Kumbabishekam for Gowthama Maharishi Temple on Tiruvannamalai’s Girivalam Road

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Kumbabishekam is a Saivite ceremony to install or rejuvenate the divine power of the primary gods of a temple. I have heard it called, “breathing life into the gods.”  Kumbabishekam charges the spiritual power of the deity and also the Kumba (literal meaning: “pot” or “vessel” placed on the temple tower), which is surcharged with the same divine power as the deity, and “broadcasts” this power to those who cannot come into the temple, so they can derive the same spiritual merit by just beholding the temple tower. “Samprokshanam” is the term used for the equivalent ceremony at  Vaisnavite shrines.

Note: I had the help of a Hindu priest to write this article, and he gave us many Sanskrit terms that are used in the article. I have tried to define each as it is first used. I am sorry if all the new language makes this more difficult to read. I thought providing the additional detail was important.

The Kumbabishekam Ceremony

The whole ceremony takes place over three days. In the first day the gods are invoked, and permission is received from them for the Kumbabishekam. During the second day the spiritual energy is built up in a number of Purna-Kumbhas (the “sacred vessel” or the “pot of bounty,” a pot filled with water and topped with mango leaves and a coconut). The spiritual energy is built up by fire sacrifices, mantras, poojas, etc. that are offered to it. On the third day these Purna-Kumbhas are carried to the idols of the gods of the main temple to “charge” them with this spiritual energy. Once the god is charged (and becomes a murti – rather than an idol – which is more than a likeness of the god; it is the deity itself having taken “form”), that charge is transferred to the brass pots on top of the temple tower (Kalasam), which are “activated” by pouring spiritually-charged water over them (the actual meaning of “Kumbabishekam”).

According to Hindu scriptures, Kumbabishekam is to be performed every 12 years, to maintain and repair the temple structure as well as its spiritual power. However, many temples do not have the resources to complete this obligation. Gowthama Maharshi Temple, on Tiruvannamalai’s Pradakshina (Girivalam) Road, is a very old temple. When the last Kumbabishekam was done at the temple, no one knows. During the past century or so the temple idols have been allowed to have the “spiritual charge” in them just drain away. The trustees of this temple decided this was long enough, and set about to renew the spiritual force of this special place.

This and subsequent blog postings show the final two days of the three-day Kumbabishekam.

For this story, we gained much information from A. Mahadeva Sivachariyar, priest at Adi Annamalai Temple, who led this Kumbabishekam. Sri Mahadeva’s input has enabled us to learn about important details associated with the ceremony. Here is a picture of Mahadeva, standing by an idol of Gowthama Maharishi.

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The Legend of Gowthama and Parvati, and the emergence of Ardhanareeswara

The place where the temple is situated, on the left side of Girivalam Road, about .5 km from the Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam, is revered in Hindu lore. This place is said to be the spot where Gowthama Maharishi (also called Gowthama Rishi, alternately spelled “Gautama”), one of the Saptha Rishis, (see below) instructed Parvati, after her penance and meditation, to take the left side and merge with Siva and become Ardhanareeswara. This merging of Parvati and Siva occurred on Karthigai Deepam day. This is one reason why the flame is lit on the summit of Arunachala on Deepam, in memory and honor of this union. Physically it signifies the Divine Union of Siva and Parvati. Spiritually it signifies the absolute union of Advaita Vedanta. Not two but One. Shiva and Parvati are not two but One. Man and God are not two but One.

This is one reason for the Karthigai Deepam flame atop Arunachala. The more well-known reason is that Siva is believed to have manifested (to resolve a dispute between Brahma and Vishnu as to which was more powerful) as an infinite column of fire  on Arunachala. “Arunachala” translates as “holy fire hill.” This is the story behind Deepam that is most widely  known as the reason for the lighting of the flame.

Here is the sign at the entrance of the temple:

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Saptha Rishis

Gowthama is one of the Saptha Rishis (“Seven Sages”). Per Hindu scriptures and legends, at the beginning of creation there were no Saptha Rishis. First, Brahma created 4 Primordial Rishis – Sanka, Sananandana, Sanath Kumara and Sanaadhana (also called Sanat Sujaatha). These four Rishis were the first born sons of Brahma. Later the four Primordial Rishis requested Bhagawaan Narayanan (Vishnu) to designate seven of the married sons of Brahma as Saptha Rishis. These were the original Saptha Rishis. In each Manu (“Age”—each Manu is 71 Yuga cycles. Each Yuga is said to be about 4.3 million years, so a Manu would be about 305 million years), there is a new set of Saptha Rishis. We are now in the seventh Manu, and the seven Rishis are: Viswamithra, Jamadagni, Bharadwaja, Gowthama, Athri, Vasissta, and Kashyapa.

