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The Sacred Hindu Lamp Ceremony Returns to Brooklyn Bridge Park

by Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy on Jul 23, 2019

Woman launching lamps into water.

Aeilushi Mistry, © Etienne Frossard

Aeilushi Mistry is the Founder of the Hindu Lamp Ceremony in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Each summer, she works with Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, the Brooklyn Arts Council, and many other community partners, to host the traditional Hindu Aarti ceremony on the waterfront. The event aims to foster community and to bring peace and harmony to our shoreline. Read more about this sacred ceremony in our interview with Aeilushi below.

Tell us a little about yourself and what do you do when you’re not in the Park?

I was born and raised in India but moved to the United States after marriage with Paulum Mistry, Percussionist, and to pursue my career as a professional artist – I am trained as a classical dancer and folk artist.  I work closely with elementary and high-school seniors, through the Brooklyn Arts Council, to bridge our cultures through dance. For my day job, I work in HR for a non-profit organization.

What is the traditional Hindu Aarti Ceremony?

The Aarti ceremony is traditionally presented each morning and evening along India’s Ganges River. We have simple daily ceremonies where we begin the day through an offering to the water with a lamp. Through it, we show respect to this powerful and valuable water resource. With this gesture, we covey our gratitude for our protection to mother river. For a major festival such as the one at Brooklyn Bridge Park, it is more elaborate with chanting, prayer, meditation, and a clearing/cleansing process. We decorate palm leaf lamps and set them sail along the East River.

Woman launching lit lamps into water.

Palm leaf setting sail, © Etienne Frossard

Why did you choose Brooklyn Bridge Park as a location for the Hindu Lamp Ceremony?

I’ve been working with the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy for many, 6-7 years, now. It’s been a long and wonderful journey. When we first conceived of the program, we wanted to find a location that mirrored the Indian tradition. The Ganges River begins in the mountains of India and travels downstream. Similarly, the water from the East River begins in the Adirondacks Mountains and travels down until it merges with the Atlantic Ocean. Further, the transformation and revitalization of the waterfront was a natural fit, since an important part of the ceremony is to honor and celebrate our rivers.

People on the beach watching a woman place lamps into the water.

Offering the lamp, © Etienne Frossard

Can you tell us more about the symbology of the Hindu Lamp Ceremony?

The lamp is a very significant symbol in Hindu culture – the lamp represents life. We begin and end our days by making offerings with lamps. It also has a deeper spiritual meaning. Whether in a temple, nature, or at home, the lamp represents your soul as a reflection of the light that resides within you. In Indian and Hindu culture, we are lovers of nature and respect it very deeply. The Hindu Lamp Ceremony is a chance to honor that inner and outer connection, the world within you and the world outside you.

Decorations on small flat candle lamps on the beach.

Lamps, © Etienne Frossard

Why is the symbology of water so important to this ceremony?

Nature consists of five basic elements – water, air, fire, earth, and ether. Each element is important, and all need to be in balance. When there is an imbalance, we see that impact in the world around us. We see this in our environment today. Traditionally, water has a higher importance than land. Our bodies, for example, are mostly made of water. Wherever we go, we carry this water with us. Water has tremendous power – it has healing properties; it gives birth; it germinates seeds. When Mother Nature is upset, water can lead to enormous destruction, like we saw with Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Therefore, it’s important to honor and pay our respects to this element. At the Hindu Lamp Ceremony, we go to the river to heal, purify, and quiet our mind. Then, we place the lamp to thank the water for helping us through our life’s journey.

Why is it important to continue the tradition here?

The ceremonies in India had a huge impact on me as a child. When I came to New York City, I was shocked that it is not recommended to touch the river in many places. The water is like a forbidden area. In the modern day, we are surrounded by so much work and responsibility that these practices are slowly going away. We forget the importance of water, and the strength of nature. We are undermining it in this new world. For example, when we experienced Sandy, the Brooklyn Arts Council hosted a symposium for those who were affected by the hurricane. People shared their experience of prayer, and how it helped the water eventually recede. I was so moved and affected – this is exactly why we do the ceremony in India. Even though here, we come from different cultures, with different prayers, it is a reminder that the land is charged with positive power. It can help heal and make our community better if we allow it.

People on the beach and sitting on granite steps on a sunny day.

Lamps, © Etienne Frossard

What is unique about the ceremony in Brooklyn Bridge Park?

The first ceremony we had was in 2013 and people were really moved by the experience. The ceremony at the Park is very peaceful. It is a nice respite from the chaos of the city, and a chance to forge a deeper connection with our community and the nature around us. To ensure the event is as sustainable as possible, we use all natural material and colors for the lamps we create. We also collaborate with community artists who come to exhibit their work or perform dance, poetry, and music. Different artists have the opportunity to participate each year and contribute to the vision of the ceremony. For example, one African American artist brought a water drum, filling it with water from the East River. We’ve worked hard to stay true to the tradition, but have also incorporated elements to suit a modern context.

Boy decorating a lamp on a sunny day.

Hindu Lamp Ceremony, © Etienne Frossard

Anything else you would like participants to know?

A lot of time and patience is necessary to make this ceremony happen. It takes an amazing community of individuals to bring this event to life. We hope that you will come out this year and celebrate the sacredness of our waterway and that you will find this event as meaningful as we do.

Hindu Lamp Ceremony takes place every August at Pebble Beach in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Full details on the event can be accessed here.

Two people posing in front of a table with garlands of flowers

Aeilushi and Paulom, © Etienne Frossard

 

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