For many of us, our grandparents have played an important role in our lives. They were the gentle guiding hand we needed when we were lost, the partner in crime when mom or dad were angry, and the nurturing lap when the day was overwhelming. The shadow of a grandparent is said to be one of the best things a child can have growing up.
As a toddler, I was extremely close to my maternal grandmother or nani and have a few vivid memories of her. Since I was a little too young to remember, I’m pretty sure these memories are just my own iterations of stories I’ve heard from my mom. My nani was a fairly religious person and I personally think that with everything she endured in her lifetime, the belief in a higher spiritual power was her way of finding inner strength and resilience.
She believed hard work and prayer went hand in hand, and often visited big temples and believed in the wonders of a multitude of gods and goddesses. Religion was her way of finding peace and tranquillity in a chaotic environment. In her own home, she had a tiny, white, marble mandir or temple placed on a small stool, just beside a single bed. It was kept in a corner of a small room and was filled with even tinier idols placed for worship.
Her frail, wrinkled hands followed the same ritual each day of cleaning the mandir, reciting dedicated prayer and placing a mix of white sugar balls also known as prasad dana, batasha; small white discs made using sugar and jaggery and mishri or sweet sugar diamonds as prasad or offering to the gods. The prasad was kept meticulously on a small steel plate, in front of the idols, beside a lit diya and agarbatti (incense stick). I’m unsure if she ever used the little ghanti or bell kept in the mandir, but it was always there.
As a toddler, I apparently took a lot of prasad that was kept for the gods, specifically the prasad dana, and given my current preference for the same, I assume this tale is true. After each puja, I would go up to the mandir, take a handful and devour them. A child’s innocence you could say, who knows nothing of idol worship or the concept of a deity, just shares a liking for the same sweet treats that the gods do.
As my innocent crimes became a ritual too, nani started keeping extra prasad along with tiny steel utensils like plates and spoons (so that I could help myself) since she knew my intentions and couldn’t do much to stop them. She didn’t want to offend her gods but she also didn’t want to take these small pleasures of life away from me.
My crimes were like clockwork, the moment she got done with her prayer, I would walk/crawl up to the mandir which was apparently at a height that I could easily reach. I picked out prasad dana of various sizes, sat in a corner with a fistful and savoured them to my heart’s content. I’m unsure if these sugar balls were made at home during the time or were store-bought but they were delicious regardless.
Prasad has immense significance in the Hindu religion and symbolises dedication and faith toward god. When someone is okay with their prasad offering being tampered with, it shows deep care and affection that transcends the connection between the divine and the devotee. In this case, the act of keeping a little extra prasad in her place of worship, reflected my grandmother’s love for me, that in some ways, exceeded her reverence for her god.
Looking back at these memories of simpler times, I can’t help but think of how these little experiences shape us. Even today, in a bowl full of prasad, my first choice is the prasad daana, almost like an instinct. And although nani passed away when I was still young, her presence is still felt in my life each time I find myself opening a packet of the sweet prasad daana.