One-Year Ceremony after Sarasvati’s Mahasamadhi

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Our friend, Sarasvati, died suddenly last year on 28 December. Today was the one-year anniversary, and for Hindus this means that a ceremony must be done to mark this day. So we asked a priest from Ramanasramam to come to our house to offer a special puja to Sarasvati. I post these photos so that her loved ones and friends can join us in this remembrance of a friend who is no longer with us as a body.

I express this as ‘as a body’ since Hindu teachings stress that who we really are does not come or go. The body was not created so it is not destroyed. It is not born so it does not die. So who Sarasvati really is did not go from us, nor is it ever apart from us.

Here is the photo that was used at the puja. It was taken on 18 December, 2009, 10 days before the passing of her body. She had come to our house to listen to a recording of a satsang with Nome. The photo was taken from the roof of our house, with Arunachala in the background. This is the extreme west end of Arunachala, so in front of Arunachala is Parvati Hill. You can see from this photo how happy she was here.

sarasvati 18-12-2009

Before the priest came, I set up an altar on the roof of our house. For the altar there are several murtis that were Sarasvati’s: a bronze Ganesh, a carved and painted Dakshinamurti, and a small stone Sarasvati. Also on the altar is the photo of Sarasvati and our small stone lingam.

Here is a closeup.

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I got some flowers from our yard as well as a rudraksha bead mala to decorate Sarasvati’s picture.

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Looking out from the altar, Arunachala stands unmoving in the background.

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The priest has come and is setting up the altar. He remembers Sarasvati from all the time she spent at Ramanasramam as one who loves Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.

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The puja setup is pretty simple — bananas, flowers, coconuts, betel leaves, water, sandalwood, incense and camphor.

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The priest is getting the flower malas ready.

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He dots Sarasvati’s forehead with sandalwood paste. He has put Sarasvati’s photo up in a chair, into its own sacred space.

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Dakshinamurti also receives sandalwood paste, as well as Ganesh and the lingam.

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Then he adds the flower malas, first to Sarasvati, then Dakshinamurti and Ganesh.

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Then he adds red roses.

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Then he pours ghee for the oil lamp. The lamp is hard to light today because of all the wind.

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Rajan acts as the priest’s assistant for all of this. I think this is good, since Rajan was particularly close to Sarasvati.

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Flower petals are pulled from the roses.

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Rajan lights incense.

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The priest brings a plate with flower petals and coconuts to Carol and me so that we can give them our blessings.

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He starts his chants. He chanted and sang for the rest of the time.

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Carol is blessing the flower and coconut offerings.

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She and I and the priest toss flower petals onto Sarasvati as the priest chants.

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Carol, then I, offer incense to Sarasvati, Ganesh, Dakshinamurti, the lingam and finally to Arunachala. The priest makes sure that we include Arunachala in all these rites.

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Here is Richard offering incense to Sarasvati.

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The priest sprinkles water onto Sarasvati. Notice that she also has bananas that were offered, too.

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One coconut is broken and the two halves added to Sarasvati’s altar.

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More water is sprinkled.

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Then more chanting.

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Sarasvati’s altar.

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The priest then sings the whole ‘Arunachala Siva’ song that is sung at Ramanasramam on Monday nights: Sri Arunachala Akshara Mana Malai – Marital Garland of Letters. This hymn to Arunachala was written by Bhagavan Ramana for the use of his devotees, sadhus, who used to go into town each day to beg for alms. This song let everyone know that they were associated with Ramana. The hymn starts with a prefatory verse by Muruganar:

Taruna runa-mani kirana vgali-nigar
     taruna kshara-mana magish-malai

Teruna diya-tiru vadiyar teru-malai
     tejiap para-vudal poro-jaga

Karuna kara-muni Ramana riya-yaga
     gaiyi-nai soliyadu gati-yaga

Aruna chala-mena ahame yari-vodum
     azhvar Siva-nula gal-vare.

