Panjal Athirathram 2011
Several sashtrams were performed on the last day. These include Hothan’s Shodashi Sasthram, Paryaaya Sasthrams aand Aaswina Sasthram. This was followed by Anuyaajam and Haariyojanam which marks the end of the soma rituals.
Yajaman performed Pindam (homam) at Maarjaaleeyam. All rithwiks performed homam at Agneendriyam (Palacharani Praayaschitham). The performances like “Dhaana Iduka”, Adhwaryu’s Sruvaahuthi (Saakala homam), Chamasa Visargam (detatching the rithwiks from the respective chamasam), Sakhya-Visargam (releasing the bond of Camaraderie among the Rithwiks, undertaken earlier with Thaanoonasthram), “Pathnee Samyojam”, Performance of Praayaschitham (here, Kalpa-Praayaschitham), in order to overcome any imperfections in the performance.
Avabhrutham Ishti (starting in the Saala and ending in the pond, lake or river), in which most of the used items were deposited in a water body (pond, lake or river), everyone bathed (Avabhrutham Snaanam) and returned to the Saala. This is followed by Upasthaanam. After returning from the pond, the three Ishti (homams) namely Udayananiyeshti, Maithraavaruneshti, and Sakthu homam were performed.
Udayaneeyeshti, followed by Prathiprasthaathan’s Ishti and finally the Maithraavaruneeyeshti (a long ritual of 2½ hours with 4 Charus and a Purodaasam, as five havissu or offering to five Gods namely Anumathi, Ila, Sineevaali, Kuhu, Dhathaa).
Powdered rice is then used for Sakthu Homam. This is followed by Agnervimoka homam, Aapthyu Upasthaanam, termination of Agneendriyam, 5-chamatha Homam, Upasthaanam to Aadithyan, Dadidrafsam Bhakshanam, & Namaskaaram. Thus ends Thritheeya Savanam. Thus ends Suthyam. Thereafter, the Threthaagnis (the three spiritual fires attained through Yaagam) are shown (Kaachi) at and invoked back to the Arani. Once the Threthaagni is invoked back to Arani, the remaining fire in the Yaagasala has conceptually become forest fire with no spiritual content. Also, the Yaagasala has lost its divine nature. The Yaagasaala is then set on fire. Back Home: On the way (Prathyaagamanam), either Ubhavaneeya Ishti or Poornaahuthi is performed and this Threthaagni is taken to the Yajaman’s residence (Illam) and placed in an appropriate location like Vadukkini or Padinjaatti (two rooms in a Namboothiri Illam). The Athiraathram is now over and the Yajaman now becomes a Akkithiri while his wife remains as Paththanaadi.
Agnihothram Rituals: It is using this Threthaagni that the Somayaaji and Paththanaadi perform the rituals, viz., Agnihothram, twice daily, and Darsesthi and Poornamaaseeyesthi on every Prathipadam (first day after full moon or new moon), through out their life. Darsesthi and Poornamaaseeyesthi (about two hours long) require, apart from Yajaman, four Rithwiks, namely, Adhwaryu, Brahman, Agneedharan and Hothan, who can be members of Yajaman’s family, unless they have Pula. Though Pula (defilement) (Click here to know more about Pula) forces the Yajaman to stop the Yaagam; it does not affect the Agnihothram rituals, which are continued to be performed. Life of Threthaagni: Whoever dies first – the Akkithiri or Pathanaadi – is cremated using this fire, preceded and followed by special cremation rituals, much different from the usual cremation procedure of Namboothiris. The Threthaagni then ceases to exist, and the survivor discontinues Agnihothram and the Ishtis. The Akkithiri is eligible to revive Threthaagni only if any one Pathanaadi is alive and both are ready to repeat Aadhanam (called Punaraadhaanam). (It may be noted that they must have done Adhaanam prior to performing any Yaagam). Here, Somayaagam or Athiraathram need not be repeated (just a performance of Aadhaanam will do) to revive Threthaagni. In case of his wife’s death, if the Yajaman did not revive Threthaagni, he is cremated in the usual Namboothiri manner.
At the end of most Yaagam, it is known to rain. The Panjal Athirathram of 1975 witnessed rains sometime after the yagashala was set on fire. So this time also, everywhere the topic of discussion was the rain. By evening itself people started gathering. The ritual of setting the yagashala on fire got delayed and was done at 10 p.m.
With a few minutes to spare for the yagashala to be set on fire, there was a heavy downpour in Panjal. Lakhs of people who had gathered to witness the ritual cheered and clapped. A few minutes later, the other rites were concluded and the yagashala was set on fire.
