Julia Roberts’ shooting launched with Hindu fire ritual of “hawan”

Hindus have applauded the makers of Hollywood movie “Eat, Pray, Love” and its star Julia Roberts for reportedly launching the India leg of the shooting with a hawan (a fire sacrifice) on Sunday.

According to acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, hawan, central to Hinduism, is sacrificial ceremony in which ghee (clarified butter), grains, flowers, etc., are offered (to the gods) into fire accompanied by samans (chants) and stotra (hymns), which is performed by priest/priests. It finds mention in Rig-Veda, oldest existing scripture dated around 1500 BCE. Ancient Vishnu-Purana says: “By sacrifices the gods are nourished”.

Before shooting started on Sunday at Ashram Harimandir hermitage in Pataudi, about 60 kilometers from India’s capital Delhi, priests reportedly performed hawan for the success of the shooting and the film. Oscar winner Roberts (Pretty Woman) participated with her four-and-a-half-year-old twins—Hazel and Phinnaeus—and two year old Henry, and she also joined in langar (mass lunch), reports suggest.

On the first day’s shooting, Roberts wore ruddraksh (seeds of the tree Eleocarpus ganitrus) mala (rosary), black salvar (a kind of trousers), purple kurta (loose-fitting upper garment) and ate matar-panir (peas-cheese), aloo-gobhi (potato-cauliflower), rice and chapati (Indian thin bread) with her bare hands and found Gulab-Jamun (an Indian sweetmeat) her favorite. To keep the buzzing flies, heat and humidity away, Roberts was seen using hand fan. She is said to have written the 182-verse Sanskrit chant in English, which she has to recite as part of the script, and is said to be rehearsing it. Her living area in the nearby hotel has been furnished with a unique yoga center per her wishes. Roberts reportedly commented: "India is really amazing.”

People of India will be anxious to see how perfectly Roberts does her job of cleaning ashram (hermitage) floors as a part of her devotional duty, trying to recite 182-verse Sanskrit chant, and going through grueling hours of meditation while being feasted on by mosquitoes as mentioned in Elizabeth Gilbert’s spirituality/travel memoir “Eat, Pray, Love” on which this film is based. Some of the cast/crew found incense sticks lit to create a spiritual ambience on the first day nauseating.

Although Gilbert did not disclose the name of the ashram where she stayed in her book, but it is widely guessed that she stayed at Gurudev Siddha Peeth at Ganeshpuri (Thane district) in Maharashtra (India). But Roberts will be shooting at Ashram Harimandir, spread over 28 acres in Haryana which has its own consecrated temple and gaushala (cowshed) and offers “spiritual development”.

Welcoming Roberts to India, Rajan Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, urged her to explore Hinduism further. Deeper study of Hinduism would complement her interest in yoga and other things Indian, Zed added. In January last, Roberts sported a “bindi” (vermillion mark on forehead) during her trip to India. She has a production company called “Red Om Films”, and “Om” in Hinduism is the mystical syllable containing the universe.

Directed by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck), “Eat, Pray, Love”, aimed at a release in 2011, also stars Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men), Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), Viola Davis (Doubt), Billy Crudup (Almost Famous), James Franco (Pineapple Express), Luca Argentero (Lezioni di cioccolato), etc.