Last year we reported about the passing of a Tamil man, Velu, in this post: A Kariyam, a Tamil Death Ceremony. Now, one year later, a family function was held to commemorate the 1st anniversary of Velu’s death. In Tamil this is called a Muthalam Andu Ninaivu Anjali, the First Year Remembrance.
Below is one of the roadside hordings (billboard) that his family erected to announce the event. I especially appreciate the photo of Velu when he was young. I can see the familial resemblance between him and his son, Dhakshinamoorthy, our friend who is the owner of Sathya’s Café and who operates the Quality of Life Trust to help village old people.
We arrive at the house (that was Velu’s residence) at about 9 AM.
A pandal is set up to provide shade for the visitors.
A “kitchen” is set up to one side of the house.
Inside, the Brahmin, Annamalai, is seated, getting the pooja materials set out.
Banana leaves are brought in for the pooja setup.
A mound of rice is poured onto one of the leaves.
The coconut that will be placed in the purna kumbha (the “pot of plenty” that becomes the temporary god for today’s ceremony) is being dotted with yellow turmeric paste.
Coins are set out. One will be placed in the water and turmeric that is inside the pot of the purna kumbha.
Something is placed onto the rice, an array of nine items.
Coins are placed on each item. I understand that these symbolize Arunachala mountain in the center and the eight lingams that surround Arunachala.
This is a family event. There are many mothers and children here today.
One thing that is included in today’s pooja are the ingredients for Velu’s favorite food dish. This is an important element of today’s celebration.
Family members watch the setup.
In a nearby room, an altar is set up for Velu.
The main participants in today’s ceremony are Velu’s four sons (only three of whom are pictured below). Dhakshinamoorthy is the oldest son, and is sitting nearest to the Brahmin. He will be the main poojari today.
The priest lights incense sticks to start.
Each poojari purifies himself with holy water.
The pooja starts with a Ganesha pooja, to gain His blessing for the ceremony. As a part of this, the poojaris make actions to activate their nadis, their internal spiritual energy. This includes knocking on their heads, as shown below.
There are many ritualized steps in these poojas. The Brahmin leads all the men through them.
Dhakshinamoorthy offers light to the altar, the purna kumbha.
After the initial pooja is offered, a fire sacrifice, a homa, will be performed. Today the fire will be in this plate. A base of sand has been prepared with a rice flower figure drawn on top of the sand.
Camphor is lit in the pan.
And sticks of sacred wood are set around the camphor to start the sacrificial fire.
Note that the brothers all are wearing “rings” on their fourth fingers, made of sacred grass.
Dhakshinamoorthy adds ghee to the fire, using a “spoon” made from a mango leaf.
The brothers have scraps of other types of sacred wood that they must add when the time is right.
The fire gets bigger and a plume of smoke rises from it.
Dhakshinamoorthy makes an offering.
All the brothers, sons of Velu, offer the pooja plate to ceremonial altar.
This is followed by a similar offering, this time by each son and his wife, starting with Dhakshinamoorthy and his wife, Lakshmi.
Then Dhakshinamoorthy starts to make up a food offering that will be given to his father’s spirit. He starts with rice and a banana, and mixes them up together.
Water is added, and, I think, black mustard seed.
The foods are mixed together.
Then made into three big balls.
These are placed on a leaf plate, over strips of sacred grass.
Here is the finished product–balls, decorated with flowers, topped with dots of red kumkum over yellow turmeric.
This food is consecrated by the Brahmin.
Fire is offered to the food by the two oldest brothers.
During the holy ceremony, the Brahmin took a phone call. Maybe he had another event to go to.
Then each brother and wife pranams the food, starting with the oldest brother, to the youngest, in seniority order.
Other family members do the same thing.
Even the young children are taught to honor their ancestor in the same way.
The brothers then add water, I think blessed by the pooja, into a plate.