The culmination of Athirathram was truly magical. Lokah Samastah Sukhino bhavantu!
“While Pyramids, temples, cathedrals and skyscrapers were built and fell into decay, languages and religions came and went, and inumerable wars were fought, the vedas and their ritual continued to be transmitted by word of mouth, from teacher to pupil, and from father to son. What a triumph of human spirit over the limitation of matter and physical body….”
Frits Staal, professor of philosophy and South Asian Languages at the University of California, Berkeley.
At 3 am on Thursday, as part of the rites, Panjal Athirathram Yajaman Ramanujan was coronated as Akkithirripad, an honour reserved for the main priest of any Athirathram. Abhishekam is the ritual (after a series of six homams) performed by Adhwaryu before formally christening the Yajaman as ‘Akkithiripad’. Athirathram is seen as the ultimate sacrifice of the Yajaman who commits his entire life to the ritual. After the end of Athirathram, the Yajaman carries the fire from the ritual which will be kept burning at his house. He will perform daily rituals for as long as he lives and this fire will be used to light the pyre when he or his wife passes away. The Yajaman of Panjal Athirathram 2011 is Ramanujan Akkithiripad, 57, from Chembra in Palakkad District. He did his Soma Yaga in Trichur in 2003. He was a priest at the Trikovil Vishu Shetram temple in Chembra before performing Athirathram. He and his wife Dhanyapaththanaadi have three sons Ravindranath, Umanath and Narayanan.
A rite called Sowmyam was also conducted today. Sowmyam is made using Charu (a product made of rice) and is prepared by Prathiprasthhaathan, after which ghee is poured into the Charu and the Thaithareeyas as well as the Saamavedis in the Sadass see their own reflection in the ghee. The Homa Sesham (remains of the offer), if consumed by pregnant women, particularly if she is in the first 2 months of pregnancy, is believed to cause be good for her child. It is also believed that consuming the remains of homam, is good for fertility. Some cases of childless couples bearing children after consuming Saumya have been reported in the past. Hundreds of couples received Saumya today.
The other rites performed during the 11th day of Athirathram include:
Thrutheeya savanam which is recital of Sama stutis, Extraction of Soma juice, Aarbhava Pavamana Sthuthi, Havir Homam, Mahavaiswadeva Sasthram, Agnishoma Sthuthi, Agnimaarutha Sasathram (Sasthram intended for Agni and Maruth, God of wind), Ukthya Stuthis, Ukthya Sasthras, Shodasi Sthuthi (Recited when the Sun is Half set in praise of Indra), Shodasi Sasthram (1000 mantras of 16 words each), Rathri Paryaya Sthuthis, Rathri Paryaya Sasthras, Aaswina Sthuthi and Aaswina Sasthram.
The tenth day started at 2 am and saw several important rites being performed including Somaabhishavam or Soma pressing. Soma is an important offering in the Athirathram Yagya. After the morning recital (Praatharanuvaakam), the morning pressing of Soma stalks began (Somaabhishavam) and the first oblations were offered. The Soma was taken out of the cart and the important ‘Praatharana Uvaakam’ was performed (Agneedhran and Hothan).
Formal Abhishavam is to be done separately for each Savanam. The first two Somaahuthys on the Suthyam day, using the containers called Upaamsu and Antharyaamam, are the most important ones. They are to be done just before and after sunrise, respectively, supported by the very important Shodasi sasthram of Hothan. The first Somaahuthi, called Upaamsuhomam, is done by Adhwaryu and poured into the Upaamsu, and the Yajaman performs Somaahuthi with it.
The preparation of Soma juice for the second Somaahuthi is an important ritual. A cloth piece (Dasaapavithram) is kept stretched for straining Soma into the vessel (Dronakalasam) kept underneath on the Uparavappalaka. The Soma juice is taken from the vessel with an earthen pot (Kindi) and poured over Dasaapavithram and the strained juice drops down as a stream – Dhaara – into the Dronakalasam. It is from this Dhaara that Soma is collected as and when needed, using wooden Oordhwa-Paathrams. Eleven of these are required for most ordinary Yaagams. Nine are made of Peraal (banyan – Ficus bengalensis). For Athiraathram, 3 more pots, called Athigraahyas, are also needed.
Photo by Surekha Pillai
As part of the tenth day rites, the Ritwiks occupied their respective positions, a process known as ‘Kutipukkirikkuka’ and sing Bahish – Pavamaana Sthuthi for cleansing the mind, and other Sthuthis and Sasthrams, before the Savanam rituals. It is believed that Aswinidevathas hear this Stuthi. After Sthuthi, Soma is caught (Grahanam) in the Aaswina-Paathram. After this, a general and specific Upasthaanam (Somopasthaanam) is done with the Soma juice kept in the different vessels.
