Not far from Sri Ramanasramam, about 1 km along the Pradakshina road, is a small temple that presently looks like the photo below. The temple is very old, with a tower that is in the old Dravidian style. It is dedicated to the Goddess Parashakti.
The Goddess Parashakti is the primordial female Hindu Goddess. She appears in many forms: Parvati, Durga, Lakshmi, Kali, etc. “Shakti” is energy. Shakti is feminine, and without this female energy there would be no creation and no energy in the universe. Siva without the Shakti or Parvati is nothing.
To maintain spiritual energy, Indian temples undergo a spiritual renewal periodically, every twelve years. For Siva temples, this is called a Kumbabishekam. This temple had not undergone a Kumbabishekam, I was told, for about 250 years. This photo below shows the temple after a big effort of repair and repainting.
Here is the same temple in 2010, before the work had started. I showed some of the work in this post, Preparation for Kumbabishekam at Parashakthi Temple.
Preparation of the Yagasala
A few days before the Kumbabishekam, they started working on the special spiritual ceremonial enclosure, the yagasala, that is needed for the rites.
Chalk lines mark the area, holes for the sacrificial fire pits have been dug, and the workmen have started building structures of brick for three altars. One small difference in normal construction techniques: instead of cement, they are using mud for mortar.
Two days later the altars and fire pits have been built. The outer mud layer is being added to the altars. I think the square fire pit is “masculine” and the round ones, “feminine.” It is just a guess, however.
One more day and the walls between the three parts of the yagasala take shape.
A number of sadhus frequent this spot. Here is one of them, in what seems like a “Crazy Sadhu” pose. Sometimes sadhus adopt these kinds of poses if they see you taking photos.
Final Preparation of the Temple
Two days later, the yagasala brick work is done, and final preparation for the Kumbabishekam has started. Much still has to be done; the Kumbabishekam will start in two more days.
Final painting of the decorative piece that will go over the temple entrance has to be finished.
The wooden stairway to the temple tower has been built.
Trees have been planted on temple grounds.
By the next day the wooden scaffolding has been built around the top of the temple tower. This will need to hold the weight of several people who will conduct the Kumbabishekam on this tower to complete the ritual.
Stacks of special wood to be used in the coming fire sacrifices have been brought to the temple.
Now on the morning of the first day of the celebration, lights have been put up and metal walls have been put up around the yagasala.
Stacks of neem branches have been brought in. Malas of neem leaf will be used in the ceremonies.
New carved idols have been made for this temple re-energization. They include the main goddess, Parashakti , her vahana, the lion, and Ganesh.
Looking inside the temple towards the inner chamber. Photos can be taken now, since there is no living god in the inner sanctum.
This is the only old stone carving remaining in the temple. Of Siva and Parvati. It looks like they are on horseback. This is not a usual mount for them, usually it is on a bull.
The new Parashakti idol, before installation in the temple.
The yagasala has three altars and firepits, each dedicated to a different god. The square one is dedicated to Ganesh.
Painted on its side is Murugan, the brother of Ganesh.
In the center enclosure, Parashakti is just drawn on the altar. Paint will come soon. Even though the rites start this evening, the painting is not yet finished. Pretty close to the wire, too close for comfort, if you are coordinating this celebration.
This temple commemorates the meeting of Parvati (a form of Paraskakti) and Bhringi Rishi, an ancient sage.
There is a big story about Bringhi (Pronounced something like bah-ringi) Rishi.
Bhringi was originally a demon named Andhaka. Andhaka was “born” to Siva and Parvati from a drop of sweat on Parvati’s hands after she playfully covered Siva’s three eyes with her hands (and shut down the universe for millions of years). Andhaka was born blind (since Siva was blinded at the time), and was a powerful demon. He is also called Andhakasura.
Andhaka wanted more power and did intense penance to please Lord Brahma (the lord of creation). Among many things, the boons he asked for included extraordinary vision and immortality. Everything was granted except the immortality.
