagar, Bhubaneswar. It is a cluster of temples of Hindu Gods and Goddesses and the main deity is Maa Dakhinkali. The temple accommodates a group of priests who perform rituals for different temples in the cluster and Rabi Nana is one of them.
Every day, before dawn Rabi Nana would complete his ablutions and get into the Divine Mother’s rituals. He would adorn the deity with various flowers, different dresses, recite hymns and take the offering of the devotees to the Divine Mother.
Rabi Nana was counting days as the first event was supposed to take place on 18th March. Little did he realise that an unseen foe was waiting to play mischief on earth.
On the evening of 15th March, at around 7 pm a news came flashing on all news channels of television and radio that the government may declare a lockdown. Lockdown was something new and out of Rabi Nana’s imagination. He took it as news only. In his mind, he was an optimist and made plans for the series of upcoming ceremonies. He took out religious texts and scriptures for the events from the trunk placed in his room. Rabi Nana began making calls from his mobile, asking and placing order from the shops to deliver puja paraphernalia for the occasions. The list included vermillion, turmeric, sacred wood, ghee, rice, fruits, dry fruits, curd, milk, flowers, sandal wood and much more.
On 16th morning at around 9 am, Rabi Nana gazed at the road adjacent to the boundary wall of the temple. He could hardly see any vehicles plying. He opened the temple gates, stepped out to have a cup of adrak chai (ginger tea). Rabi Nana walked up to the chai stall only to witness PCR vans and cops with thick lathis closing all shops and dispersing crowds. The sight made the priest uncanny. Meanwhile, the shopkeeper called and told him that the puja items will be available only after 31st March. His mind was now clouded with negativity, anxiety and confusion.
The much awaited 31st March came, but with the news that the lockdown had been extended for a month. This added to Rabi Nana’s tension and gloom. Thoughts and images of his spouse, children and parents lingered in his mind. The inability to go back to his home town due to lockdown made Rabi Nana restless. He felt helpless and called the Almighty to show him the way. The main thought that haunted Rabi Nana was the sustenance of self and family without his regular earning.
Still keeping aside his worries, Rabi Nana would get up in the morning and go about with the daily activities of the temple. But with no devotees, visitors or puja ceremonies, he remained sad deep within. Thanks to his mobile, he was at least connected to his family.
There was a struggle in day to day affairs of the temple with supply of bare essentials coming to an end. A time came, when the priest had just countable morsels left. Rabi Nana wept bitterly. With eyes closed, he prayed to the Goddess. In the process, he got a spark of realisation that when we pray from within, our sincere prayers are always heard and answered.
The temple had a godown where the offering of devotees and temple land yield was kept for making delicacies for the deity. This stock now helped the locked down priests sustain themselves. Money was spent judiciously. Earlier Rabi Nana went for a walk daily and consumed a cup of tea and mitha paan costing Rupees 15. This was now on hold. He had 1500/- left to meet his basic needs and any emergency. The days of struggle and darkness, and being cut off from the illusions of the world helped Rabi Nana discover the light within himself. This feeling of being one with the Supreme made Rabi Nana look at life with renewed enthusiasm.
The lockdown kept getting extended. Finally on 30th July, the state Govt. made an announcement of lifting restrictions on travel. A sigh of relief came into Rabi Nana’s worried being and he started for his village. The journey was an anxious one. When he reached his home and got down from the shared auto-rickshaw, his two children came running across the road and hugged Rabi Nana tight, calling “Baba, baba, you have finally come”. Rabi Nana started weeping openly. He still could not fathom how he had managed to survive the lockdown.
All he knew was that the shadows of pandemic strengthened his connect with the Supreme.
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