This is the third in a series of postings that show the three pujas that many South Indians feel are needed when building a house. The first is a Bhoomi Puja to ask permission from Bhoomi Deva to dig in her land, and to get her good will and assistance. It is also to ask forgiveness for the disruption of the life already present on the land. The Bhoomi Puja can be viewed here. The second is the Lintel Puja, done on an auspicious day during construction, when the main lintel is ready to be put into place. The life of the house enters and exits through this lintel, and I think the puja is done so that good and positive energies will bless those entering the house. The Lintel Puja is here. The final puja is a Ganesh Puja, to bring good fortune to the new house and those who occupy it. This posting shows the Ganesh Puja. Together the three postings show the way in which blessings are brought to the land, the construction and to the final house. These are not things that most Westerners see when they visit Tiruvannamalai.
We arrive at the house at 3 am. These pujas start quite early, and since we are to be part of the ceremony we are required to be here when it starts. We were asked to participate since we had given some help to Rajan to buy the property and build the house.
The house is attractively lit with colored lights, shining in the night.
Across from the house, a kitchen has been set up in a field, and they are already cooking the food to be served after the puja. In India for these kinds of functions, food is always served.
A beautiful kolam has been created at the entrance to the house. These are made by the women from rice flower and colored powders. They believe the kolam purifies the entrance and invites the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, to enter the house, bringing prosperity to it.
Banana stalks and bananas are set up on both sides of the entrance. I think this also is for prosperity.
In front of the house is a man at a grinder. He is grinding rice to make idlies, the South Indian steamed rice dumpling served for breakfast. In Tamil Nadu, the grinder is a standard kitchen tool. Modern grinders are electric. The traditional one is stone, operated by hand.
A number of people are here already.
Carol, James, and Jananee sit. James, my 17-year-old grandson, just arrived India with us yesterday at about 1 am. This is his first time out of the USA. What an introduction to India! Jananee is Rajan’s daughter. She is 10 years old.
Below, a very sleepy Raam Kumar, Rajan’s son, 9 years old, stands at the door to the new house.
Other children sleep on the floor in one of the bedrooms. It is 3 am after all.
In the corner of the main room are bags and bags of puja materials.
A priest (from Ramanasramam) has arrived, and starts the extensive preparations needed for today’s puja.
A woman (Rajan’s deceased father’s sister, I believe) is laying out a kolam on the floor, as the priest is getting ready to set up a fire pit. The bricks, with which he will make it, are behind him.
Outside, people are gathered, waiting. Here Michael, who has rented this house, is playing a game with Raam Kumar, while another child looks on. Raam Kumar now has his nice clothes on.
Rajan is decorating the doorway into the house. First he hangs two flower malas, one on each side of the door.
Janakee, Rajan’s wife, is putting flowers in Carol’s hair. Women here almost always have their hair decorated with flowers from the time they are little girls. I think it bothers them that Carol does not usually wear them, so Janakee always has some extras to make Carol presentable.
The flowers look nice!
The priest has finished his fire pit. Notice the red and white markings on the bricks. It always amazes me to see how the South Indians take ordinary materials and use them to create sacred spaces and objects.
To the side of the fire pit is a small altar for the occasion, now with pictures of gods, fruit offerings, and a banana leaf (onto which will be placed food later in the ceremony).
Rajan has finished the work on the front door. The mango leaves have been added.
The priest is about finished with his preparation, too. Notice that above the fire pit are five coconuts, with a flower mala on top. These are the ‘presiding gods’ for the puja. This is another case of the ordinary turned sacred. They are in metal pots. The pots have been wound with string and dotted with red kum kum. Thus have the coconuts been transformed to deities for the occasion.
This man has another coconut. He is stripping off the inner part of the husk. This needs to be done before the coconut can be broken. What is a puja without a broken coconut? I have never seen one without it.
The priest readies the malas that he will give the participants to wear today. You can get a good view of the gods from this photo.
