Posts Tagged ‘rituals’

Pouring out…ghee and grief

August 16, 2019

The young daughter pours the oblation of ghee into the sacred fire of the “havan”…and her tears pour down her tender young face.

My own eyes fill as I see the sorrow of the toughest part of growing up. If Agni and Swaha do not take her love up to her father, surely those twin streams of salt and grief will do so.

IMG_6042 Outpouring of ghee and grief, Blr, 160819

How The Booda grew up before our eyes…

March 17, 2014

Amazing what a difference hair makes to the appearance of a person…even when that person is just 14 months old!

That was Kalyan being shorn of his hair. My daughter wrote


about the first haircut…

Traditionally, the hair is offered in a temple, but the parents didn’t want to do that.

So here we are at the haircutting “saloon”, where “gents” get their hair cut:


AM admires the baby hair one last time:


Checks its length:


The hair is wetted down:


He touches his wet head!


He isn’t bothered at all:


The shearing begins:


The process is nearly complete, and is being documented by his father:


It was the elder sister who was more upset, and sitting with a crumpled-up face in a corner!


I had to come out and get her some mango juice and some chips; but then everyone came out, and we all had “orange kucchi ice” (orange juice sticks, utter sugar bombs!)


Our friend got a share, too:


We went to our friends’ home, where he was bathed, and sandal paste applied to his little head:





He played quite happily, wearing his new shoes:


Within a few minutes, he went from being a little wispy-haired baby to being a little boy:


The full moon that night reminded me of his shiny, sandal-coloured head!


A few trees that are entwined with Hinduism…

February 28, 2014

As I wandered around the kalyANa mantapam (festivity venue) at Chromepet, it struck me that there are so many trees that are inextricably entwined with Hindu rituals and customs…and I was lucky to be able to photograph some of them, right there. I am giving the Tamizh names and the link to the Wikipaedia entries about them, too.

One is the

pArijAtha or “pavazha malli” (literally, “coral jasmine” maram (maram is tree is Tamizh).


The flowers of the tree are very beautiful:


They fall like stars to the ground, where they are gathered up for worship by devout Hindus in the morning.


Though the wiki entry mentions the mythology of the tree being the focus of a tussle between Rukmani and Sathyabhama, two of Krishna’s beloved, there is a story about Hanuman having his abode amongst the roots of this tree:

“AnjanEyam athi pAtalAnanam/ kAnchanAdri kamanIya vigraham/ pArijAtha tharu mUla vAsinam/ bhAvayAmi bhava mAna nandanam”.

My parents had a huge tree in the garden, and I would gather the flowers, distribute them amongst our neighbours, and take some to the nearby “vyAyAm ghar” (exercise place) where there was an image of Hanuman, and offer them there. My practice of reciting the Anjaneya Ashtothram (108 names of Hanuman) dates from the time I was 14 or 15…and in spite of my agnosticism, it’s something I never fail to do, till date!

Another tree that was common in gardens of temples is the

Vilva maram


The fruit of the tree is used for both food and medicine, even today. In folklore, the tri-foliate form of leaves symbolize the trident that Shiva holds in his right hand.

The third tree, that is used everywhere in Hindu rites and rituals, is the

<a href="; Banana or Plantain tree, called vAzhai maram

Every part of the tree is useful; the stem is used as a vegetable (yes, I cook it, too, and it’s one of my daughter’s favourite vegetables!) as is the raw fruit; the flowers are also cooked; the “petals” of the banana flower were often used as informal containers during meals; the leaves are an essential part of the south Indian feast…an “elai shAppAdu” (leaf meal) is a must, where the food is served on plantain leaves, with the “nuNi” (tip of the leaf) intact. (The leaf-tip must face to the left, I don’t know why that rule!)


The banana stems are chopped, and the mantapam entrance is decorated with the leaves and the banana flower forming a graceful arch of welcome for the guests.

Many of our dishes are also cooked or steamed in banana leaves, which form a great traditional lining. Even today, I enjoy unwrapping the spiral of banana leaf which encloses the “kadubu”, a Kannada dish somewhat like an iddli. Kerala dishes made with jackfruit and rice flour are also steamed in plantain leaves.

