Hindu Mother Temple

Plant utilization and representation in Hindu Mother Worship Temple ceremonies in Toronto, CA.

For two years, I have been working with Dr. Shannon Novak (Professor of Anthropology, Syracuse University) supporting her research with an Indo-Guyanese immigrant community in Toronto, Canada. I supplement her research using my experience as an ethnobotanist and a photographer.

In a brief reprise from a weekend of intense worship, a Mother Kali pujarie rests his head on a sacrifice as he prays to the Mother/Mahaa Kali Ammaa.

Coconuts are used throughout the service because of the purity of the coconut flesh and water which has never been exposed to any defiling elements. Once his prayer is complete, the priest will deftly crack the coconut with a cutlass exposing pure flesh for the goddess to consume.

This image won the AAA (American Anthropological Association) 2018 Calendar contest.

A devotee (front and center) dances with Mother/Mahaa Kali Ammaa who is inhabiting the body of the head Pujari (right). She is dancing on the water, neem leaves, and flowers which were used to invoke the mother as singing, drumming, and mantras are performed within the temple.

All of this is taking place in an unassuming industrial strip of warehouses in a Toronto suburb. The barren warehouse has been covered with murals, murtis on alters line the walls, and the high ceiling strung with bamboo and garlands, creating a place of devotion and community for Indo-Guyanese immigrants and others who wish to honor Mother Kali.

Worshipers gather to manifest and honor their deities through offerings of sound, smoke, food, and bodies for the gods to temporarily inhabit. This ritual (karagam puja) is performed yearly, always by the water, and is a scene that could be readily witnessed in rural areas of Guyana. It was there in the 19th c. that the British brought indentured laborers from India to work the sugar plantations.They carried with them a healing cult, which would be formed and transformed over generations and geographies of new migrations.

A devotee stands at the back to explain the ceremony to curious onlookers and to offer permits to police officers if called to the scene.

Master (Madurai Veeran) douses himself with turmeric water to purify the human body of the Kali worship Marlo (priest) that he is inhabiting.

He wields a cane and bundle of neem leaves. His Mala identifies him as Master and the guardian of the temple. Devotee onlookers watch him dance and wait for him to bless them with acknowledgement by dousing them with water, speaking to them, dancing with them, or blessing them with the neem.