Family Puja at Nadananthal Village, near Tiruvannamalai


Rajesh, one of the rickshaw drivers from the Seshadri rickshaw stand, in front of Usha’s restaurant, had his annual family function (a special puja and meal), on Sunday, 26th of July. We were invited, and I want to take you along. An important rite of passage the first haircut (Mottai Addithal ), also took place at this function. This is one of the key rites of passage for a child, usually done about two years old.

As do many adventures, it started at the rickshaw stand, where we were to get transportation to the function. We started out in Rajan’s rickshaw, then along came Valen with his taxi, so we took that instead.

I have learned that these family ‘functions’ are one of the few times each year that all the family gets together, even the daughters, that have become wives and moved away from the family. As a family gathering time, these functions are so valuable to the family that gets scattered by marriage and life’s choices.

Rajesh is in the center of the photo below, Rajan is to the left, looking at him.


Nadananthal Village is about 12 km southeast of Tiruvannamalai, on the SH 135 to Villupuram. To get to the small outdoor temple, we turned onto dirt roads. One was narrow and overgrown with thorn bushes. It was so overgrown that we had to roll up the windows to keep from getting scratched, and Valen went through the thorns slowly, trying to avoid scratching the paint on his white Ambassador taxi.


We were among the first to arrive. I guess taxis are faster than rickshaws. There was little shade where we were, and everybody immediately headed for any shade that there is.

Right away, the drivers got out floor mats from the taxi to sit on and started a game of cards. They seem to love gambling, playing the special form of double-deck rummy that they play. (Occasionally I will play with them, too.)


Looking around, we see no habitation, houses, only dry fields, with trees around the margins. The fields are unused, I think because this year the spring Southwest Monsoon pretty much failed in Tamil Nadu this year. Less rain means fewer crops, since there is not enough underground water in many places here, so they can’t pump water onto the fields either.


Rickshaws start to arrive. There were five or six altogether.


Here is a rickshaw full of ladies. How many people are in it? I guess eight of nine, including the driver.

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A big truck, driven by the father of one of the rickshaw drivers, lumbers in. Many people, 50 or 60?, are riding in it, standing up all the way. Trucks, loaded with people, are common transport for special events here. I guess they are a low cost way for group travel.


The children, men, and young girls hopped right off the truck. For the women (in sarees) it was not as easy. A plastic chair was  loaded onto the truck and was used as a step to help the ladies get down. I was about three feet down to the chair, a pretty big step.


Some of the younger women were able to set on the edge of the truckbed and just jump down. There also were older women on board. Getting down from the truck was pretty difficult for them.

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Loaded onto the truck, and now being led to the temple area are a rooster and a goat. I am told that they, as well as a pig, will be sacrificed today. I don’t think I will watch or participate in this. I understand that the meat will be given to family members, and not be used for the meal that will be cooked for us today. Whatever is done with the meat, it will need to be cooked quickly and used, since most people do not have refrigerators, and food goes bad quickly in this hot environment.


The temple is several hundred yards from where the parking is, and people walk out to the temple.


One more lady. In the end, she just jumped down.


Also in the truck were the pots to be used for cooking today — all  the ingredients, vegetables, knives, seasonings, etc. as well as a few plates and many banana  leaves (for plates).


All of the cooking equipment and food is carried out to the shade of a nearby group of trees. There is a water pump there, so maybe this is a convenient place to cook.

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In the distance is Arunachala. This is what the holy hill looks like from about 12 km to the southeast of Tiruvannamalai.


The temple is an outside shrine. I can see from a distance the bright paint on the gods.


The first altar, at the entrance, is Lord Karuppaswamy. He is one of several traditional Tamil protectors. In front of him looks almost like a maze with a lingam in the center.


“In legend it is told that Karuppaswamy is the other image of Lord Shiva and He is given the same importance as given to Lord Shiva.

“Lord Karuppaswamy is considered to be the guardian God of the village where His temple is situated. According to common belief, not only do this Great God scare away evil spirits and protect villagers against evil diseases and ill fortunes but also punishing erring persons.”


There are two horses and their attendants that stand ready for use by the gods.


At the other end of the shrine is the god of this place, Muniswaran. This is a Muniswaran temple, common near villages in Tamil Nadu. Each village will have its guardians. There are many different forms of these gods. A person at this event, while explaining it to me said that there are 1000 different guardian gods in Tamil Nadu. Many are just different forms of these two gods in this place.

Muniswaran is an ancient form in Tamil Nadu. They started as shrines, with simply one or more rocks and a trident (near a tree). This was their form from maybe 1000 bc to sometime in the last few hundred years. Statues became a part of South Indian Temples about 600 AD. I  think it took a long time before they showed up in the small village shrines. The village shrine statues I have seen so far all seem to be fired clay.

