Bovine blessings

Thursday 28/12/17: Today’s a big day for my wee Tika, our family’s sweet little calf. She was born shortly after we arrived and today is her official naming ceremony. I don’t think anyone would be too impressed if I confessed that I’d already taken care of her name so I keep quiet. Her new name isn’t too different anyway; she’s to be called Taari, which means star. I can probably keep calling her Tika regardless as I don’t imagine she’ll tell anyone.

Grandfather and I struggle up the steep steps to the barn, laden with the necessary religious paraphernalia. We are carrying two trays: one is filled with dry rice and a few pods of sweet peas while the other is overflowing with flowers. We also have a candle, a brass bowl with water, a small pot of glowing charcoals, and some other bits and pieces that I can’t identify. This might seem like a lot of effort but cows are considered sacred in Nepal and are revered for their life-sustaining milk which supplements the basic diet. Lord Krishna, the big cheese of Hindu gods, is also known as Govinda or Gopala which means “friend and protector of cows”. Cows are a big deal here.

Our mini herd of two and a half are enjoying the cool morning sunlight as we hunker down in the warm barn. Only a couple of years ago, this was my host family’s own traditional Nepalese home but it’s now a luxurious cowshed and smells sweetly of dung and straw. I love it. I’ve always had a weird penchant for the smell of cow or horse manure (I did say it was weird) and I’d like to snuggle up in the hay here and while away a day sometime.

Grandfather sits on the dusty floor and lays everything out in front of him. He chants some mantras and performs the puja, a prayer ritual offering light, incense, flowers and food to the gods. I obviously can’t interrupt to ask questions so I just sit quietly while he chants and carries out a sequence of very mystical looking actions. The cows moo solemnly outside as he lights a candle wick that sits in a mini Aladdin’s lamp. He then drips liquid over the flowers making careful circular movements. He wafts the smoke from the charcoal over the flowers and with the smoke, the smells and the incantations, I feel slightly light-headed. After a couple of minutes, he stands and takes the tray outside where he applies a blessing from the mix to the cows’ foreheads then bows to meet their head against his.He beckons at this point for me to come closer so I copy him by bending down to put my forehead against Tika. She keeps butting her head at me so it’s surprisingly difficult. I look up to see grandfather bewilderedly smiling down at me, his hand in the gesture of a camera. I awkwardly stand up and take a few quick photos to hide my embarrassment.The official blessing now complete, he applies the same sticky mix to my forehead and hands me a pod of sweet peas and 10 rupees. I stuff them in my pocket and we walk back down the steps together. I feel privileged to have witnessed Tika’s, sorry Taari’s, big day.

I spend the day with the sweet peas in my pocket until I remember to ask Rachana later that night. She tells me that food is often sacrificed and after the prayers is known as Prasad which should be eaten by everyone present. Stuffing it into my pocket probably wasn’t ideal but I’m not going to turn down a blessing so I hastily eat the squished, pocket-warm peas and try to think good thoughts. Namaste, little Tika/Taari.

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