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Sacred Space

Neem Flowers & Leaves, for Gudi Padva

This week has been surreal.

I have cried, we have huddled, cleaned, had to remind each other to eat, tried to seek comfort in our threesome. And I have cried some more. I have cooked nothing but Khitchidi each night, so we have something simple and comforting to eat.

I had come home last Monday to find my home and our family altar ransacked – because someone was greedy. Not only was the money gone, or the jewelry taken, or the clothes thrown about, but filthy, greedy, glove-covered hands, defiled our sacred spaces. The picture frame of Devi Amba, from Mt. Abu, my mothers’ patron Goddess, that she purchased for our family altar two years ago from Mt. Abu - was tipped over, as someone looked behind it for money. A Hanuman idol from my great grandparents’ altar had fallen over as they ransacked the altar looking for hidden cash. A little bin that contained a silver Ganesh in my wardrobe that my friends gave me for safe travels when I came to the US was on the bedroom floor, trampled, the contents of the bin scattered all around. Three deities in our inner sanctum were tipped over as thieves rummaged around. My prayer books were scattered on the floor. They dumped out my boxes of fragrant, carefully selected holy supplies on the floor in the study and in the bedroom.

Thieves defiled our inner sanctum, of not just the material spaces that were visible, or the items in them but our spiritual centers as well, the one that resides within us.

Why? because we are different. What does that say to you? How does that make us feel?


This too shall pass, people say. Be strong, they say. And I believe them, because we have no other choice.

What can I do to help, they ask. I am loss for words.

Because our present is marked, tainted, and soiled, and I do not know how to fix it.

Our days are different from everyone else’, it is not “this day” or “that day”, with wine, beer and parties or a quick stop to the church on Sunday to listen to a sermon and walk away with promises to uphold the commandments.

We observe a living culture religion – where we mark every single day, every season, and new beginnings with a token observance, large or small. It may be as simple as watering the Tulsi plant each morning, or lighting a lamp or an incense at dusk, or indulging in formal rituals on more festive days. Each day is festive, some more than others. We celebrate with observances to honor the good spirits that help our days. We send wishes to loved ones, mark our doors with flowers and rangoli, to usher the good. We do all we can, to usher in the good energies, every single day.

And yet, I cant do anything, even today, to observe Gudi Padva, one of the four most important religious days of our calendar. I would have observed by hoisting a 'Gudi' in the doorway, strung garlands of flowers hung on the main door, scouted for leaves of Neem with bunches of its fragrant flowers to commemorate a cleanse, usher a new beginning. But not this year.


A conversation with my mother from earlier this week:

Me: Mom, can you ask Milind Kaka what kind of pooja we need to do to cleanse the house? I will ask the local priest to do it. (Milind Kaka is my late fathers’ first cousin, and the direct bearer of my great great grandfathers’ priestly lineage and high-priest status).

Mom: He said you need to do the ‘Adbhut Arishta Shanti’ pooja and a ‘Nav Chandi Paath’.

Me: Yes, the local priest probably will have to look up how to do it. So far he has not called us back. But where and when will we do it?

Mom: I’ll find out, he has given us some dates, but those won’t work in the American calendar, will it? And yes, it is Gudi Padva on Sunday, be sure to try and make something small for the festive occasion, do a small pooja.

Me: Where? I cannot.

Mom: Why can’t you? Do it at the family altar.

Me: No, mom, nothing remains intact.

We had nothing to share past that moment but silence.

Where do I begin? When do I do this?

I must first expel the bad before I can usher the good. I can indulge in none of the celebrations just yet. Because we must work over the next several weeks to scrape away the lingering reminders of a violation of our sanctity. When hurt and sadness replaces faith because of greed, it contaminates everything.

I cannot quantify the violations on a claims sheet, nor adequately articulate it in a police report. Is there a dollar value to religious or spiritual sentiment for anyone to see the gravity of the hurt?

I cannot pen down our feelings, except share our sentiment with adequate disclaimers. Because in this (ridiculous) time we live in, sharing our feelings is restricted, and cannot be a definitive claim to despair – because we are fearful of what other people read into it – because apparently others must police our emotions and our pain as well.

Apparently, the thieves’ violations are justified, because they are thieves. Our outcry isn’t, because we must remain ‘civil’ and ‘agreeable’.

If I am angry, you know why. If I remain shaken, you know why. If I remain hurt, you know why.

To the authorities, theft is only of material things. But to us, those things and spaces also framed a faith, a belief of all that is sacred, of our spiritual home, of our inner peace and sanctum. To witnesses the desecration and the loss of reverence to all that is sacred in ones’ own home – is an entirely different emotion.

Is there a measure to quantify this loss?


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Nandita Godbole
Once: botanist & landscape architect.
Now: personal chef, author, an artist, graphic designer, blogger, poet & potter!
Always: dreamer.

Loves fresh brewed chai, the crisp salty ocean breeze, watching monsoon rains & walking barefoot through cold mountain streams. 
Believes in the strength, positivity of the human spirit. Is spiritual but not a fanatic. 
Mom of one. Two, if she counts her husband.

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