Sacrifices to Muniswaran have been a regular practice since time immemorial. They are also a part of today’s activities, those these will not be photographed nor shown.

The legends that I have heard say that Muniswaran is a god that strikes fear in the hearts of bad people. About midnight he will get on his horse, accompanied by his attendants and dogs, and ride around the village. He will chase away any bad people or spirits. If someone sees him, and becomes afraid, this only happens if he or she is a bad person. Now they will die in just a few days.


Under the tree are the original stone gods.

There is a wall in front of the altar here. During the rites to follow only family members will be inside this wall.


At one end of the temple there are a number of cooking stoves. There are three rocks or bricks (or sometimes a clay equivalent) on which to balance a pot and make a fire underneath.

They have to get cooking quickly, since the gods have to be offered fresh food as part of the coming puja.


Meanwhile, back under the trees, the men have brought everything and are read to start cooking. In these functions the men cook. This is basically about the only time that I have seen the men cooking. They seem to do OK.


They are going to make chicken biryani. Here is one of many recipes. There are about 130 people. They have 35 kg of chicken.


While the preparation for the puja is going on, and the cooking getting started, the drivers have found another shady location and are playing cards.


Back at the temple, the senior family male is starting to perform the ritual washing and bathing of the gods. For more information about the kind of upacaras or “attendances” done at a typical puja, look at the wikipedia post.


There is a brown powder dissolved in water used for this step.


This is Rajesh’s son, sitting on one of the dogs that attend the horses. I notice that the horses have a drummer to announce their presence. So if you hear a drum in your village around midnight, stay inside (so you won’t get afraid of Muniswaran and have bad consequences).


Fire is offered to the gods.


Family members prostrate to the gods.


Here is the family grandmother. She is making a traditional sweet food. I have seen her put in sugar crystals (like found in rock sugar candy in the US), and breaking up dates and throwing the pieces into the pot. She is making a traditional Tamil sweet dish, panjamirtham (look here for the recipe).


At the base of Muniswaran is an old Hanuman murti, standing with his mace. Hanuman is another protector.

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The grandfather cleans off the stone gods and all the murtis.


At the other end, the women are working on the maze around the lingam.


There are what look like flames rising from the walls of the maze. The women are repainting each flame with yellow paste of turmeric.


All the gods get washed. Look at all the water on the floor.


Adding flowers to Hanuman.

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And more bathing. He is sure clean!

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Have to dress him now. Must look good for the puja. Here is a brand new dhoti to wear.


Now to apply vibhuti stripes to one of the stone gods.

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Must have the red kumkum dots, or we are not properly dressed.

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More flowers.

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If you are at any event with children, they will always try to get in a photo.


Decorate the stone gods. Add flowers.


More flowers here, too.


Grandfather climbs on Muniswaran’s arm to apply fresh vibhuti and kumkum. He has stuck a fresh lime onto the tip of the sword.

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Pouring a mixture of water and kumkum onto the lingam.

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The family gathers inside the altar walls.


Plates of freshly cooked food are offered to the gods.


Then the drummers start to play.


There were ‘trance dancers’  as have been described  in other posts. Before a dancer dances, he or she must get fully absorbed in god. I was not able to get good photos of this today due to the crowd.

The puja is coming to a climax. Here camphor is being offered and the family (and crowd) pranams.


Here is the fire, being offered to the god.


People look on reverently. Well, mostly everyone!


To the side of the altar, there are family men and boys getting their heads shaven. Ramesh is closest to us, about half shaved.

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The camphor is being brought out to the crowd.


Here is Ramesh’s son, seen above in the blue shirt riding a dog. After the shaven head, a turmeric paste is applied over his head. Turmeric is a disinfectant. I wonder if this is part of the reason for the tradition?


New clothes are worn now by the boy, being brought to the altar for an offering.


The boy is being carried off by his mother. (By the way, one thing I keep seeing is all the fabulous vibrant colors worn by the women. Aren’t they wonderful!)


Below, on the left, is Ramesh with his new hairdo,


The family all crowds into the altar area. In the photo I am just trying to show the crush of people.


Now it is time to think about food. How are they doing in the ‘kitchen?’

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The biryani is done.


Here is a view of the ‘stoves’.


Three of the proud cooks. The meal was great, they should be proud.


The men gather around the food. It is India, so the men eat first.


Sitting in the men’s dining room.


The women and children ate separately. My ride was  going by then, so no photos. They ate under the tree, and a canopy that had been raised.

Related Posts

Tamil Rites of Passage

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