I photographed a very huge variety of this plant at Lalbagh, on 080211:

euphorbia milii crown of thorns 080211 photo IMG_3146.jpg

The plant was mis-labelled as “Crown of Thorns”, though. I also clicked the stamens, which are cooked after the pistils are carefully removed:

crwn thrns flower 080211 photo IMG_3144.jpg

In Coorg tradition, the bridegroom chops down several banana stems in symbolism for wild animals, to show his manly prowess. In Tamil Nadu, we sometimes had young women married to symbolic banana stems when the grooms could not be physically present. No, I refuse to go further with the banana symbolism!

Another tree that is always associated with Hindu rites is the

mA maram (mango tree).

The mango is considered the king of fruits in India, and the wood is used for cheap furniture; the leaves are an essential part of the “thOraNam” decorating doorways to homes, and the fruit, in its baby (mAvadu) and raw (mAngAi) forms are used in making delicious pickles.

In this photograph, taken before the varalakshmi pUjA, you can see both banana trees and mango leaves for sale, to decorate the goddess’ mantapams in people’s homes.

IMG_0183 Banana trees and mango leaves to decorate

I won’t write much about the

Coconut palm…thennai maram …as it is so ubiquitous!

You can see how palm fronds are used for decoration:

thatch 271110 rghli photo IMG_7139.jpg

In this pic you can see coconuts rolled up in dhotis, to be gifted to the priests:


We cannot do without coconuts for any puja!
It’s a great pity that our strong links to trees seem to be getting diluted these days…and we seem to think of them not as living beings, complementing our lives, but hindrances to “development”, especially to the faster flow of motorized traffic!

sadAbhishEkam: celebrating a man’s entering his 80th year

February 27, 2014

My childhood friends, Rajamani and Savithri, celebrated their sadabhishekam on the 26th of February, at the Sankara Matham, Chromepet.


Rajamani Anna (aNNA is “older brother”) was a cousin of the seven siblings who lived right opposite my parents’ home in Kolkata. He lived with them, and their parents, studying and then working, and the closeness has persisted through the decades. I have been quite close to his younger daughter, too, and jumped at the chance to attend the sadabhishekam.

The 60th and 80th birthdays are traditionally celebrated only when the husband attains those respective ages. Hopefully, we will start celebrating them for women, too, but as of now, the winds of change have not blown that strongly!

A beautiful “kOlam” welcomes everyone into the venue:


Agni, the god of fire, is invoked in the homam (called “vELvi” in Tamizh), by the priests:


This perforated plate is a new tradition (I’ve not seen it even 20 years ago), and gold ornaments are put in so that the purified water will pass over the gold, too:


The thirumanjanam going on.


Both of Rajamani’s daughters, Swarnamala and Bhavani, are holding the perforated plate.


The couple, after the abhishekam:


Friends and family gather:


The fruits and flowers, and other offerings at the “hOmam”. The “paruppu thEngAi” (those two cones) are made of some kind of sweet:



Rajamani’s sister applies the “nalangu” (turmeric paste) on Savithri’s feet, as decoration, and puts on the toe-rings:


I was tickled by the juxtaposition of the age-old traditions of “thAmboolam”, ritual worship…and the modern newspaper, with a contemporary headline:


The husband ties the sacred thread (mAngalyam) around his wife’s neck. The sadabhishekam is the third such occasion; the second is the shashti abdha poorthi, or “attaining 60 years”.


The couple then seek the blessings of the audience, which is provided in the form of “akshatha” or ritually sanctified rice:


(this kind of blessing-with-grain is probably the same in many cultures…I see many couples having confetti thrown over them!)

All hindu weddings have to be witnessed by Agni (fire), who is the ultimate purifier. Here, Agni has sunk into ash and embers:


Arattai sabhai (gossip sessions!) go on:


The lunch was delicious:



“panthi vijArikkarathu” (enquiring hospitably about whether the food is good, and if the guest has had enough of everything) is done by the “host” family:


Uncle and niece:


Photographic documentation is obligatory now!


I like this group photo because it also contains the family who are, today, like my family!


These are four of the five sisters (the young girl on the left is the daughter of the one sitting next to her) who raised me, as a child. The lady who is sitting second from right is my music guru; she taught me for over 15 years!


My guru, Meenakshi Rajagopal. How lucky I am, to have a sister-cum-guru!


