See why so many women and children are lying in the streets of India for this controversial ritual. The ritual of Dondi near Kolkata, India can look pretty startling to those who are not familiar with the process. It’s a very ancient tradition that’s meant to ask for the blessing of the Hindu goddess Shitala and give thanks to her.
The experience is very intense. Everyone participating begins by going into the Holy Ganges River. When they emerge they lie face down on the pavement along the path that leads to the temple of Shitala (Shitala Devi Mandir). Then they get up, walk a few feet, and lie face down again.
This process is repeated down the mile long road to the temple, complete with high traffic areas in some places. Dondi always takes place in April when it’s usually very hot in India. The city normally has to arrange for the road to be sprayed down with water beforehand so that those performing the ritual don’t get burned from the hot asphalt.
The juxtaposition of hot asphalt and cool water is a way of honoring Shitala in and of itself. Shitala is known as “the one who cools” and it’s believed she cures children of burning fevers and bestows fertility on women who are trying to conceive. This is why so many mothers and children perform the ritual of Dondi together. They’re giving thanks to Shitala for the existence of the children.
The whole ordeal culminates with a fire ritual when the participants reach the temple at the end. Again, this is something that can be difficult for foreigners, particularly westerners, to watch. It’s hard to understand why these Hindus choose to put themselves through such an intense and painful ritual.
While true, the label ‘Indian‘ is very misleading in itself. India is much more complicated and diverse than most people realize. Not just two different states, but people from two different cities are different from each other. In terms of diversity, India is like a mini-Europe. That is why you will find a huge number of people performing very different rituals, and an equally high number of people not giving a shit about them. As for Hinduism, it is not at all prescriptive. Religion doesn’t force them to perform anything. It is more of tradition than religion. Mockery is easy. It is an act of cowardice, performed in the knowledge that there’ll always be people to back you up. Try instead to understand other people. It will teach you the acceptance you never knew you were capable of.
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Credit: Molly Fosco & seekernetwork.com
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