The Puja Begins
Now Rajan and his wife, Janakee, are seated by the fire pit. Rajan is putting a mala around Janakee’s neck. Note that in a marriage ceremony, this is the act that completes the marriage. Carol and I sit also, and put malas on each other.
Rajan’s auntie gets things going by lighting incense.
The priest places the incense near the gods.
Now a plate of flowers is passed to Rajan and his wife, who touch the plate, I guess to be blessed by it.
Carol and I touch the plate as well. You can see our malas in this photo.
The priest then leads us though a series of ‘touches’, where we touch our noses, eyes, ears and other parts. I do not remember all the touches. Maybe a reader can give us that detail. I have seen this before, but do not know the significance.
“Touch your ears now.”
Rajan’s auntie and a man (her husband?) sit as an extended part of the ceremonial group.
The priest has some turmeric in his hands, and is making something.
It looks like a yellow lingam, set on a leaf.
We take the plate of flowers and sprinkle them onto the turmeric lingam. This seems a nice part of the rite.
The yellow just pushes up though all the flowers.
The priest chants, we pranam. The priest is chanting during much of the ceremony.
Rajan’s auntie looks like she is quietly within herself in meditation. I noticed this several times during the ritual this morning.
The Entry of the Cow and her Calf
Rajan has been give a plate of turmeric and kum kum by the priest.
They stand up, accompanied by the priest. He has them place turmeric and kum kum dots on the frame of the door, consecrating it for what follows.
Rajan (and the rest of us) have more flowers.
We sprinkle them onto the doorway.
Then a big part of the ceremony begins. Two cows, a mother and her calf, are brought to the entrance of the house.
The mother gets a tilak of turmeric and kum kum applied to her forehead.
The priest then puts a flower mala around her neck. (Are we going to marry the cow today?!)
There she stands, in her decorated glory.
The priest lights camphor, and gives the light to the cow. The camphor flame illuminates all with spiritual knowledge.
The cow then gets further treatment, flowers on her back, her rear, and in the photo below, Rajan and Janakee are adding turmeric and kum kum dots to her hooves.
Then they coax the cow into the house. The cow really does not want to go in. I did not get a photo of it, but during part of this, they have a banana out and use it to encourage the cow to take another step or two.
Behind the cow is the calf. It will go anywhere its mother goes.
She is entering the house. This is a vital part of this puja for the new house. Cows, we are told, have 40 million gods in them. Their blessing the new house is an important part of the process.
The Fire Sacrifice
After the cows leave, the priest, Rajan, and his wife stand back at the front door.
A camphor flame is lit. Rajan and his wife hold it together, and bless the doorway.
This flame is then taken into the firepit, and used to start the fire in it. The same flame that brought the light of wisdom to the door, now lights the fire on the altar.
Rajan (and all of us) add sticks to the fire, to make a good flame.
It is a good fire! Pretty hot, too.
As this part of the puja goes on, we are given many different things to drop into the fire. I think we are making a fire sacrifice. These fire rituals are the oldest part of Hindu rites, described in the Vedas, which are more than 3500 years old.
More wood is added.
Now offerings start. The priest gives us various puja materials, and we drop them into the fire.
Much wood has been added to the fire.
Rajan’s auntie and husband also make offerings, throwing them into the flame.
Rajan and Janakee making offerings.
Three boys, with Raam Kumar on the right, sit and watch.
The fire burns, the flames get higher. It is getting hot sitting near the fire.
More items to toss into the fire. First from the priest,
Then to Rajan (and the rest of us)
And into the fire. More to make the flames lap higher.
Pranams. The priest tells us just what to do at each step.
Sitting by the fire this morning makes me imagine an Indian history of such rituals. This must be about four thousand years old. What ancient rites, kept alive in the houses in Tamil Nadu today!
Rajan’s children sit by the fire.
We all watch.
Now the priest is making something, a white ball of cloth, enclosing some material. I do not have any idea what is in the ball.
He puts the ball onto a plate, and gives the plate to Rajan.