Vaapa homam was also performed by preparing vaapa in earthern pots.
The other rituals performed include Praathassavanam, Bahish Pavamaana Sthuthi, Graha Grahanam, Savaneeya Yagam, Sthuthi-Sasthras- Somaahuthis, First Aajya Sasthram, First Aajya Sthuthi, Pra uga Sasthram, Second Aajya Sasthram, Second Aajya Sthuthi, Third Aajya Sasthram, Third Aajya Sthuthi, Fourth Aajya Sasthram, Fourth Aajya Sthuthi, Extracting Soma juice, Maadhyandina Pavamaana Sthuthi, Savaneeya Pasupurodaasa Homam, Savaneeya Purodasa Homam, Dakshina Maruthwatjya Sasthram, Abhishekam of Yajamana, Bruhat Saamasthuthi, Nishkaivalya Sasthram, Vaamadevya Sthuthi, Second Nishkaivalya sasthram, Naudhasa Sthuthi, Third Nishkaivalya sasthram, Kaaleya Sthuthi and Fourth Nishkaivalya sasthram.
Maadhyandina Savanam is a ritual when after Sthuthis, Soma is caught (Grahanam) in the Aaswina-Paathram. After this, a general and specific Upasthaanam (Somopasthaanam) is done with the Soma juice kept in the different vessels. Embers from Agneedhriyam Dhishnyam are taken and placed in the other seven Dhishnyams and Homams are performed. This is called Dhishnya Vyaaghaaranam.
The Yajamana, chief priest makes so many personal sacrifices, both mental and physical, during the 12 day Yaga. Only those who have performed the somayaga can perform the Athirathram. Once you perform a Somayaga, you become a Somayaajipad and after Athirathram you get the title of Akkithiripad. The Yajamana of Panjal Athirathram is Bhatti Puthillath Ramanujan Somayaajipad
Before the commencement of the Yaga, The Yajamana takes a vow, that he would always tell the truth and would do all the rituals as mentioned. There are so many Dos and Don’ts for Yajamana, here are few
During entire 12 days his fists will be closed. Closed fist is the symbol of “Alertness” in natyasasthra, derived from this vedic tradition. This gesture symbolises that all throughout the Yaga, he will be alert.
Yajamana should always carry a stick and Deer skin (Krishnajana), he is not supposed to lie down and sleep, he should not ridicule anyone, should not scratch his body with nails. If the itching is irresistible, he can use the horn of the deer skin he is carrying. He should speak only Sanskrit that too if it is necessary, should not laugh, if out of control, can laugh without showing the teeth.
He should not take bath, cut nails and hair in these 12 days. His movements are restricted inside the Yagasala. There are restrictions on food too. He drinks only cow’s milk during the entire 12 days
Inputs from Nakul Madhavan, a ritwik at Panjal Athirathram
Athirathram entered its tenth day and the rituals will now continue without a break for over 65 hours till it concludes on April 15th in the evening when the yagashala will be set on fire. While the rites will continue through the night on the 12th day (April 14-15), some rites may extend through the night during the next two days.
Among the rites performed on the 9th day, the most significant one was Agni Prayanam, invitation of Agni to the main altar and installing it on the Shianachithi. A homam was performed followed by transportation of all the items including the Mahavira pot and other implements used in the Pravargya in a traditional manner to the Dasapadam (east of the altar). These were then placed on the Shianachithi and arranged in the form of a male human figure, known as Yajnapurusha. The implements used for Pravargya were arranged to symbolise the organs of Yajnapurusha.
Agni was then carried to the new altar and installed in the centre of the bird altar. A long continuous oblation of clarified butter was made into the sacrificial fire through a large ladle and this rite is called Vasordhaara (‘flow of wealth’). During Vasordhaara, ghee is poured continuously into the fire accompanied by chamaka mantram, which is a Yajurveda mantra meant to energise.
Other rites performed include Pravargyam, Upasath Ishti, Subrahmanyaahwaanam, Chithi samskaaram (for purification of main altar), Gharmodwaasanam: (disposal of the pravargya implements), Brahmovdhanam: (preparation of food for Brahma), Vaajaprashaveeyam: an offering of many medicinal plants to the fire praying for cure to all illnesses, Pashuishti (offering of Vaapa, originally comes from goat and now symbolically made with rice and havis) and panchadoham: preparation of milk.
