Concord family prepares for “once in a lifetime” Hindu ceremony

  • Surya Adhikari explains the Hindu ceremony he is planning for this September at his home. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/24/2021 9:18:20 PM

For the past seven years, Concord resident Surya Adhikari has been planning a Hindu ceremony to honor his family’s ancestors. It’s a special, rare event that only happens once every few generations, and the planning process is extensive – funds must be saved up, tents must be rented and the United States’ few high-ranking Hindu priests must be reserved far in advance.

This September, the plan will finally be realized for Adhikari, who moved to New Hampshire 13 years ago from a refugee camp in Nepal. The ceremony, called “Pitresti” in Nepali, consists of eight days of meditation and prayer for ancestors and for peace, and will run from Sept. 28 to Oct. 5 at Adhikari’s South End home where he lives with his wife and children.

This type of ceremony is thought of as a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, according to Ghana Sharma, board member at Overcomers refugee services and co-chair of the Concord Multicultural Festival. Adhikari doesn’t know the last time the ceremony was performed in his family but knows it happened before he was born. The family is bringing in five Hindu priests for the occasion, including two renowned religious leaders from Pennsylvania and Ohio, to perform the rituals.

“I have been planning this for a very, very long period of time,” Adhikari said, via a translator Tuesday. “I hope this event will go successfully.”

In Concord’s Hindu community, most events and religious ceremonies take place in private homes rather than public venues – something Sharma said can cause confusion among neighbors if they don’t know what’s going on. Too often, Sharma said, police have shown up at a religious ceremony in response to a complaint, interrupting the proceedings and causing confusion for everyone.

Dahn Timsina, Adhikari’s son-in-law, has been helping to coordinate the event. He said they want community members to understand what’s happening beforehand, in hopes of avoiding any major disruptions, which Sharma said would feel like a “spiritual heart attack.”

“The (Concord) community, when they do events, they do in specific places,” Timsina said. “For us, most of things like weddings we do in the house; the death ceremony has to be in the house. The culture is a lot of people come in.”

Adhikari’s ceremony will open with prayer beside the Merrimack River at the Sewalls Falls Multi-Use Recreation Area, and then participants will return to his house. About 18 participants will be in attendance all week, meditating under a tent in the backyard and eating and sleeping at the home. More people will come by during the day to visit and hear the priests speak. The priests will offer spiritual guidance, and there will be song and dance performances.

The ceremony will honor all Adhikari’s ancestors, but is especially aimed at those who died unexpectedly or accidentally.

“In the Hindu religion, we believe that when the soul does not pass away peacefully – by suicide, in the water or in miscarriage – the soul is not in a place where they should be,” Adhikari explained. “We believe that if we do this, the soul goes to where they should be and do not disturb the family members who are alive.”

In Concord, events held on private residential property do not require permits from the city, but they are still subject to certain ordinances, which includes restrictions on loud noise between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Timsina says the Adhikari family plans to finish their prayer by 8:30 p.m. each night.

Planning an event like this one takes a lot of time, effort and expense for families. The out-of-state priests, who travel with their own personal cooks, are in high demand throughout the United States for ceremonies like this and require payment for their time, food and travel cost. Once all food, travel and appropriate rental costs are added up, families can end up spending tens of thousands of dollars.

In Nepal, where temples and priests are readily available, Timsina said putting together a religious ceremony like this one would be relatively easy. But for refugees and new Americans in the Granite State, especially those who face a language barrier, Timsina said accessing the resources to be able to put on a religious event can be difficult.

“As a family member or as a community member, I can help a couple of people and we can find the resources and have them do this event. But there are a lot of Bhutanese people around the state, and most of them do not know where to go to find this resource,” Timsina said. “My goal as a community volunteer is let’s not have those difficulties for the people who do not even speak English at all.”

Adhikari says neighbors who are curious about what’s going on are welcome to stop by and visit during the week the event is going on. Although he will be preoccupied with meditation, he said there will be others on hand to welcome English-speaking visitors.

“I want to welcome the community to come know the culture, know the event,” Adhikari said. “It’s a very, very nice event, even though it’s in our language. I hope you all will understand the importance of this being done in my house, and if there’s anything that I can be helpful to the community or to the neighbors, I’m more than happy to help them in any way that I can.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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