Traditionally, offices in the government sector in our secular country do not observe any religious ceremony of any faith.
This is largely followed in the Eastern sector, where cultural functions take their place, and our National Poet’s anniversary is celebrated with religious fervor. During my tenure there, I presided over the function quite gleefully in my capacity as head of the office, as my literary accomplishments would never have got me this honour.
In North India, new offices are opened with a Puja, and on Diwali, some offices perform Puja too, but being an atheist by persuasion, I followed the shun-ceremony guideline, replacing them by a party instead.
But in Western India, I found that each office performs an elaborate Satyanarain Puja each year, the cost not being borne by the organisation in deference to our secular guidelines, and the custom was too deeply entrenched to be questioned. I, therefore, suppressed my misgivings and attended these ceremonies
Recently, while touring Goa, my visit coincided with this ceremony in our South Goa office. This irritated me, as Goa being part of my territory; I was obliged to attend and resented the waste of half a working day. What I learned, however, completely changed my perspective.
The event starts at the Parish Church. Yes, you have heard it right. South Goa is predominantly Catholic, and the Church and Parish priest is a focal point of the local community. The readings at the morning mass that day are done by Hindu employees, who also lead the prayers, and the hymns are sung by a Hindu choir, who had been practicing this for the past few weeks. Then the action shifts to the office, where everyone including the Catholic priest witnesses the Puja and share the prasad. A grand lunch then is enjoyed by all in the true Goan spirit, but sans the spirits.
This perfect cohabitation of faiths moved me. I am sure the patron Saint of the local church would be overjoyed in receiving obeisance from the descendants of those souls, which the Portuguese sword could not gather, and Satyanarayan would be happy to welcome back and share his blessings to those of his flock who had shifted their allegiance to the newer institution from across the seas.
I understood that secularism, Goan style, means not being allergic to religion but not being allergic to any religion!
Photos from the internet.
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