Padasparsham kshamasva me
[O Goddess, who wears the ocean as her cloths
The mountains are whose breasts
O consort of Vishnu, I salute you
I beg for forgiveness for setting foot on your body!]
For the first 19 years of my life I never wore footwear. I went to school bare feet. I went to college walking more than five kilometres each way, without footwear. Wearing slippers or sandals was very unnatural for us. I used to wonder as to why people wear slippers. I was completely at a loss to understand the concept. I used to try imagining the feelings of people who always wore slippers. Wherever they walk, whether it is soft sand, rock, paddy field, or soft grass, their feet have the same feeling, the unnatural feeling of stepping on leather, rubber, or plastic. What kind of a life is that? Aren’t they missing out the beautiful feeling of putting their feet on the varying characteristics of Mother Earth, thus missing out the whole essence of life?
As a small child I used to see and hear muthassi (grandmother) reciting prayers both while going to bed and also while getting up. I used to fall asleep embracing her while she went on reciting the prayers in the night. (Girija, my younger sister, and I used to quarrel almost regularly for the right to sleep with muthassi, who used to solve it by letting us sleep on either side of her, both embracing her! And we used to fall asleep hearing her prayers.) But I didn’t know the prayers, nor did I care. I also used to see her touching the ground and then touching her head in the morning reciting some prayers before putting her feet on the ground. I never bothered about it then. I never wondered at nor had the mind to enquire of her the meaning of her actions. My belief was that it was for the older people to perform such rituals, not for young children like me. That was nearly five decades ago.
Then my transplantation to Delhi happened. It was entirely a different atmosphere here. People never touched Mother Earth with their feet at all. They found it uncomfortable! How can one find it difficult to touch the earth? It was puzzling for me to find that people getting into slippers from the bed itself (I also fell into this habit later on and am still following that). They removed slippers only to wear sandals or shoes. They changed back to slippers in the evening. And they removed the slippers only to get onto the bed. Why have we become so detached from Mother Earth?
Grandma, father, and mother have all left for their heavenly abode. I got married and have two grown-up sons. I also got a grown-up daughter more than a year back when my elder son got married. Life was smooth and gentle.
Then one day a few years back the whole concept of what grandma used to do came back all of a sudden and struck me like a thunderbolt!
It happened like this. I had gone to Kerala to attend the marriage of a relative. Most of the relatives come at least a day before the wedding, since that day is also very important as we have to perform certain rituals. On the day of the marriage we all got up early in the morning. And as it happened, I saw Lathika etathy (sister-in-law’s sister-in-law: wife’s elder sister’s husband’s elder brother’s wife!) getting up. She first of all touched the ground and then touched her head reciting the prayer:
Samudravasane devi| Parvatastana mandite||
Visnupatni namastubhyam| Padasparsham kshamasva me||
Suddenly it struck me like a lightening that this is what grandma used to do also. She had been asking forgiveness from Mother Earth for setting her feet on the Mother’s body! The memory struck me with such a force that I was totally shaken. For several minutes I could not move. I was awestruck. The memory of grandma touching the earth and the prayers, everything came back to me over and over again! Sometimes such things happen, don’t they? One sight, one word, one memory, affects one so much that it changes the whole life. It happened with me that day.
I felt guilty of not trying to understand this concept earlier. What a beautiful concept it is! We had been taught that in case we happen to cross over or touch an elder person with our foot unknowingly (we were not to do it knowingly at all), we should immediately touch his/her feet and then touch our head, as a way of asking for forgiveness for the mistake committed, the disrespect shown to him/her. This is asking for forgiveness by action, not by words. The word ‘sorry’ has lost its meaning altogether these days. Sometimes people say ‘sorry’ without actually feeling anything at all! And we all used to do this. But begging for forgiveness from Goddess Earth never occurred to us, and we never used to do it. I do not know why this has not been taught to us as children. Since the day I saw Lathika etathy doing this, I have been doing this every morning.
Thank you, Lathika etathy, for reminding me of this beautiful and benign concept, which everyone should follow!
Such actions inculcate in us the habit of respecting others, including the soil we walk on and the nature as a whole. We feel solemn, we become humble. It reminds us how small we are in this vast and caring but imposing nature! Try it, you will feel the difference, too. But you need to do it sincerely, with the strong feeling that you are touching our Mother, who is also a Goddess, the consort of Lord Vishnu! If you don’t believe in Hindu Gods, or any God at all, still you can do this, because Earth is still your Mother on whom we all walk, sit, sleep, build our houses, and spend hundreds of generations of our life! And then, it is to this very own Earth that we return.