Finally only Siva was able to conquer this demon.
Siva was in the middle of tapas (austerities, to gain strength for the coming battle) and Andhaka entered into a fierce battle with Veeraka, the guard of Siva. The battle continued for many thousands years. And finally Siva himself entered into the battle after he has completed his tapas.
Siva stabbed Andhaka with his Trishul (trident) and held him high in the sky for 1000 years. Andhaka finally understood that Siva and Parvati were his parents. Hanging on Siva’s trident, Andhaka praises Siva’s 108 aspects. And finally Lord Siva touched his son for the first time. Andhaka became bright and luminous on the touch. He begs for and gets forgiveness from Siva and Parvati. Andhaka the demon then became Bhringi, the rishi.
Bhringi (also known as Parangi or Bringi) was then dedicated to the worship of Siva, but he never considered Parvati to be a part of his worship. Well, this caused problems.
Bhringi regularly worshiped Siva at his abode in the Kailasa mountain. At the end of his worship he would always circumambulate Siva but never Parvati. Parvati, to be included in the worship, sat closer to Lord Siva. Bhringi noticed this, and realizing what had just happened, he turned himself into a bee and went around Siva thrice.
Parvati was enraged and Siva noticed what had happened. In order to teach Bhringi a lesson that Parvati is an integral part of him and cannot be excluded, he merged himself with Parvati, transforming himself into his androgynous form of Ardhaniswara, so that Bhringi would have to circumambulate both of them. Even this did not work. Bhringi, as the bee, bored through Siva’s penis, and just went around Siva, again ignoring Parvati.
Enraged, she said, “May Bhringi lose all parts of the body that come from the mother.” In Tantra it is believed that the tough and rigid parts of the body such as nerves and bones come from the father while the soft and fluid parts of the body such as muscles, flesh and blood come from the mother. Instantly, Bhringi lost all flesh and blood and he became a bag of bones. He collapsed on the floor, unable to get up. In this form he was not able to stand, and so Siva provided him with a third leg, which is how he is always pictured. Below is a common representation of Siva-Nataraj, with Bhringi on the left and Parvati on the right. (Image from the Wikimedia Commons.)
Realizing her error, Bhringi apologized to Parvati and Siva. And all was well again. This temple marks where Parvati is said to have appeared to Bhringi, I think in order to receive this apology.
Here is the new entrance to the temple. On it two figures are painted.
On the left is Parvati, on the right is Bhringi. (Note that one of his three legs is obscured by the decorations on the temple.)
First Night Pooja
Later that night, about 7 PM, the Kumbabishekam began. The temple was all in lights when we came.
The temple looks so festive!
First is the invocation, asking for the god to come. This was done with a pooja.
It is late in the pooja and here a camphor flame is being offered to everyone so that they can “take the light.”
The head priest for the celebration is from a 15th century Saivite mutt, Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam, near Tanjore, about 180 km away. A team of priests was brought here to perform the Kumbabishekam ceremony.
He is offering flowers to the one old murthi that remains in the temple. Maybe it has received enough worship over the years that the light of God still remains.
He then offers vibhuti and kumkum to those here.
Nearby, an assistant wraps thread around a large number of clay pots. These will be used over the next two days in the yagasala. They will make up the base of the Purna-Kumbhas, the “pots of bounty” that will absorb the spiritual energy of the coming mantras, homas (fire sacrifices), and poojas.
The painter is still working, now on the decorations of the yagasala.
This altar shows Siva and Parvati on its front.
After the pooja they gave us all a bit to eat, a sweet rice dish.
The priests also took this prasad to a cow across the street. Everyone is included.
Here is the front of the temple, after the pooja. The lights are set in a Tamil Om, and as flaming brass lamps.
Second Day Poojas and Homas
We were there early the next day. Outside the yagasala they have tied up banana stems. This is for prosperity.
