Recently I had the amazing experience of participating in a havan with the artisans of the Nirman cooperative. Havan is an ancient method of worshiping through the use of sacred fire, symbolizing Agni, the god of fire. Nirman collective performed this ritual in their workshop as part of their observance of the Hindu holiday Dussehra.
This was the first time I had attended a havan, and I found it totally fascinating. The fire was in a vessel, called the havan kund, which was placed on three bricks. Cotton, twigs and ghee, clairified butter, served as fuel. Plates of fruit, sweets and powders, including turmeric and red kumkum, surrounded the fire on three sides. On the fourth side was a picture of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, wisdom and courage. The women chanted the Gayatri Mantra and took turns throwing combinations of nuts, grains, and seeds into the fire. The fire is believed to purify any evil in or around the worshippers. The materials placed in the fire are also prayers, and the fire is the medium which takes these messages to the deity – in this case, the goddess. After over 40 minutes of chanting, the artisans took turns moving a tray with a lighted lamp in circular motions over the fire. What was so wonderful to see was that all the women, whatever their faith, be it Muslim, Hindu or Christian, participated in every step of the ritual.
At the end pedas, special fudge-like sweets flavored with cardamom, were distributed after which we all joined together to enjoy a sumptuous lunch. Havan is usually performed in individual homes and looking around at the faces of the women, I could tell looking that they were one family.
By Pushpika Freitas