Guyanese and other Indo-Caribbean Hindus as well as Hindus from elsewhere observed the annual festival of Kartik Snaan (also known as Tirth or Teerath in Guyana) in New York City by fasting and performing special prayers on Monday during the day. They were joined by pandits who presided over services.
Teerath or kartik involved taking a bath in the open water or symbolically washing one’s body. Some Guyanese also did aartee in the evening at home or the Mandirs. The temples in NY also held special services in the evening. Hundreds performed puja at Rockaway Beach and hundreds more gathered at other waterways in NY on a very warm day, unusual for this Fall time of the year. The thousands of Guyanese and thousands more of other nationalities came to the waterways to perform special Ganga puja on the full moon, the first after Diwali which is observed on the darkest night of the year.
Teerath 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 or waterways. The month normally falls in November in the western calendar, and the day usually coincides with the full moon. In India, tens of millions took to the waterways. The observance of Kartik is important, especially at a time when the sea is rising threatening to swallow up lands and houses, reclaiming land from development.
Kartik or teerath is an observance to mark the culmination of a series of sacred purification rites, for the year. It concludes a long period of fasting for observant Hindus. The series of observances are directed towards the goal of “moksha” or liberation of the soul.
In the festival, the Mother of the Sea, Goddess Ganga, is asked to protect her devotees and provide them with whatever they wished and to protect them from floods and destruction by waterways.
The word Teerath or “Kartik” means “to have a bath in the river or the sea”. The holy river “Ganges” or “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 that day and so Hindus seek her blessings by performing special prayers devoted to her and taking a dip in the sea believing that the Ganges water is mixed with the rest of the bodies of water. Kartik is a time to cleanse oneself and to ensure that something is given back to the goddess of the sea. It is the general belief that one’s sins or bad karmas are washed away or forgiven when performing this ritual. The pandits explain that during Kartik something is given back to the Goddess of the Ocean with offerings and protecting the environment from degradation.
Some Guyanese in NY mixed Ganges water in a bucket of water and took a bath with it that full moon morning. Many Guyanese and other Indo-Caribbeans and nationals from India thronged to various water outlets in the city where they immersed their legs in the water and prayed and chanted special mantras, sang bhajans and made offerings as part of Kartik celebrations. The cold water made it difficult to wade in the ocean as in Guyana. Pandit Mochan, formerly of Guyana, based in Brooklyn, led puja services at Rockaway.
Pandit Mochan began with purification of the ground, invocation of the deities, cleansing the environment with mantras, made offerings to the Goddess, and performed aartee that culminated the services. Devotees made offerings of Prasad, food, clothing, flowers, and burned incense. Other Offerings included rice, perfume, and several other paraphernalia. The significance of the ritual is that the devotee is feeding the earth back everything that comes from it.
Guyanese distributed prasad and bhojan or food to visitors and participants of the puja.
Religious leaders feel that the festival of Karthik should be used as an educational lesson in schools and on national PR programs to do everything to protect and purify the environment and stop polluting (dumping refuse into) our various bodies of water. The pollution endangers our very lives.
The puja and bathing in the ocean brought back memories of the celebration growing up in Guyana as a child. In NY, children are robbed of the kind of fun one had in celebrating the festival in Guyana.
In NY, with tirath or Karthik Nahan falling on a Monday, a workday, many worshipped at the mandirs instead of going to the waterways.
The festival of Karthik should be used as an educational lesson in schools and on national PR programs to do everything to protect and purify the environment and stop polluting (dumping refuse into) our various bodies of water. The pollution endangers our lives. Steps must be taken to protect the environment to guard against climate change.