Let me close with two short videos.

This thirumanjanam, or ritual bathing in sanctified water. The traditional “gowri kalyANam” is being sung:

mAngalya dhAraNam, or tying of the sacred thread (sorry, I had to take stills, so this is VERY short!)

I hope you enjoyed the sadAbhishEkam as much as I did!


August 29, 2012

On Id-ul-Fitr, the Moon, too, seems to have sacrificed some of Herself:


The festival is also called Bakrid, and this is not because the Bakri (Goat) is beingvenerated, it’s because it is going to be sacrificed…

bakrid 210812

I was musing on how the concept of sacrificing something to appease a Higher Power came about…


is what the Wiki had to say.

I wonder if the gentle, repressed people of today’s urban societies realize that the pumpkins that they smash into the roads after smearing them with vermilion….are a symbol of blood sacrifice? I listened to one elderly gentleman (“I am proud to be a Brahmin”) holding forth on the horror of blood sacrifice on Id. This gentleman was utterly horrified when I explained to him how he too was upholding the ritual of sacrifice in a symbolic way…and he refused to accept the idea.

However, the idea that yielding up one life (even one’s own) will result in a reward in this world, or the next…that still intrigues me a lot.

Oh well, a lot of lambs to the slaughter would not find my post interesting at all….


April 9, 2012

sent me

this link

to the meaning and the rituals of Passover.

Her observation, that this rivals Hinduism for rituals, is very valid.

Shashti Abdha Poorthi Procession….211211

March 7, 2012

When a man in our community (Tambrams, or Tamizh Brahmins) attains the age of 60, he and his wife undergo a wedding ceremony again, this time with greater emphasis on the Vedic rituals, and the spirituality.

Our friends Devika and Anand had the “whole 9 yards” ceremony, with pomp and colour, at


Where 60th, 70th, and 80th “abdha poorthi” rites (attainment in years) are often performed, often dozens at a time.

For the photographs from their ceremony

click here

for the Picasa web album

Here’s a video of the couple being brought in procession to the spot where the abhishEkam will be performed:

God and the priest

August 24, 2011

At dawn this morning, I was standing in front of the Raghavendra matth (religious centre), when the temple was opened, and I watched the priest:

rghvndra temple 240811

He brought a large vessel of water, and proceeded to ring the puja bell, and started washing down the various idols..Hanuman….Vishnu….

rghvndra temple 2 240811

No one was watching; the priest did his duties out of his own sense of devotion. What is the impulse, I wonder, that makes devotees perform these cleansing rituals on these representations of God? Is it the thought of indulging the gods, with very luxury that they would themselves like to have? But then, I do not think human beings bathe in honey, milk, curds and sandalwood paste, the way we bathe our gods. So why these rituals? I feel it might be better to spend this amount of time serving food to poor people…but I suppose each of us has a different way of looking at religious rites…and I was certainly impressed with the meticulous way in which the priest went about his duties.

Perhaps this is what true religion is…doing one’s duty, even when no one (except God, and in this case, an unknown observer) is watching.


March 4, 2009

The sight of a beautiful little swing in the home of one of our friends set me thinking nostalgically….

There was a time when a swing was an essential part of a home. There were, in the houses I went to as a child, always large “koodam”s as they were called, surrounded by small rooms; the life of the joint family was very much in these “koodam” or halls, and the small rooms were for sleeping (and perhaps procreating!) purposes…the front hall always had a large swing, dominating the room. In fact, there would not be very much more furniture, as most of us would spread out “pAy” or reed mats if we wanted to sit or nap, or even sleep at night. But the large teakwood plank, suspended on chains was the delight of a child who came to visit grandparents for the holidays. The chains might not always be oiled, and the swing would go creak, creak, creak, as people sat on them and gently swung…I loved lying on my back on my grandmother’s swing, and looking up at the wooden beams of the ceiling above me. Later, a ceiling fan was added, pushing down the oppressively hot and humid summer air on to the persons on the swing.

How many family discussions, squabbles, and arguments must have been threshed out on the swings! How many marriages arranged, names of babies decided! How many surreptitious touches between young couples who were prevented by prudish morals from showing their affection for one another openly!

