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Our rituals and traditions seem common and make us feel comfortable.
The rituals and traditions of others can seem odd and make us uncomfortable.
As Flex Films celebrated its $180 million investment in a new manufacturing site that eventually will create 250 jobs in Elizabethtown, the first hour was devoted to a Hindu ritual.
Flex Films’ parent company UFLEX Ltd., a global firm selling the flexible packaging materials it manufactures in more than 100 countries, is based in India. The ceremony, called bhoomi poojan, is a traditional ground blessing conducted with strict compliance to ancient Indian science regarding structures and architecture.
It lasted about an hour and that’s about all it has in common with your everyday Kentucky worship service.
In the midst of the tent where Friday’s ceremony occurred, a carpet had been spread over the earthen construction site inside a square pit carved out four steps down from ground level. After participants removed their shoes, each one sat with legs crossed on white couch cushions arranged in angled rows.
A Hindu priest spoke in a rhythmic and repetitive pattern of unfamiliar phrases in a method reminiscent of an auctioneer’s chant. He occasionally lapsed into brief spurts of English to coach newcomers regarding statements to repeat or actions required.
Incense and candles burned throughout and eventually the priest set a fire. At various times, the participants handled ceremonial metal vessels, flowers, seeds, fruit, milk and tiny pastries.
And all the time, the priest continued his chants. Near the end, his pace accelerated as the phrases were shared in a song-like manner with accompanying claps.
Eventually, attention was directed to a smaller, deeper hole dead center in the pit where the ceremony was staged. The blessings now completed, some of the water, flowers, fruit were poured in.
In groundbreaking ceremonies common in this area, a number of officials carry their decorative, shiny shovels to turn a tiny amount of dirt. In this ground blessing, a single shovel was shared by several participants who tossed black dirt into the center pit.
If it sounds confusing, it’s because my description lacks cultural understanding.
A little research discovers that the vedic was seeking forgiveness and blessings based on a 64-part diagram in which each segment denotes a different deity. The fire destroyed a straw effigy representing energy existing on the building site.
The grand design honors Mother Earth and apologizes for disturbing the ground while invoking blessings to ensure success. He calls upon the ever-changing Aham of universe, earth and sun, and the constants of Om representing oceans and space. The ceremony requires a lead role from the senior male member of the work crew and is staged on the structure’s northeast corner, which is considered the direction of purity.
While it all seemed complex to a novice observer, several reference sources refer to the bhoomi poojan as a relatively simple ceremony. Apparently, if you are familiar with tradition, it’s not so odd after all.
Trying to make sense of it, a memory from another religious experience came to mind. While living in north Alabama, my family attended a church that also housed a Hispanic ministry serving laborers commonly employed in the cotton industry.
During one congregational meal, the Spanish-speaking preacher was asked to say grace. As you might expect, his entire prayer was offered in Spanish.
I happened to be standing behind a couple teenage boys who poked each other and tried to suppress occasional snickers during the prayer.
Following the amen, I overheard one of the boys laughingly declare: “I didn’t understand a thing he said!”
For once, my smart-aleck nature seemed divinely inspired. Leaning forward to interject into their conversation, I said: “That’s because he wasn’t talking to you.”
And that applies here. It’s not important if the listeners understand. Like a Christian’s prayer, this Hindu building dedication was not designed for mortal ears.
Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or firstname.lastname@example.org.