The main altar of Athirathram (Shianachithi) was complete at Athirathram with the last and fifth layer of the altar laid out on Day 8. The altar is constructed such that layers 1, 3 and 5 are different from 2 and 4 with the layers signifying the changing seasons. The Garuda-shaped chithi has been used for centuries by rishis who created the shape on the basis of Vaastu Shashtra.
An important rite Ksheeradhara was performed today which involves pouring of goat’s milk on the altar. During Ksheeradhara, a powerful Rig veda chant called Sreerudra, the impact of which is said to be high, was chanted. Recitation of Sreerudra has great significance. With the construction of the altar now complete, all mantras will now be chanted on this altar and all yagyas will be held here. The Chithi will therefore house ample amount of energy. Sreerudra is chanted to pacify the Chithi. Goat’s milk is poured over the Chithi in a steady stream during Ksheeradhara. Incidentally, goat’s milk is prescribed as part of Ayurvedic treatment for Pitha dosha.
A wooden frog was also placed on the chithi to as part of the cooling down process.
A kite was seen flying over Panjal today where Athirathram is being held. The bird was also spotted yesterday. This is seen as a very good omen. The day’s other rites included Pravargyam, Upasath and Subramanyaaahwaanam. The day’s rites ended with Chithi namaskaram and Chithi Dakshina, and repetition of Pravargyam and Upasath.
Artists at Athirathram
At Panjal Athirathram I happend to meet two artists, who are very much involved with the event.
Artist Gireesan Bhattathiripad
Gireesan is one of the very few people to be allowed inside the yagashala who are not directly involved in the performance of Athirathram. His role is to number the tiles used for Shianachithi and also draw sketches of Bull (It symbolises the arrival of Bull, the carrier of Lord Siva on day one when the Shianachithi layer is laid out. The Bull waits for Him till the last layer is laid); Vyaali (Dragon face seen in the entrance of temples seen as good omen, this is drawn on the Chithi entrance); and Vikarni on the tiles used for the main altar. He uses dissolved rice power to make the drawings.
The story behind Vikarni is interesting. Legend has it that she was a washerwoman with no ears. One day she saw smoke coming out of a Yagashala. She enquired about it to the passersby and was told all Devas had gathered for a Yaga and that they could even bless her with ears. Vikarni left her work midway and ran to the Yagashala oblivious of her scantily clad status. She lost her clothes as she ran to the Yagashala where the devas blessed her, gave her clothes to wear and she was also given ears. She was then given a permanent seat at the Yagashala.
Gireesan has been roped in by the organisers of Athirathram, Varthathe Trust, to also shoot the ritual. Gireesan has already shot over 2000 photographs and would have shot 3-4 thousand more by the end of Athirathram.
When he gets time off, he has been making sketches from inside the Yagashala for his own personal collection. Gireesan is primarily an artist who paints oil and acrylic on canvas and his work has been commissioned by companies like HLL for interior decoration purposes.
Gireesan captured a rare phenomenon during the day’s Pravargyam, an important rite that involves adding milk to ghee heated in very high tempature.
A huge ball of fire erupted out of the Mahavira pot which was photographed by him. This is a sight that has been rarely witnessed in the Pravargyams done in any Athirathram.
Another artist I met during Athirathram was Venu, a freelance artist from near by town.
When I met him, he was sketching the Yagasala. He is planning to do a series of sketches on Panjal Athirathram 2011
Hope to catch these two artists after Athirathram and get the complete sketches on the event
Athirathram entered its sixth day, with almost 50 per cent of the rites completed in the 12-day vedic ritual. The rites conducted today included Pravagyam, offering of milk and ghee for Ashwini Devas in the Mahaveera pot; Upasath(offering ghee for Agni, Soma and Vishnu) and Subhramanya Ahwanam(Inviting Lord Indra).
The third layer of Garuda shaped fire altar was layed
Eight-year- old Sankarnarayanan from Kaapramaarathu mana, a parikrami (assistant) at Athirathram, was part of the rites for the laying out of 3rd layer for Shianachitthi (main bird-shaped altar).
Sankaranarayanan has been studying Vedas for one year now from Brahmaswam Madham (Vedic Research Centre). His grandfather Sankaranarayanan akkithirippad was the Yajaman of an Athirathram in a private function by a family in 2006.
The fifth day’s rites started at 6.30 am with AparahnikaPravargyam and Poorvahnika Pravargyam, which is offering of milk for Ashwini Devas in the Mahaveera pot.
This was followed by Upasath(offering ghee for Agni, Soma and Vishnu) and Subhramanya Ahwanam(Inviting Lord Indra). The construction of second layer of Chithi was also done.
The evening rites will be a repeat of the morning rituals Aparahnika Pravargyam, Upasath and Subhramanya Ahwanam.