The Havan

No, I didn’t misspell it.  The havan is a traditional Vedic fire purification ceremony used, in this case, for healing and dedication.  Sometimes, in the past, I’ve been teased for my excitement about rituals.  I’ve participated in native sweat ceremonies, gone to Medicine Wheels, Tibetan healing rituals, chakra balancing workshops and the like.

When I was younger, I was always in church.  At least that’s how it felt.  And the parts that felt real and alive to me were the sacraments, namely, in the Presbyterian Church, communion.  I loved reciting the age-old prayers and feeling the bitter nip of the sip of wine on my tongue.  I loved the period of silence after taking the wine, in which you silently ask God to purify your heart and give thanks for what he is to you.

So I was excited to perform this Hindu ritual, even though, as one of my friends would definitely point out, we are not in India, nor are we Hindu.  I think the fact that both our teachers, Shanti and Atma, were raised in ashrams for most of their lives, gives them credibility.  Shanti’s guru for a time was Swami Satyananda, a student of Shivananda, in whose lineage many yoga schools have been founded worldwide.

All nine students have by now arrived, from all parts of New Zealand, Sydney, Seattle and Samoa for Teacher Training II and III – 30 days of wonderful togetherness – classes, satsang (discussion), meditation and kirtan (music).

This ritual is meant to cleanse our space and our group and to dedicate the next month to learning and I’m not sure what else – maybe it’s something different for each one of us.  As we chanted 108 rounds of the Maha Mrityamjaya mantra, we threw “offerings” (flower petals, leaves, incense, ghee and honey) onto the fire.  Shanti is not much given to ascribing deep meaning to anything, which is a bit ironic, but he did mention that we could dedicate the offerings and the mantra toward anyone or anything that came to mind.

There were no immediate effects of the havan – we all moved directly on to a two-hour asana practice.  But it left me feeling a certainty that this month, which will hold so much, has officially begun.  And maybe that’s enough.  We don’t have many tradition-steeped practices left that haven’t been commercialized to the core.  And I think we all, deep down, long for authentic observances to commemorate events in our lives, linking us to a lineage of some sort, reminding us that we’re just a small part of a much bigger picture.

To quote E.G. – “This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love


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