Rajan takes the plate around so that everybody present can bless themselves.
He goes outside the house to make sure everybody gets a chance to bless themselves from the holy ball.
Then back into the house.
The priest is chanting while we stand, pranaming.
Then Rajan drops some other offering into the fire. A man to his right holds the ball.
Chanting. When the priest was still a child, his family put him into a Veda Pathashala (traditional school for Hindu Priests), where he had to memorize much of the Vedas, and be able to chant them. He uses what was memorized for these pujas.
Now Rajan has the ball. The priest is still chanting.
The four of us who have been sitting at the fire, all put our hands on the ball.
Then it is dropped into the flames. This seems like the high moment of the fire sacrifice.
After the Fire Ceremony
A man takes the melon (the kind used in these pujas is not one that is eaten, either by man or cows. It seems just to be used for pujas) that has been sitting by the gods during the fire ceremony and places a piece of camphor on it, and lights it. He then waves it around. I have heard that these melons are used to chase away demons. I am not really sure about this, maybe someone who knows more can comment?
He will take it outside, wave the flame at various places, and then, I think, throw it on the street and smash it. Before the puja today I saw a man cut a plug from the top of the melon and cut around inside. I asked Rajan about this, and he said that this help make a nice splash when the melon was thrown.
Everyone is gathered, watching the melon waving.
We then move outside again.
People are lining up on the street, beyond the entryway kolam.
On the roof are the man with the melon and camphor flame, and another man pouring something from a bucket.
The people line up and walk through the drops of fluid coming from above. Rajan stands at the entrance, greeting them.
Here is Carol taking the fluid into her hands. I am not sure exactly what was being poured onto everybody. Earlier we had seen the cow urinate, and they ran and got a bucket to collect the cow urine, which is considered a blessing here. I wonder if this was in the fluid being poured on everyone. Again, maybe someone knows more about this rite, and can tell us.
Then, back in the house, a flame is taken from the firepit.
It is taken into the kitchen, and used to light a fire under a pot of sweetened milk. An important part of this puja is making the first food in the house– sweetened milk.
This is another one of those rituals in which many people take part. Each woman pours some milk into the pot.
Here is Carol pouring.
Meanwhile people start gathering around the fire again.
Now people start bringing gifts, like different foods.
They give to Rajan and Janakee.
First they bring the gift, usually on a plate.
They give it to the priest, who then passes it to Rajan. Each gift goes through (and is, I think, blessed by) the priest.
These gifts are lined up in front of the altar set up by the wall.
After the gifts of fruit, etc. are other gifts to Rajan and his wife from those who attended today.
Again, these first go through the priest’s hands.
Quite a few gifts are in front of the altar: food, clothes, a new brass pot, etc.
The milk is still cooking. It looks kind of funny to me to see a wood fire in the house made on the nice new marble counter.
This gift is from Rajan’s cousin, Ranjith.
More gifts. Notice how smokey the room is from the fire.
The milk is almost ready.
More gifts, from Rajan and his wife, and another couple, relatives.
The milk is starting to boil. It is ready. The fresh heated sweet milk is given to everybody to drink.
In a bedroom, Rajan changes into new clothes that have been gifted to him today.
Formal attire for South India, a white dhoti and shirt.
Outside, people sit and wait for the meal to be served.
Jananee and friend.
Richard and James.
Carol and some of the Indian people.
Raam Kumar, now wearing two of the malas, maybe those from his mother and father.
The dawn is breaking over Arunachala now. It is almost 6 am.
Sitting and waiting for breakfast to be served.
The cooking is almost finished.
Now it is time. Leaf plates are set up on the roof, and we all go up to eat. White idlies have been served, and they are dropping vadas onto plates now.
Several rows of people sit and eat.
Now the puja and associated ceremonies are over, and it’s time to get back to the regular life. It is not even 7 am yet.
This was my grandson James’ first experience of life outside the USA. Not like what he is used to at home! Welcome to India, James.
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