Rituals and Offerings in Kamala Harris’ Ancestral Village as Indians Pray for Her Victory

Harris’ maternal grandfather, whom she has mentioned in several big speeches, was born here more than 100 years ago.
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A woman walks past a poster of Kamala Harris, at her ancestral village of Thulasendrapuram in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Photo by Arun Sankar / AFP

While America went to the polls on Tuesday, a village in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu around 14,000 kilometres from the White House, saw 200 of its residents flock to a temple to pray for Kamala Harris’ victory. 

This village of Thulasendrapuram—an eight-hour drive from the city of Chennai—is rooting for the Democratic Party to win because of its special relationship with Harris. The Democratic Party’s nominee for vice president was born to an Indian mother and Jamaican father, and her maternal grandfather was born in this south Indian village around 100 years ago.

Today, the village waits with bated breath for the results to come out. “We have full faith and trust in Kamala, and we’re very proud of her,” J Sudakaran, the president of the Green City Rotary Club of the neighbouring town of Mannargudi and one of the organisers of the event, told VICE News. “Her win will be a proud moment for India, Tamil Nadu, and more importantly, our village, because she has her roots here.” 

He explained that they “performed a prayer at Sri Dharma Sastha temple in the village for her grand victory in the election.” 

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A poster of Kamala Harris is displayed on a temple at her ancestral village of Thulasendrapuram in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Photo by Arun Sankar / AFP

“After the puja, food and sweets were offered to her well-wishers. We prepared and served sambar idli, which is Kamala’s favourite food,” he added. 

In a video posted on Twitter on Sunday, Harris answered questions asked by Instagram users. Apart from talking about how she cares for her mental health and her plans to ensure a sustainable future, Harris was also asked what her favourite Indian dishes are. “So South Indian, it would be Idli with… a really good sambar, and then North Indian, probably any kind of tikka,” she had replied, giving Sudakaran and other organisers of the event a major clue on what food to serve.

Harris has spoken about her maternal grandfather in several big speeches and in a 2009 interview to India Abroad, when she was running for California attorney-general, she said “(he) actually held a post in India that was like the secretary of state position in this country.”

“My grandfather was one of the original Independence fighters in India, and some of my fondest memories from childhood were walking along the beach with him after he retired and lived in Besant Nagar, in what was then called Madras,” she had said. 

But many Indian publications fact-checked this, finding her claim to be erroneous and probably just an artful ploy to get the Indian-American votes – like her video of cooking masala dosa with Mindy Kaling

Though Indian Americans comprise roughly 2 percent of the U.S. population, their vote is crucial in some states. Harris herself is described as “African-American” in the U.S. census, not “Asian-Indian”—which again makes good political sense.

But still, the people of Thulasendrapuram see her as their own. 

Huge posters with Harris’ smiling face are everywhere, her far-flung relatives are being tracked down by the media for a quote, and yesterday when the puja took place, men in white dhotis and women in bright sarees came together to pray. This, despite India still being in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, with experts speculating that the country might be headed towards a second wave. “We all are very eager to meet her and we request her to visit our village once she becomes vice president,” said Sudakaran. 

According to a report in The New York Times, the village is already planning big things that centre around her victory. One resident believed their temple was sure to get big donations post her supposed victory while another hoped the government would now build a college out here. “She is the daughter of the village’s soil,” said Lalitha, a housewife, to NY Times. “The position she has attained is unbelievable.”

Meanwhile, in Delhi, prayers were offered for the U.S. President and Republican party nominee, Donald Trump. 

Right-wing fringe organisation Hindu Sena, who in the past has also celebrated Trump’s birthday with a party that featured a baby in a suit and red tie, held an event in India’s capital city yesterday where they gathered to pray for Trump’s success. “There will be peace only if Trump wins,” Vishnu Gupta, the president of the Hindu Sena told VICE News. “India can fight China and Pakistan only if Trump takes over and this prayer meeting was conducted to ensure his victory. We’re happy for Kamala Harris but she and Joe Biden are no match for Trump.”

As of publication time, Biden and Harris have 238 electoral votes, while Trump and his vice president Mike Pence have 213, according to the Associated Press. 270 electoral votes are needed to win the election.

With reports from Varsha Rani.

Follow Dhvani on Instagram. 

Via Vice News

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