Gowthama Maharishi

Gowthama  is known to have been a discoverer of Mantras. And, from Wikipedia, Gautama (using the alternate spelling) was also the author of the Gautama Dharma sutra, the oldest law book in the world. It is the earliest Dharma Sutra and contains 28 chapters with 1000 aphorisms. Almost every aspect of the observances of Hindu dharma is considered – including the rules for the four Ashramas (Stages of Life), the forty samskāras (rites of passage), the four varnas (castes), kingly duties, the punishments for various offences, the obsequies for the dead, do’s and don’ts of food consumption, the dharmas of women, the rules for Praayaschitta (atonement for sins), and the rules of succession of property.

Discovering the Kumbabishekam

Early one morning, we heard music from speakers on Girivalam Road, not far from our house, so we went to investigate. We found a big decorated pandal (temporary structure erected during Hindu religious festivals),  that had lights set up on it, and banana trees set out at the sides (to bring prosperity). In previous weeks I had seen brick masons working near here, but what they were building made no sense to me. Now we see that their work was part of the setup for the big celebration.

The First Day

The first day of the Kumbabishekam consists of several poojas. We did not attend any of these, but Sri Mahadeva explained their significance. First, there was a Ganapati (Ganesh) pooja, to remove any obstacles to the other poojas to come and to the Kumbabishekam itself.  Then they perform rites to ask permission for the Kumbabishekam from the gods, rishis, and elderly people.  The Navagiraha (the Nine Planets) pooja , done next, removes obstacles from the planets, so that the coming function will be successful. Also on the first day is  a special pooja for the the installation of the Temple Kalasam (The Kumbha, or the brass pots that will sit atop the temple). Finally, the new (and renewed) idols receive pooja on the first day.

The Second Day

It was on the second day that the music on the loudspeakers got our attention and we went to see what was going on. We arrived at the pandal, next to the temple.

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Across the street is a parked fire truck with some firemen sitting in front.

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Under the pandal there are many chairs set out. They are not yet occupied. It is pretty early in the day.

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A stage is set up at one end of the pandal. There are musicians, playing their horns and beating the drums. The speakers broadcast their music.

They are playing traditional instruments, the Nadaswaram (reed horn) and Tavil (drum). Both are traditional Tamil instruments. The Nadaswaram is the loudest acoustic non-brass wind instrument. In South Indian Hindu culture, the Nadaswaram is considered to be very auspicious, and it is a key musical instrument played in almost all Hindu weddings and temple ceremonies in Tamil Nadu. The musicians are playing a Carnatic raaga called Mangala Isai to start with, so auspicious energy should come to the ceremonial space.

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To the back of the pandal I see the brick structures I had seen being built. It is a Yagasala , a ritual enclosure.

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The Yagasala contains fire pits and altars. They were building a place for the fire sacrifice – Yajna, or Homa (also called yagna, yagam, homam, or havan). This is the oldest form of Hindu worship. From Wikipedia:

Yajna is a ritual of sacrifice derived from the practice in Vedic times (roughly 3500 years ago). Yajna is a ritual of sacrificing and sublimating the havana sámagri (herbal preparations) in the fire accompanied by the chanting of the Vedic mantras. The sublime meaning of the word yajna is derived from the Sanskrit verb yaj, which has a three-fold meaning of worship of deities (devapujana), unity (saògatikaraña) and charity (dána). An essential element is the sacrificial fire – the divine Agni – into which oblations are poured, as everything that is offered into the fire is believed to reach God.

In the Vedic period there were no temples. The main object of worship was fire that stood for God. This holy fire was lit on a platform in the open air under the sky, and oblations were offered to the fire. It looks like the first temples in India were built around 600 CE, about the same time as they started using idols for worship. From about 1000 BCE until the advent of the temples, brick shrines were the major places of worship in South India.

The Rig Veda states that Agni (fire) is the messenger who carries the devotees’ prayers and offerings to the gods. It is therefore customary to offer prayers to Agni and invoke His presence at the ceremony.

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There are four fire pits and altars here.

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The Purna-Kumbha

Set up all around the altars are many Purna-Kumbha (or Purna-Kalasha). These are pots (“kumbha” or “kalasha”), filled with water (and sometimes other things, such as turmeric), with 5, 7 or 11 mango leaves set out in a star pattern, with a coconut seated on top.The top of the coconut (called “Shira” – literally “head”) is kept uncovered. A sacred thread is tied around the pot. The Shira is kept facing the sky.

Here is a photo of a basic Purna-Kumbha.

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The Purna-Kumbha is considered a symbol of abundance and of the “source of life” in the Vedas. It is believed to contain amrita, the “elixir of life,” and thus is viewed as a symbol of abundance, wisdom, and immortality.