This joyful Marital Garland of Letters
     which resembles a beam of light on the rising sun

was sung by the noble Sage Ramana,
     the ocean of compassion, with the object of removing the delusion

of the devotees who sought his grace.
     Those who look upon it as their sole refuge will realize within

themselves that they are Arunachala
     and will reign in the world of Siva.

Next is an invocation by Sri Bhagavan:

Arunachala varar-kettra ashkara mana-malai sattra
Karuna-kara Gana-patiye kara-marulik kappaye.

Gracious Ganapati! With Thy (loving) hand
bless me that I may make this a Marital Garland of Letters
worthy of Sri Arunachala, the bridegroom!

Refrain (the one verse that many Westerners  know):

Arunachala Siva! Arunachala Siva! Arunachala Siva! Arunachala!
Arunachala Siva! Arunachala Siva! Arunachala Siva! Arunachala!

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First and last verse of the 108 verses:

1. Aruna chalamena ahame ninaip-pavar
    Ahat-taive rarup-pai Arunachala

    Thou does root out the ego of those who meditate on Thee
    in the heart, O Arunachala.

108. Malai yalit-taru nachala Ramana-ven
    Malai yanin-darul Arunachala

    O Arunachala! My loving lord! Throw Thy garland (about my shoulders)
    and wear this one (strung) by me, O Arunachala!

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Refrain:

Arunachala Siva! Arunachala Siva! Arunachala Siva! Arunachala!
Arunachala Siva! Arunachala Siva! Arunachala Siva! Arunachala!

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Benediction:

Aruna chalam vashi
Anbar galum vashi
Akshara mana valai vazhi

Long live Arunachala!
Long live His devotees!
Long live this Martial Garland of Letters.

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After this (but not photographed, since my battery ran out and there was not time to replace it) was first the smashing of a coconut by throwing it from the roof on the cement driveway below, and then the final offering of the camphor flame to Sarasvati, the gods, and Arunachala. This was done first by the priest, and then by Carol, then me. The priest removed the bananas and coconut, giving them to us as prasad. He placed the betel on the altar.

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Goodbye Sarasvati. We miss you, and hope you are well and in the loving arms of Lord Arunachala.

Carol and I  both felt this this ceremony of remembrance of Sarasvati was moving, surprisingly so. I think this is something that should also be done in the west. This summer I will do a similar such rite for my mother who died last year.

Postscript

When the coconut was thrown from the roof, one of our two dogs, Freckles, was standing nearby. The exploding coconut frightened her so much that she ran away (to somewhere she thought was safe). We did not see her for the rest of the day, and she did not come back the next morning. I figured out when she left, and thought that she might have run back the four km to our old house, which was where she was born, and the only place she knew for most of her life. I drove my scooter there, and sure enough, there was Freckles, so glad to see me.

Now I wondered how to get her back home. She and her sister, Pippi, had run back to the old house once before. Carol got Pippi to run along with her while Carol drove her scooter. She reported that the trip was harrowing. Last time we brought Freckles back in a rickshaw. I thought maybe this time I could get Freckles to run along with me, and since Carol reported that going down Aham Road was difficult, I would try Girivalam Road. Freckles ran along with me for a while, almost a kilometer, but then repeatedly encountered packs of street dogs. Well, Freckles is a privileged western-style dog and is not at all good dealing with the aggression of street dogs. She made it through two packs, but then finally froze up in fear. I finally carried her over to my scooter, sat her on the running board, put my two knees in front of her and to her rear, and held the nape of her neck with one hand and drove with the other, driving slowly. We made it the three km to our new house this way. Near the house, I released my hold on her neck, and she immediately jumped off. The scooter was moving and she could not hold her feet, and hit the ground, then rolled over once. She was OK, nothing broken, then she ran back to the house. She was so happy to be back. She was also exhausted and slept more soundly for the next few hours than we have ever seen. 

Here she is home, sitting on her front porch. She is a happy dog, happy to be home and safe.

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