They place their hands in such a way that the offering into the plate passes through each of their hands. These ceremonies are family ones, not those of an individual. So it is natural that all the brothers participate in these ways. (There are also sisters, but the tradition only calls for the males to perform these rites.)
Below is a closeup of their hands with their rings made of sacred grass.
Then the food offering is mashed up into the plate.
Finally the priest makes a tilak on the head of each son, using turmeric and grains of rice.
The last step is drinking a bit of a milk, curd and ghee mix that has been consecrated by the pooja. Everyone who is here today will have a bit of this mixture.
Starting with the brothers.
Then all people line up and take a bit to drink.
The brothers all pranam the Brahmin.
And he brings out the now-holy water from the purna kumbha and blesses everybody with it.
Meanwhile one lone man, I think a nephew of Velu, walks out with the food dish that was prepared by the brothers and blessed by all present. I think he is going to give this food to the ancestors.
I am surprised that it is not in a procession with the brothers. I asked about this and Dhakshinamoorthy said that the Brahmin told them to do it this way, just the lone man. Dhakshinamoorthy thought the priest was now in a hurry to get finished.
He walks out through the fields.
And to the well where the children of Velu all immersed themselves for a bath after the ceremony one year ago.
He dumps the food into the well.
The water level is very low. Not a good year for rain.
Back at the house, the function was going on, now without the Brahmin. Velu’s favorite clothes are added to his altar.
Dhakshinamoorthy offers pooja to food plates set out under the altar.
Then gifts are given to the brothers. None of their families have been able to buy new clothes for the previous year.
Outside, people are gathered together. Women and kids sit in a group under the pandal.
Food is being finished. Here papadums are being fried.
One of the young girls walks in the midst of a group, getting lots of attention.
Fancy hairdo for her!
Cooking goes on in the kitchen.
Indians use old plastic signs from hordings as ground cloths. You can buy them cheap.
The one shown here, on the ground, is of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa. I am used to seeing her smiling face on signs around the state, but not as a groundcloth to be walked over.
There is one special dish being made. Not everyone will be offered this, but I am not sure who will get it. It is the favorite dish of Velu.
It is some kind of cooked vegetable dish. Just after I took this photo, a woman came over with a big bag of ground red chili powder, and threw a big handful into the pot. I guess Velu liked it spicy!
The men sit and talk and wait for the food.
Carol noticed political symbols painted on most of the houses in this village. These green leafs are for Jaya’s party, the AIADMK.
I sit on the porch, replacing the battery in my camera.
The backdrop for all this is a kind of fantasy scene, printed on cloth; an island with palm trees and a simple house with low walls surrounding it.
Sitting, waiting for food.
Here is the plate served up for me. There were dishes of fish and mutton and chicken. A feast!
Everyone eats. Tamil meals are mostly silent, concentrating on the eating.
There are many people here today. This is just the first group that is seated, being served by the family.
Here is Velu’s wife Shakuntala, now a widow. She is wearing jewelry, even though she is a widow. This is not following traditions. She looks so much better than she did one year ago. We noted that while many of the women attending this function wore fancy sarees, she was dressed in simple cotton.
This celebration was a happy one. One year ago it seemed pretty grim. Velu was the head of the family, and when such a person dies, it is hard on everyone. Difficulties come and conflicts that had been dormant emerge. Also for the direct family of the deceased, for the first year after the death they are proscribed from many things, such as attending any temple function outside the home, or any village celebration, or the wearing of new clothes, etc. They are supposed to live a quiet, simple life for this year. They can worship at their household altar, and that is it. Now this ceremony marks the end of this period. Life, which has been on a pause, resumes.
Dhakshinamoorthy says these traditions of restrictions after the death of a parent are in flux. He honored them, but many Tamils no longer do so. This is one small example of the things that are changing in Tamil Nadu.
Videos of Pooja an Homa
Below are videos of the ceremonies.
First is the Pooja:
Then the Homa: