Today I took our four children to the temple to celebrate Tamil New Year. This was one of our rare visits to a Hindu temple and as I sat praying that my three year old Tercero wouldn’t break, steal or set fire to anything, I wondered what we were doing there. In my teenage years my parents took us to temple every single Friday night. Whilst my friends were getting drunk down at El Rancho in Manuka (Canberrans, you know the place), I was sitting in a small, cold temple, stumbling through Tamil hymns that I didn’t really understand. I didn’t want to be with my friends getting drunk. I actually wanted to be at home watching Beverly Hills 90210. Mostly I just wanted a choice.
Twenty years later, I found myself at the temple again watching my children run around with their cousins, and I felt disconnected from the building and the deities that I don’t visit very often. I felt disconnected from the ethnic community that I no longer know very well. I felt like praying but was distracted by my children stealing the sweets that were meant for God. So I watched the congregation instead: marriages were negotiated and arranged; the HSC scores of young Sri Lankans were compared; rumours were started and scandals exaggerated; births were celebrated and divorces whispered about; Sri Lankan politics were debated and more marriages negotiated. People prayed, they connected with God and with each other. It was a normal day at the temple.
A friend of mine once described herself as a Christmas-Only Christian, and sitting there, I wondered if I might be the Hindu equivalent. It occurred to me that in another twenty years time, none of us would be attending temple, especially if I couldn’t work out what we were doing there in the first place. As I sat there being dramatically disconsolate about the death of culture and community, my grandparents walked in. Tercero ran up to them and offered them a handful of sticky, sweaty sugar candy. They laughed and accepted his gift, recognising him for the little thief that he is. And suddenly I felt connected to something even if it wasn’t the building.
We pray, we believe and we live as Hindus. We just don’t attend much. The children and I are philosophically practising but increasingly culturally lapsed. I think I will continue to take them to temple a few times a year – not out of obligation, but more out of a sense of history and my connection with it rather than the temple or the rituals of worship themselves. I would like the children to learn where their religion and values started thousands of years ago and celebrate that with 100million Tamils around the world. And when they are old enough, they can choose what to do on a Friday night with those values. Dear God, please let them just be watching 90210.
Shankari Chandran is a recent returner to Australia after ten years in London. Formerly a social justice lawyer, Shankari chronicles the day-to-day of her family’s return on her blog here.
Are you a Christmas Christian, Hannukkah Jew and Eid Muslim etc? Do you worship only on special occasions or regularly?