City Faith – Tree God, Hanuman Temple
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This small Hanuman temple stands in a sprawling yard, here in south Delhi. A peepal tree’s sharp-tipped leaves make a jungle of shadows on the temple’s back wall.
But the compound has another peepal, a larger one, and more luscious, in the front. Its branches soar above the fourth floor windows of adjacent buildings. It would take at least three people to embrace the trunk completely.
This morning the yard is empty. A woman enters. She is wearing a green sari, and an orange mask. Her head is modestly covered by the sari’s pallu. The woman takes off her slippers and, instead of heading inside the temple, she turns towards the front yard peepal. She climbs to the small cement platform built around the tree. The woman is carrying a small kamandal (cup), filled with water, in one hand, and two agarbattis (incense sticks) in the other. She brings her palms together, bows her head, and murmurs an inaudible prayer. Now she reverently pours the water out of the kamandal by the trunk, lights the agarbattis and tucks them at the base of the tree.
“I’m a housewife,” the woman says. Introducing herself as Sunita, she talks of her husband, a priest in a temple nearby. Turning her gaze towards the tree, she cranes her head upwards, as if surveying the thicket of leaves. “Peepal is sacred… I come here every morning for pooja (prayer).” She gestures towards the several red kaleva threads wound about the trunk. Falling quiet for a few moments, she speaks again: “Trees give oxygen.” The fact that so many people in the city have died of covid due to the shortage of oxygen in the hospitals goes unsaid, but it seems to lurk in the very air.
The woman now enters the temple.
Meanwhile the sun’s rays shoot through the tree, get entangled in the dense foliage, and break into several zigzagging streams of light.