The pot symbolizes Mother Earth. The water symbolizes the primordial water from which the entire creation emerged. It is the divine essence and gives life to all. It is the soul filled with love and compassion, abundance and hospitality. Creation is represented by the green leaves and coconut is the symbol of God-head, or shriphala, the divine consciousness. The Purna-Kumbha has come to be considered as an object symbolizing God in Hindu culture.

There are many Purna-Kumbhas in the ceremony today, several on the altar itself, and many more lining the walls of the Yagasala.

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The Yagasala, the ceremonial enclosure

Below, a pile of malas that have yet to be presented to the various altars.

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There are four altars, one in each Yagasala (enclosure). On each altar is a primary Purna-Kumbha. It is during the fire sacrifice and poojas, and the chanting, that the spiritual power of these rites infuses the water in the Purna-Kumbha with spiritual energy.

The four Yagasalas worship Ganesh, Gowthama, Akasthiys (I do not know the meaning), and Sthupi (“Temple Towers”). The images on front of the altars are: Ganesh, Gowthama, the Purna-Kumbha, and the Swastika (signifying the sacred force, shakti).

Below is the altar in the Gowthama Yagasala. The primary Purna-Kumbha is on top in a bigger and more decorated pot.

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Wood to be used for the yajna. It is a special kind of wood, but I do not know what kind.

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Below are pictured implements for the yajnas. An important one is the wooden spoon in front, called a Sirk Siruvam, a special pooja implement. It will be used to give ghee to the fire, and later in the ritual, taking ghee to the main idols in the temple.

Some fire pits are square, some circular. This depends of the gods worshiped by the specific fire.

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Outside the main entrance of the Yagasala is a figure of Gowthama Maharishi. This is not the temple murti, but is a special figure made for this ceremony.

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More chanting from the stage. They are chanting Tamil songs about Siva and Parvati. This will go on all day, and is broadcast through the neighborhood via loudspeakers.

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It is quiet at the temple, for now.

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Much work has been done to repair and re-paint the figure on top of the temple. This is Gowthama Maharishi.

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In the mandapam (pillared hall) in the front of the temple the special brass Kumbhas sit, called Kalasam.  They will be installed on top of the temple, and will be the focus of the Kumbabishekam tomorrow. These are new, bought for this Kumbabishekam.

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Preparation of the Idols

The idols sit outside their chambers in the mandapam. They have been bathed, and have received a pooja.

They have been specially treated and worshipped for the last 45 days in preparation. They were put in water for 15 days, then in a paddy (rice) field for  15 days and finally draped with gold chains for 15 days. This is to remove the dosha (dangers, flaws, unfavorable influences) and clean the idols and make them ready for the oil bath. Then the priests perform a special ceremony to “open the eyes” of the idols, and make pooja to get ready to put on the sanctum sanctorum.  In the photo below, they are shown after this pooja and their “eye opening” ceremony, which we missed.

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The Sanctum Sanctorum, the Garbhagriha

Below is a photo looking into the Sanctum Sanctorum, called the Garbhagriha, or “womb-chamber.” Only priests (also called pujari when performing these functions) are allowed to enter the Garbhagriha (except during the cleaning and repair work that is a part of the Kumbabishekam).

The Garbhagriha is always square and sits on a platform, its location calculated to be a point of total equilibrium and harmony as it is representative of a microcosm of the Universe (or, alternatively, the human body). In the center is placed the image of the deity.

Now they are cleaning and getting ready for the installation of the main idols into the Garbhagriha.

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Large South Indian temples have Gopurams, gateway towers, at the entrance. These often have carved figures that tell stories of the god that is worshiped in the temple. Smaller temples, like this one, may just have a set of figures above the temple entrance, figures that announce the god of the temple, and tell stories of the god.

Here, I believe, these figures represent Gowthama Rishi instructing Parvati (I think in the form of Pachaiamman, the Green Goddess. This was a form Parvati took as penance, to establish peace and harmony in the world) so that she could merge with Siva and become Ardhanareeswara.

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Decoration continues, adding banana plants to the stone posts of the fence along the road.

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The singing, horns and drums continue to play.

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The Fire Sacrifice – Yajna

Now priests get ready to start the fires for the yajna. The priest pictured below, Mani Gurukkal, is doing jaba for Ganesh. (I think Jaba has to do with the handling of the beads. Anyone know more?)

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As this is done, other priests chant ancient Sanskrit chants. Indians will tell you that Sanskrit is a scientifically designed language, such that the words create vibrations that have impact beyond the meanings of the words.

The two priests seen below are relatives of A. Mahadeva Sivachariyar, leader of this Kumbishekam of Gowthama Temple. Both of these young priests studied the Vedas and agamas for seven years in gurukula at Sirgashi.  They are S. Vageeswara  Sivam Agama Sudamani and M. Yogeshwara Sivam Agama Sironmani.

