The other day, Pushpa Singh’s living room in Vasundhara Valley Apartment Society, near east Delhi’s Anand Vihar, was turned into a makeshift temple. She and her husband, Kshetra Pal, were hosting Ramayan Paath, a continuous reading session of Ramcharitmanas, a Hindu epic on Lord Rama.
Written in Avdhi, a Hindi-language dialect, it was composed by the 16th century saint-poet, Tulsi Das.
Living in a gated residential complex, the 63-year-old bridge champion sent telephone invites to friends, neighbours and also to the security guards of her ‘apartment society’. A priest was hired for a new pair of dhoti, kurta and Rs.101.
The Ramayan Paath is an important event in the Singh’s social calendar. Her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter had come the day before. Her niece arrived from Aligarh. The reading lasts for 24 hours.
On the first day, Singh woke up at 4 am and supervised the cleaning of the entire house. The sofas and the coffee table in the living room were moved into her husband’s study. The satellite radio was shoved into the guestroom cupboard. The widescreen LCD television was shifted to the bedroom. The marble floor was filled with mattresses. The bronze statues of Lord Ram and his wife Sita were dressed in silk and installed on a wooden plank. A Christmas tree, decorated with Chinese lamps, was placed beside the idols.
“Christmas tree is for the show,” said Singh. “You need some decorations around the Gods.” The statues were also decked up with banana leaves, rice grains, tulsi plant, marigold flowers and other holy knick-knacks. Assembling them together was no easy task but Singh is an expert in all this. It has been 20 years, since she started annually hosting the Ramayan Paath. “It’s a matter of my feelings. I feel satisfied.”
Since she had 15 copies of the epic, Singh did not arrange for more books. Except during the night, the ‘temple’ remained moderately crowded. “Mrs Garg came; so did Negi Saheb and Tyagji,” says Singh, “Shuklaji’s wife, too, marked her presence, and Sunita had come with children.”
During these 24 hours, Singh slept for only two hours. “I had to make sure that the guests were served tea. And I also had to read.”
In the Paath, the legend of Ram — an obedient son, a faithful husband, a kind king and a nemesis to evil — is recited in a sing-song tune. “Besides its social message,” said Singh’s husband, “Ramayan Paath gives you peace.” During the reading, Tribuhavn, Singh’s son-in-law, provided a break by singing a devotional number that had references both to the Hindu and Muslim God: Ek tu hi bharosa, ek tu hi sahaara, Is tere jahan mein nahin koi hamaara, Eeshwar ya Allah, yeh pukaar sun le. [You are our only trust, you are our only support, We have no one in your world, O Eeshwar, or Allah, hear our call.]
Everyone clapped, including Singh’s 10-year-old grand-daughter, Paridhi. “But I can’t understand when they read from the book,” she says. “I don’t understand the Hindi of Ramayan Paath.”