New York, Nov 22: Indo-Caribbean Hindus observed the annual festival of teerat (also known as kartik purnima or kartik snaan) by fasting and performing special prayers on Thursday morning on the coast of waterways or at home. In fact, over the last week, people have been celebrating kartik at various locations in the Caribbean and in NY. Many visited the shoreline in New York Thursday morning and last Sunday performing special puja. Tens of thousands flocked to the beaches in Guyana, Surinam, and Trinidad for special prayers Thursday; in Trinidad, thousands also went to the shoreline. America Kartik coincides with Thanksgiving this year, a holiday. In India, it is also a weekend holiday.
Teerat or kartik was introduced in the Caribbean by Indian indentured labourers since 1838. It was introduced in the USA (New York, Florida, elsewhere) by Indo-Caribbeans who settle in these locations since the 1970s. In Trinidad, the observance is carried out at all sea fronts throughout the country and on the banks of the river. In Manzanilla, it is a sight to behold; Hindu schools are closed and students and staff flock to the beaches and rivers to perform puja and enjoy a day of activities. And in Guyana and Surinam, devotees flock to the coast or riverbanks to conduct puja.
Teerat is celebrated on the last day in the month of Kartik in the Hindu calendar and is normally celebrated with a bath in the ocean or river. The month normally falls in November in the western calendar and the day usually coincides with the full moon. Some people call it Kartik Snaan or Kartik Nahan. It is the last Hindu festival (and period of fasting) in the calendar year. It is customary for people to go to the rivers or oceans to do pujas and take a bath (snaan). It is the general belief that your sins or bad karmas are washed away or forgiven when you perform this ritual. In the path of devotion or bhakti, there are many stories and myths as to the occasion. The most common is giving thanks to Varuna, the water god, or Indra the god, for rain and water and for giving thanks in general for health and wealth.
The phrase teerat comes from "Kartik" and it literally means "to have a bath in the river or the sea". The holy river "Ganges" or the deity "Ganga Mai" is the main deity worshipped at the festival. It is believed that the Goddess of water, Ganga Mai, came unto the earth on the day and so Hindus seek her blessings by performing special prayers devoted to her.
Kartik is a time to cleanse oneself and to ensure that something is given back to the goddess of the sea and in fact Hinduism is the religion that makes offerings back to nature. The observance of Kartik is important, especially at a time when the sea seems to be reclaiming land and purging out all the impurities dumped in the water. The Mother of the Sea is asked to protect her devotees and provide whatever they wished. The deep underlying devotional feeling is that one’s difficulties and obstacles would be mystically removed.
Hundreds of Indo-Caribbeans thronged to Rockaway Beach and to various water outlets in New York where they immersed their legs in the chilly water and prayed and chanted special mantras (verses from the holy scriptures), sang bhajans (spiritual songs) and made offerings as part of Kartik celebrations. The very cold water and sub zero temperatures kept many away; this is the coldest day in the year and coldest thanksgiving. Others, like this writer, choose to perform puja at home and to take a bath with a mixture of Ganga paani (water).
The puja began with purification of the ground and the environment and offerings to the Goddess, and culminated with aartee or waving of the sacred light of the deya. Devotees made offerings or prasad (fruits and mohanbhog), clothing and other paraphernalia, burned incense and performed aartie. Other offerings include rice and perfume (atar). At the end of the puja, all of the offering were placed on a piece of cloth and released into the water. The significance of the ritual is that the devotee is feeding the earth back everything that comes from the earth, explains one pandit. There was also the offering of food on paper plates.
In Manzanilla, the beach is usually littered with flowers, fruits, food, clothing, and coins to the goddess of the water, the Hindu deity Mother Ganga. Jhandis or Flags were then planted throughout the beach creating a colorful spectacle. Devotees partook in vegetarian dishes and sang bhajans and this was followed by various sporting events.