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Ghee (clarified butter) is poured into a bowl to be used in the yajna.

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During the homa many things are offered: milk, curd, honey, fruits, sweets, and special medicinal plants, along with special wood put on the fire. The fire is the god. We are offering everything  to the god. This is the third altar, with the sacred symbol of the Purna-Kumbha, the auspicious pot that is full of life and abundance.

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The fire has been started in this pit. It is still quite small. Ghee is being added to the fire, which will make it bigger.

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A priest is doing a special pooja to one of the Purna-Kumbhas behind the altar. I think this will be one of the eight Purna-Kumbhas that will be taken and set out with the murtis in the temple.

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Chanting continues as a priest adds flower malas to the Purna-Kumbhas in the altar.

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The priest adds wood to the fire.

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Now we can see flames rising from the fire pits. This is the front of the Ganesh altar.

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Wood stacked next to a fire pit, ready to be added to the fire.

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The priest is making offering to the fire. I see puffed rice and flowers set out on the fire pit.

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Meanwhile, back at the temple, work is going on to prepare the chambers for the newly blessed gods.

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A. Mahadeva Sivachariyar stands to the right of Gowthama. His brother is on the left. It is quite a priestly family, I think. I have met their father, who was also a priest. He is 74 now.

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Flowers being offered by one of the priests.

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We stayed for a couple hours, watching and taking photos. The yajna with its Mantras and music will go on all day.

We left for some time then returned in the evening. Now all the lights were on and we could really see the decorations.

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The temple.

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Entrance to the Yagasala. The figures in light on both sides of the entrance are Gowthama, sitting on the left, and standing on the right.

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Tonight the Tamil Vedas are being sung and chanted.

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There is a big audience tonight. The chairs are filled.

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Still in the yagasala, chanting continues.

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As does the yajna.

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Sometimes they make an offering that makes a lot of smoke when it burns.

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Notice the turban that the priest is wearing, tied with a knot in the front. This is not the usual way of tying a turban, but it is used during this ceremony.

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The fire burns brightly in front of Gowthama. These fires can get pretty hot when you are sitting next to them, like the priest must do to perform the ritual.

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Adding ghee with a Sirk Siruvan.

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The fires for three of the gods. Below is Akasthiys.

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Gowthama.

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Ganesh.

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The temple is lit up too, with lights enveloping it.

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Near the temple, there is a small pandal. Someone is being felicitated in it. They are being honored by giving them a shawl.

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There is a big crowd in front of the temple, too.

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Many people are here tonight.

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Back at the temple, they are doing something to the Ganesh niche. I don’t know what.

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Since this temple is on Girivalam Road, the main Pradakshina road, where many sadhus live, many are in the audience tonight.

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Across that way the chanting continues.

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As do the yajnas in front of the four altars.

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Gowthama is happy tonight, full of spiritual charge.

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The spiritual energy today generated by the mantras, chanting, yajnas and poojas has filled the sacred pots, the Purna-Kumbha. Tomorrow this charge will be used to bring life to the gods of the temple in the final day of the Kumbabishekam. We will show you the conclusion of the festivities in the next posting.

Related Posts

Kumbabishekam for Gowthama Maharishi Temple–Final Day
Adi Annamalai Kumbabishekam

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6 Responses to “Kumbabishekam for Gowthama Maharishi Temple on Tiruvannamalai’s Girivalam Road”

  1. Usha Vasu Says:

    As always you have painted the scenario with beautiful words which is truly commendable. Thank you.

  2. Pavan Mohite Says:

    Thank you for your great effort and interest
    …..

  3. pumdv Says:

    Dear Ric
    This is a very hard work done by you not many Hindus will have taken so much effort and put it up here is so simple narrative.
    I just want to add that Buddha was the lineage of Gautama and his original means Go Thama means the cow that greens the earth,.

    The story of Sapta Maharishi is fantastic and so complex said in short crisp manner. Go Thama was the first person who never lied and his naya sashtra was adopted by Buddha and River Go davari also has origin to Gautama, Hanuman was grand son of Gautama and the prime role of Gautama rishis is purity and controller of air and our breath.
    If you see the diety of Gautama and his ears it will be the same as that of Buddha and the Idol resembles a chinese mongol face and not that of any regular India Face.
    I am very grateful that you brought out this blog

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE INFORMATION IN YOUR COMMENTS. Maybe I can use some of it in the next part of the article. I am working on it now, and have selected out 200 photos. This seems like maybe too much for one post, so I may make the third day in two posts.

  4. agoyvaerts Says:

    So much interesting information and photos, a great document, thank you so much Richard, I so enjoy your blog posts.

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      When I can, I like to document these in some detail, so people will know more about them, and as some kind of a record. Since these ceremonies date back thousands of years, the symbolism is quite deep.

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