The Hindu community in Leeds recently organised a special puja known as ‘Ashlesha Bali,’ at the Leeds Hindu Mandir. The ritual is a popular tradition in the coastal regions of the Indian state of Karnataka.
iGlobal spoke to one of the event organisers to learn more about the puja and its importance in the community.
“It was the first time in Leeds that this puja was done,” says Narhari Joshi, who is also the director of Rangoli Radio, an internet-based radio station specifically aimed at the Hindu diaspora.
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The occasion, which saw over 280 attendees, offered some spectacular scenes and was not only a nostalgic experience for those who had witnessed the puja back home but also interesting for the younger attendees who were seeing it for the first time.
The puja consists of a large serpent-shaped mandala, approximately 6ft to 10ft in size, being drawn on the floor, with diyas (lamps) lit around it. The mandala consists of 80 smaller squares which represent the various serpent gods. Appam will be offered within each of these squares, representing the ‘bali’ (sacrifice) to appease the serpent gods. The main event was followed by the customary serving of Mahaprasad (offering), a special meal served on a fresh banana leaf to all attendees – a southern Indian tradition which no doubt refreshed the memories of home for many.
Joshi talked about the importance of “experience” in cultural and traditional events. He explains that while parents and the community try to introduce as much significance of festivals and religious events as possible, it is not the same until the children see it live for themselves. Owing to this effort, the organisers also went into great trouble to make sure everything the priest said during the puja was translated into English to facilitate the children’s understanding further.
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Joshi said there was an “overwhelming community interest” when they first announced the puja. Due to such continual support from the community in Leeds, they were able to arrange various cultural and religious events for the fifth year running, barring the pandemic.
The puja was conducted by Shri Raveendra Bhat, the chief priest at a UK branch of the Puthige Math, established by the ancient Indian scholar Madhvacharya. The Math, originally based in Udupi, India, has chapters across the world and strives to keep the cultural and religious aspects of the Hindu teachings thriving outside of India.