Childhood with my grandfather was serene, magical and enlightening. I remember waking up every morning to the melodious hymns of my saint like grandpa I fondly called ”aata”. On days when the milkman did not show up, I would accompany my aata on short walks to the barn to get some fresh milk while soaking in the sights and sounds of a glorious city at sunrise. He would smile peacefully as he greeted passers-by. Some would touch his feet and aata would bless them in abundance.
I remember running barefoot after him with my bagful of questions and he was always so desirous and well equipped with his elaborate answers. He would teach me the shlokas and explain to me in depth what they meant….a perfect chant from my end would gift me a small cup of sweet yoghurt in a earthen pot or the very popular ”cream mihi dana”. I was a happy child. At times he would humor my insatiable thirst for the knowledge about our roots, history, religion and faith by his unending bank of erudition, poise and wisdom.
On one occasion I had asked him the significance of touching the feet of elders. Aata told me it was a gesture of showing respect. I was given an elaborate discourse on the topic. The primary motive behind this gesture was to bow down and show respect to the elder. The person whose feet are being touched in turn blesses you with long life, fortune and wisdom, as an acknowledgement. I was given scientific explanations as well. The nerves that start from our brain spread across all your body. These nerves or wires end in the fingertips of your hand and feet. When you join the fingertips of your hand to those of their opposite feet, a circuit is immediately formed and the energies of two bodies are connected. Your fingers and palms become the ‘receptor’ of energy and the feet of other person become the ‘giver’ of energy. Usually, the person of whose feet you are touching is either old or pious. When they accept your respect which came from your reduced ego (and is called your shraddha) their hearts emit positive thoughts and energy (which is called their karuna) which reaches you through their hands and toes. Pearls of Wisdom!
It’s Bihu in Assam now, the season of festivities and thanks-giving. Bor Bihu ( 15th January ) marked the birthday of my beloved grandfather, he passed away in 1988. Its a common tradition during Bihu to touch the feet of our elders. Following the family values and tradition I touched the feet of an elderly person at my in-law’s house and was denied a blessing for reasons best known to him. Some say the old man is hugely under the negative influence of his dominating daughter; I beg to differ. Somebody who can think, talk and walk on his own can never be overpowered and stoop to this level. I came home with a heavy heart.
Under such circumstances I question my knowledge and upbringing, was I taught right? I knew the old man had cold feelings for me; should I have then distanced myself from touching his feet and saved myself this pain?
Ofcourse not. The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward. I was taught that the tradition of touching feet in a humble salute is a unification point of Shraddha and Karuna. When you bow down ( Shraddha ) and the elder touches your head with their hand while blessing you ( Karuna ), his spiritual energy/wisdom passes on to you. My family instilled in me values of kindness, generosity, wisdom, self-respect and forgiveness. I shall never forget that I am the better person in this equation.
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
Kent M Keith
Because I was taught right.
Aata : Grandpa
Shlokas: A couplet of Sanskrit verse, especially one in which each line contains 16 syllables
Cream Mihidana: A popular dessert made of gramflour n mixed with fresh cream
Bihu: Festival of Assam
Special thanks to Debashis Malla Deka