A helper continues to wind string around clay pots. There will be many Purna-Kumbhas!
They have set up for a pooja in the Ganesh yagasala. First a Ganesh pooja must be done, to insure that there are no obstacles to a successful Kumbabishekam.
There are ten Purna-Kumbhas on the altar. Now they are complete, filled with turmeric and water, topped with mango leaves, then a coconut. These are temporary god figures for the rites to come. And the water will absorb the spiritual vibrations that are generated by the mantras, poojas, and homas.
Inside the inner sanctum of the temple, the idol is still not in place. Its platform is, though. Since there is no living god in the temple, a Purna-Kumbha is set up instead, as a presiding god for what comes next.
A Nadaswaram player takes his reed horn out of its case.
They then start to play. What is played is music that is auspicious for today’s rites, probably something like a Carnatic raga called Mangala Isai to start with, so auspicious energy should come to the ceremonial space.
Now Sri T. Siva Sharma, from Hyderabad, with his wife and daughter, join the priest in the yagasala. His generosity has made the spiritual renewal of this temple possible, so he and his family are the people that are most involved in the ceremonies.
The Ganesh pooja starts with a series of gestures that are intended to awaken his nadis, spiritual energy channels.
The priest chants as flowers are tossed.
The priest offers the flame to the pooja altar.
More nadi awakening.
As the pooja is going on, the main priest adds flowers to the Purna-Kumbhas.
At the end of the Ganesh pooja, Sri Sharma and his family make pradakshina around the temple.
They each carry pooja trays.
Next is a fire sacrifice. The participants are all women from the family, led by the mother. There are set out many different items to be offered to the god Agni in the homa. Each is in a small leaf bowl.
Some of the items to be offered.
The priest works on igniting the fire.
He adds some ghee. The oil helps the fire burn.
Now the fire is going, so they can start.
The women pass each item, counterclockwise, to each other, then to the priest, who offers it in the fire to Agni.
After this was done, they offered breakfast.
As people were eating, the fire sacrifice continued.
That evening there were more fire sacrifices to build up the spiritual energy. The energy needs to get strong, since it is this energy that is transferred to the gods, and that brings them to life.
Third Day Mantas and Homas
The early morning sunlight illuminates the temple front.
A priest tends to the main altar. There is a painting of Paraskakti on the front of the altar, so that is how we know it is the main one.
The main Purna-Kumbhas are gloriously decorated with flower malas.
The new idols all have been put in their final places.
Ganesh has been decorated with flowers.
Parashakti is in her place. I don’t know the name of the metal decorative frame behind her. These are commonly seen on the main gods in these temples.
The musicians are getting ready for the day. The drummer is using a wrench to tighten and tune his drum.
The horn players are checking their reed mouthpieces.
There is not much that the finger cymbal player needs to do.
Women from the sponsor family are busy putting together the offerings for the coming fire sacrifice.
A priest starts the day’s poojas and chants to Parashakti.
People watch and listen, sitting on the ground.
It looks like Ganesh has received an offering of ghee. He is bright and shiny.
Ghee has also been offered to Paraskakti.
The head priest has now taken over the pooja and chanting for Parashakti.
The sponsor, Sri Sharma, listens to the chants, rocking back and forth.
Trays of items for the fire sacrifice to Agni. He will be happy today!
Some of the items for Agni need to be broken out of their pods. This mortar and pestle is used for this.
The musicians continue to play. The sound of the Nadaswaram is in the background all through these ceremonies. (Note there is a link to a video at the end of this post where you can listen to the music.)
The priest offers a flower to the Purna-Kumbha that is the presiding god for this pooja.
Since this is on the Arunachala Pradakshina route, sadhus continue to walk by. Some just stand and look for a while, like this man.
A priest carries a Purna-Kumbha from the yagasala to the temple.
Here is the oldest god within the temple. The image is easier to make out, since it is covered with ghee.
Now they go around the temple, tying string to each idol, then breaking a coconut and showering it with coconut water.
