Tithi hotels

A new and fairly lucrative business has developed in Bangalore over the last 10-15 years or so. An uncle of mine likes to call them “tithi hotels”. They are basically institutions that undertake contracts to help you perform the annual death ceremonies of dead ancestors (according to Hindu tradition, you are supposed to remember the dead on their death anniversary every year by performing a set of ceremonies. In kannada it’s called “tithi”) .

So conducting a tithi is fairly painful business, but until these tithi hotels came up, it was all supposed to be done at home. One had to get cooks, for there are restrictions on what can and cannot be cooked for such ceremonies. And then, one has to find a priest, and two “brahmins” who are supposed to be fed. And it’s a fairly messy affair and dirties up the house, and to put it mildly, not very pleasant.

These tithi hotels offer all these services under one roof. They arrange for the priests and the “brahmins” and the food, which is prepared according to exacting standards. And they provide a venue for you to conduct the tithi, and they even arrange for crows and cows to whom you feed the “pinDa”.

While doing my father’s tithi earlier today, I noticed some stuff I hadn’t really noticed today. So the two “brahmins” I spoke about – one is supposed to represent god and the other represents your dead ancestors, if I get it right. The former is “worshipped” wearing the sacred thread the right way, with rice, and doing things clockwise whenever there is circular motion involved. To “worship” the latter you wear the sacred thread the wrong way (right shoulder to left waist), use black sesame seeds, and performing all circular motions anti-clockwise.

My cousin, who is married into a family of priests, reliably informs me that several of her relatives make a living out of being “brahmins” at such ceremonies, where they take on the role of “god” and someone’s ancestors interchangeably, and collect a nominal fee (I think the tithi hotel I go to pays the brahmins 250 bucks a sitting) and a lunch heavy enough to last them the day. In fact, at my mother’s tithi last year one of the brahmins was an auto-driver, and he had taken a break from his driving duties to play god and collect his fee and lunch.

This business of tithi hotels is only bound to grow, since the population is increasing, which also means that the population of dead immediate ancestors is increasing. And I think the rate of growth of population is faster than the rate of growth of various forms of atheism, so this seems like a good business to be in. Actually this business has undergone some changes in the last 20 odd years.

Earlier, there used to be some large-scale tithi hotels, where they would do several tithis on the same premises, with priests and brahmins jumping from one to other and multitasking to cater ┬áto a large number of clients. As you would expect, these places knew little about concepts such as hygiene (I’ve been to and conducted tithis in places like these, and haven’t understood at all the “cleanliness” (maDi) that is supposed to be associated with religious brahmins). But they think commercial and exploit economies of scale to provide tithi services at a reasonable cost.

Of late, these have been supplemented by “standalone” tithi hotels, which do only one tithi per day, thus ensuring greater cleanliness (though tithis continue to be messy affairs) and privacy, and allows you to invite a larger number of relatives to the tithi. Oh, and the one that I go to (twice a year, once each for my father’s and mother’s tithis) does serve up a damn good lunch.

Oh, and I don’t get this, but every tithi hotel I’ve been to has been largely staffed with Gults. Wonder why.

Shivarathri

Today is Shivarathri. It is a holiday for the National Stock Exchange, which has made it an optional holiday for us (there are 10 such days of which we can choose 3). And I’ve chosen to exercise this option today. Sitting at home and battling internal demons. And saying goodbye to winter.

My mother says that the fact that it has become considerably hotter today points to the greatness of God. “It is ordained that on the day of Shivarathri, winter will cry ‘shiva shiva’ and run away, and that it has suddenly become hot today is an indication that God still makes nature obey ‘the laws’ “.

I agree with her argument but not with her conclusion. I say that the fact that winter seems to be on its way out today, on the day of Shivarathri, points to the greatness of the people who made our calendar. That they managed to study the stars accurately, and came up with a sustainable forecast regarding the closing date for winter that is valid even thousands of years hence is a good indication of how brilliant they were.

Like that coffee bite argument used to say, the argument continues.

Today being Shivarathri also means that it should be a night dedicated to the lingam – the most commonly worshipped form of Shiva. I wonder how many people are currently looking at their hands and thinking of a form of Vishnu that is worshipped in Puri.

This morning, my neighbour went to a nearby Shiva temple, to take part in something like “linga abhishekam”. She took along a mixture of milk, ganga jal (water from the Ganga; not H2SO4 of Bhagalpur) and sugar to do the pooja. Later on, my mother was on the phone with her sister, and after a long philosophical discussion they concluded that women doing the “linga abhishekam” is not part of South Indian Brahmin culture.