Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Three Faiths, Three Holidays . . . One Day

Observing Ramadan (Muslim), Navratri (Hindu), Rosh Hashanah (Jewish) in Nashville

As reported in the Jackson (Tennessee) Sun

NASHVILLE - In the span of several hours Saturday, three of the world's major religions began observances of some of their holiest holidays.

In the predawn hours in Green Hills, the Fakhruddin family awoke to eat breakfast before sunrise on the first day of Ramadan, a monthlong holiday in which Muslims contemplate God, family and community ties. The Fakhruddins and other Midstate Muslims observe the holiday by fasting from sun-up to sun-down.

Later that morning in Bellevue, Krishan Paul, 78, joined dozens of area Hindus seated on the carpeted floor of the ornate Sri Ganesha Temple singing an hourlong prayer to God on the first day of Navratri, a nine-day Hindu celebration marking the triumph of good over evil, the goddess Durga and the power of the feminine side of nature.

And a short time later and a few miles east on Old Hickory Boulevard, Jews gathered at Congregation Micah in Brentwood to observe the first full day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Fourteen-year-old Eli Holmes joined a small procession that walked from the synagogue to the small creek behind it, where he threw in pieces of bread to symbolically cast out the sins of the past year.

Three holidays' falling on the same day is a rare convergence of three religious calendars, each based in part on the cycles of the moon. The three holidays won't fall in the same month again until September 2039.


The alarm rang at 5:10 a.m. in the Fakhruddin family home, signaling the first morning in a monthlong time of early rising for breakfast before the sunup to sundown fast of Ramadan.
Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Hijri, or Islamic, lunar calendar. It's a time of reflecting on God, connecting with family and charitable giving.

For centuries, Ramadan has begun only with the confirmed sighting of the new moon by Islamic leaders.

Late Friday evening in Nashville, the city's four imams, or religious leaders, declared it would begin Saturday, posting the news on a Web site and in outgoing voice mail messages left on answering machines at the city's four large mosques to inform the area's 15,000 Muslims.

Rashed Fakhruddin, 37, his wife and daughter began the day with bowls of Cheerios and milk.
Children aren't required to observe the fast, but Maryan, 9, told her parents she wanted to try again this year. Last year, she fasted for five days. But by midafternoon, she was having second thoughts.

"We encouraged her," said her father. "We told her that the majority of kids around the world are starving or don't have enough to eat."

That quieted her for about an hour, he said, before they had to help her through hunger pangs again.

The point of fasting, Fakhruddin said, is to think about "the desires, the passions. It makes me feel more spiritual. It makes me think a lot more about God. It makes you think about the poor, those who go day in and day out without being able to eat a full meal."

At night the family would go to the Islamic Center of Nashville, the area's largest mosque, where they would break the day's fast first with some water and dates, a tradition Fakhruddin said began with the Prophet Muhammed.

The sundown mosque gatherings are each night of Ramadan. After the small snack comes the prayer. And then the mosque serves a full hot meal of rice and chicken or beef.


With offerings of apples, raisins, sweetened flour and coconuts painted in stripes of red and orange, MidState Hindus made their way Saturday to Sri Ganesha Temple to mark the first day of Navratri.

Navratri is a nine-day festival celebrating the triumph of the good over evil. During Navratri, which means "nine nights" in Sanskrit, Hindus commemorate the stories of the Ramayan, a holy book, in which gods and goddesses slay demons.

At the Bellevue temple, readers took one-hour and half-hour shifts beginning Saturday morning to read the entire 6,000 verse Ramayan before nightfall, while congregants gathered on the floor singing an hour-long continuous prayer.

Krishan Paul, 78, surveyed the dozens of worshippers seated in the temple worship room, where large, colorful statues of gods lined the walls.

Paul was among the earliest Indian immigrants to settle in the area in the 1970s, when celebrations such as Navratri took place in individuals' living rooms.

Today, the Hindu community numbers more than 1,000 families, he said. They now worship at the ornate $3.5 million temple built in 1991, whose exterior architecture is modeled on 10th century South Indian temples and took Indian craftsmen more than two years to build.

"There are a lot more Hindus here now than there once were." Paul said.

Next Saturday, hundreds are expected for the Durga Puja, a Navratri celebration of the goddess Durga. Paul said the Navratri themes are universal: "In every religion, there is a conflict between good and bad. Hinduism is no different."

Saturday's ceremony also coincided with the arrival of an elaborate silver breastplate and crown handcrafted in India to adorn the god Venkateswara, one of the largest statues in the temple.
Priests fitted the black statue with the silver adornments, and members of the congregation lined up to seek his blessing.

Later, the temple served a meal of spiced farina, rice and vegetables.


Rosh Hashanah began at sundown Friday night, the first day of the New Year 5767 in the Jewish calendar.

At Congregation Micah in Brentwood, Jews gathered to celebrate life as well as repent for the misdeeds of the past year in a ceremony called Tashlich.

After the afternoon service Saturday, Eli Holmes was one of dozens of congregants holding slices of bread who slogged through the rain-soaked field behind the synagogue where a small creek flows.

"For hundreds of years, Jews have gathered by the water's edge on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah to symbolically cast off our sins," Rabbi Laurie Rice told the congregation. "Today, as did generations before us, we too stand by the water's edge, poised between the year now gone and the year that is yet to be."

Holmes stopped, as some did, to throw his slice of bread into a 10-foot wide puddle of muddy water that flooded the route to the creek. Others hiked up their pants and waded through to the river beyond, where they threw in their bread. Some, with a nod to nice shoes, high heels or small children, had tossed their bread into a large garbage bag that Micah's co-Rabbi Phillip "Flip" Rice emptied into the river for them.

"I wasted time, I should have been doing more useful things by playing computer games" such as Strategy, Holmes said of his sins.

It was the Holmes' first Tashlich as an official adult member of the congregation. He had gone through the Jewish bar mitzvah, or coming of age ceremony, the year before. This year, he was fully responsible for his sins.

"I'm an adult, and I take it more seriously now," he said.

Others said they were thinking about the anger they had felt towards someone else, the times they were thoughtless or the days they had taken their family for granted.

Rosh Hashanah is followed in 10 days by Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, which this year takes place Oct. 2.