While they do this a bell is being rung. The bell indicates this is some kind of high point of the ceremony.
Behind the temple there are some old Nagas. They get the same treatment. You can see the coconut water in the photo below.
Sri Sharma and his family join the priests for the final pooja.
Watching now is an old friend of ours, Swami Annamalai. He stays at this temple sometimes. He loves Siva so much that he wears 1008 Rudraksha beads around his neck.
The homa fires are going now in all three of the enclosures.
A young priest is chanting and ringing the bell. This final pooja is coming to and end.
Third Day Nadi Sanantham
Now comes a most important part of the rites, the Nadi Sanantham. In this ritual the main idol’s channels of spiritual energy are awakened. This needs to be done three times, for the bottom, middle and top parts of the idol.
The priest here carries a special ceremonial spoon, the sirk siirucan (spelling?), that is filled with ghee, and held over the homa flame to absorb its spiritual energy.
People crowd around the temple to watch.
This time the focus of the rite is on the bottom on the idol.
Now the second procession comes to the temple.
And the ghee is poured, it looks like, on the heart of the idol.
While this is going on, a helper sadhu carries water mixed with turmeric up to the top of the temple. This will be showered down on the devotees after the Kumbabishekam.
The third trip of the Nadi Sanantham starts with a procession around the temple.
Then the idol is anointed with ghee, this time of the head (really the nose).
For the next part, the breathing of life into the idol, a cloth curtain is held up.
During this the priest whispers the god’s name into its right ear, awakening the god into the idol. It now is no longer an inert idol, but is a living moorthy, filled with the living god.
People watch intently.
Now Parashakti is unveiled, and given the light of a camphor flame.
Third Day Final Procession
Now the celebration comes to its high point, the actual Kumbabishekam. A final fire sacrifice – homa – is made, to get the highest possible level of spiritual energy infused into the water of the main Purna-Kumbhas. It is this water that is used for the Kumbabishekam.
Some of the items offered give off a lot of smoke.
The musicians continue to play.
People start to gather around the temple tower. They want to see this high point where the brass “pot” (Kalasam) atop the tower receives the spiritual energy from the water from the Purna-Kumbhas. When this is done, then the Kalasam is connected directly to Parashakti, and viewing the Kalasam will bestow the same blessings as does direct viewing (darshan) of the god.
The pooja and homa end with the god being offered another camphor flame.
The musicians stand and are ready to lead the procession.
A priest carries two Purna-kumbhas out of the yagasala. Each moorthy will get one.
Sri Mani from Ramana Ashram watches. He has come for the Kumbabishekam. Ramanasramam is invited, I think, to most of these kinds of celebrations, and they try to come if they can.
The Purna-Kumbhas are laid out for the gods.
This is one of the main “pots of plenty” being carried to the temple.
Sri Sharma leads the final procession.
These special Purna-Kumbhas, that were the main ones on the altars, are being carried in procession.
They are carried on the heads of the priests. You can see that they wrap a cloth on top of their head to cushion the load.
Here comes the procession through the crowd.
Here is a close-up. You can see the extra effort done to decorate these Purna-Kumbhas. They are in larger pots, with colored string used as decoration. They are also tied with a cloth, their clothes, I think.
Up the ladder to the top.
Third Day Kumbabishekam
Priests are gathered at the top of the tower.
The priest holds the pot over his head and pours the spiritually charged water onto the Kalasam. The ceremony is now complete, and the temple again radiates the holy energy of Parashakti, renewed again after a hiatus of more than 200 years.
Priests scatter flowers onto the onlookers. Everybody wants to get something to be blessed today.
Holy water is poured from pots onto the crowd.
It is also thrown on us. Can you see all the droplets in this photo?
The holy water is colored yellow from the turmeric.
Hands reach up to get the blessings.
The Kumbabishekam is over now. Food is served for everybody across the road, so the crowd moved across the street.