In fact, the “oonjal” or swing ceremony is still an integral part of the Tambram wedding, and the couple sit on the swing as the ladies from both sides of the family sing and circumabulate with water which is supposed to have been fetched from the holy rivers.

The swing is often used as a metaphor for the ups and downs of life…and a life that is hanging by a thread is described as “uyir oonjal Adugirathu”..” the life is swinging”, literally. Of course “swinging” in English also has the extremely negative connotation of being hanged!

We also refer to “swinging youth”…iLamai oonjal Adugirathu! There is, in fact, a movie with this title… and here’s a song by ILaya rAja, who, to my mind, is every bit a musical genius as A R Rahman…

(Sideswipe: Don’t miss Kamal Hasan’s PINK safari suit!)

Funny how such an intrinsic part of our lives has all but disappeared from our lives..the lack of space in our apartment buildings has ensured this. Well, it’s nice to see slimmer versions of such swings in friends’ homes, at least…’s the slender version that I photographed in our friends’ home!

What’s also sad that in some homes, the swing is still there on the balcony, but mosquitoes, traffic noise, and a need for the fan and air-conditioner has ensured that it’s hardly used….

I think I am going to buy a nice swing seat for my daughter’s front porch, if I can afford it!

Thoughts on rites and rituals, and et ceteras….

June 23, 2008

Some reasons why I think we have all these rites and rituals:

The house will be full of people who each have hes own ideas of what should be done to a)give peace to the departed soul and b) will be the “proper” thing to do. The situation is great fun because so many of the ideas are at variance with one another. Thankfully, at least at my brother’s place, one person’s decision is respected. But normally, this would make for a lot of interesting situations. A set of given rites and rituals would–at least in part– obviate all such differences of “how things should be done”.

The relatives are often people who are not used to sitting idle, and therefore promptly start in on each other and use the occasion to settle several old scores (and begin new ones.) I have certainly seen this happen in several homes, where one would think that adults would behave like adults, restrained in the face of loss and sorrow. But no….so, giving each an allocated role, and a pre-determined task, would certainly give all of them something to do, and prevent much of the friction that could ensue. (Who is allocated what task and what role, of course, is often the source of more friction!)

Visitors, too, are better able to follow set timings to visit,and set things to do, when there is a pre-arranged set of rituals. Otherwise, one has the piquant situations of visitors who don’t know which days are “good” or “bad” to visit, and the even more funny situation (it happened here yesterday) of visitors who come over, don’t know when to leave, and stay for several hours as a result. (We gently eased out a couple of visitors four hours after their arrival, I am not joking.)

It is a pleasure to see my sister-in-law’s relatives calmly taking up whatever immediate job needs to be done, and just doing it and abiding by the decisions the designated decision-maker is taking. They never fuss….and it is so heartening to see them being a source of comfort to my sis in law, instead of the reverse situation I often see elsewhere.

We had a simple and dignified Arya Samaj ceremony this morning, and the priest told us how, in our culture, the soul is believed to be permanent, and it is the remains that have turned to ashes. And most important, my sis in law felt comforted and more at peace….and that IS the entire point of a “shanthi havan” or “sacred fire ritual for peace.”

We do need some ritual, I suppose, to give some sense of closure..though we couldn’t help thinking of both my father’s and brother’s irreverent remarks… like my father’s “Don’t light up incense sticks in front of my picture, just light up a good Benson and Hedges” and my brother’s, “If Dad knew what a bomb all these funeral rites were costing, he would just say, ‘Hey, I’ve decided not to die after all!’ ”

I am planning, since I am on the net and the visitors seem not to require my presence just yet, to look at INW images, my usual source of comfort….and I snapped thisnice b&w scene of a drongo on a tree, at Mydenahalli….I keep thinking of the forests, and that gives me solace.

Today we took some food over to donate to some home for the destitute…and we were told politely at the first place that they had received a lot of food from a restaurant, and they couldn’t use it. We then went to a second place, and THEY had received the excess food from the first place! The third place, a home for youngsters between 18 and 28, finally did take the food, and then we went to the Marina, and immersed some of the ashes and some from the “havan”. It was rather a dirty scene, but yet the waves and the breeze and the sand gave my heart a lot of comfort. There was a sense of feeling that what had contained my brother was now one with the elements…