Ramanasramam Kumbabishekam: Part 1

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For three days in August, 2013, a Kumbabishekam was held at Ramanasramam, for spiritual renewal of Mathrubuteswaralayam, the shrine to the mother of Sri Ramana Maharshi, and for Bhagavan Ramana’s samadhi shrine.

Ramanasramam really started with the Mother’s mahasamadhi in 1922. First her body was buried in this place, following what was known of the rules for burying a realized being. Then Ramana moved down the hill from Skandashram to this spot, and the ashram grew up around it. From David Godman’s wonderful “The Evolution of the Mother’s Temple:”

The temple had come a long way from the coconut-leaf hut of 1922.

Bhagavan himself summed up the rapid development of both the temple and the ashram when he remarked to T. P. Ramachandra Iyer, ‘I suggested that the body be buried silently before dawn. But things happened the way they had to happen. See how many constructions have now come up on the site where a body was silently buried!’

About the naming of the Mother’s Temple, from “The Evolution of the Mother’s Temple:”

If one looks over the entrance to the garbhagraha one can see two elephants carved out of stone. Under their feet is a carved stone scroll. The full name of the temple, ‘Mathrubuteswaralayam‘, meaning ‘the temple of God in the form of the Mother’, is carved in stone on this scroll. Bhagavan himself wrote out this name …

These Kumbabishekam ceremonies have been performed periodically since the first one in 1949. They normally occur every 12 years. Here is something written about the first one, also from “The Evolution of the Mother’s Temple:”

The kumbhabhishekam ceremony for the Mother’s Temple, which was performed in March 1949, was a fitting climax to the years of effort that had been expended in its construction. The ceremonies, which lasted for four days, were attended by tens of thousands of people from all over India. On the final day alone, over 15,000 people were fed in the ashram. So many visitors came that extra trains were laid on from Madras and Madurai.

For this year’s Kumbabishekam, weeks of work of preparation precede this day. This post shows some of the celebration on the morning of the first day, starting at about 7 am on 23 August, 2013.

When I entered the grounds, it was pretty quiet. I could see scaffolding on the towers above the temple.

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There was a pooja going on in Ramana’s shrine. Priests are chanting now.

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The president of Sri Ramanasramam, Sri V.S. Ramanan, sits in front of the shrine for the morning’s pooja. He is a grand-nephew of Sri Ramana, and many of Ramana’s family members will be present during this time.

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In front of Mathrubuteswaralayam there are elaborate kolams, rice flower patterns, on the floor.

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A camphor light is offered to Sri Ramana’s shrine.

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It is then set out in the hall for everyone to partake of the light.

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One of Sri Ramana’s family members stands for a photograph, with the yagasala (ceremonial enclosure) and Arunachala in the background.

Please note that I was asked just to use the name of V.S. Ramanan and his wife in this post. Family members will be referred to as such, without naming them. The management of Ramanasramam does not want the presentation of the Kumbasbishekam to be personalized.

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The yagasala.

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Priests have started to assemble.

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Here is the schedule for the three days.

And outside, Nadaswaram music has started. The playing of this loud reed-horn with the accompanying Thavils, drums, is considered to be very auspicious; it is traditional in South Indian temples. Usually the horns and drums will be in pairs, sometimes playing together and sometimes playing solo. The Nadaswaram is the world’s loudest non-brass acoustic instrument.

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Here is a short clip, so you can hear what it sounds like.

Nadaswaram music

The priests are starting to set up the main altar.

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The big pots with all the strings wrapped around them will become the Purna-Kumbhas that are the focus of the next two days of the ceremony.

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Here are the three big pots that are on the main altar. They are not complete; they do not yet have coconuts atop them. There is also a number of smaller pots used in the ceremony.

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V.S. Ramanan is coming to the yagasala.

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The Karta, the head priest for this Kumbabishekam, is Sri Jambunatha Ghanapatiga of Sri CCVV Trust, Coimbatore. (I wrote about this trust in 2009 when they performed an eight-day Athirudra Maha Yagna at Ramanasramam. See this post.) (Karta is also the title for the head of a joint Indian family.)

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Decoration of the altars is ready to begin with this load of flower malas.

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Two of the older priests sit. Notice the tonsure on the priest on the right.

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On the altar are a number of the smaller Purna-Kumbhas, “pots of plenty.” The Purna-Kumbha are ancient, known from the time of Rigveda. These pots are filled with water (and other items like rice and turmeric). The water will hold the charge of spiritual energy being generated by the mantras, poojas, and fire sacrifices. This water is what will be used during the Kumbabishekam to provide the spiritual energy that renews the temple.

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The scene has shifted to the Ramana shrine for another pooja, this one performed by the Karta and team of priests that will conduct the Kumbabishekam. This team of priests is drawn from various places in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The Ramanasramam priests will assist.

The Karta leads the pradakshina around Ramana’s shrine. Sri V.S. Ramanan and his wife, Susila Ramanan, follow, along with other members of Sri Ramana’s family.

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A camphor flame is offered to Ramana’s samadhi.

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Then to V.S. Ramanan …

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And other members of the family.

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A procession then starts, carrying offerings. I think this is part of the Anujñai, where permission is given to the priests to start the Kumbhãbhishekam proceedings.

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V.S Ramanan leads the procession back to the yagasala.

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When he enters the yagasala, he gives an offering to a priest.

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Other family members enter the yagasala.

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Then a special pooja starts, with V.S. Ramanan performing the pooja, led by the Karta. Other priests are sitting in two lines to the left of the fire pit.

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Here are V.S. Ramana and the family, sitting and standing in front of the main altar.

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A short video for a sample of the chanting.

Chant

As a part of this ceremony, money is given out to each priest who is participating in the Kumbabishsekam.

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V.S Ramanam is performing a series of acts that are intended to waken his nadis, channels of spiritual energy. Thus energized, the pooja will be much more effective.

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The pooja is begins.

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Light is offered.

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The Karta gives items to be offered in the pooja to family members.

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And returns to his chanting.

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Pooja being offered.

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Another gift is given out to the priests. This is a gift of clothes, new dhotis for each priest. V.S. Ramanan makes this gift to the Karta…

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…and continues with his pooja. You can see in the photo below that he is offering the pooja to a Purna-Kumbha.

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Meanwhile, in the front of the yagasala, another priest fills a strip of paper with rice powder.

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He uses this strip of paper, with holes punched in it, as a compass to draw a circle with several interior concentric lines.

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He then uses a wooden stick to lay out lines across the circle.

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Meanwhile the pooja continues. This Kumbabishekam is kind of like a three-ring circus, with many things going on at once.

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The priests working on the rice flower layout have added a central star to the drawing.

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The family rises at the end of the pooja.

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Now color is being added to the rice flour design. Something like a small kitchen sieve is being used to add the color. The priest taps the side to color the area. I am concerned because it does not look like he is coloring within the lines.

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Next, five chairs are set out in a row.

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V.S Ramanan sits in a chair to the side of the five chairs. As they try to select priests to sit in these chairs, one of them seems not to want to be so honored. Finally he relents, and lets them seat him.

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The first thing done is to wash the feet of these priests.

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Undisturbed by all the activity nearby, one priest continues his work on his mandala. He is adding white lines on top of the colored areas. Now the borders of each color are well defined.

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After the feet are washed, water is poured for hand washing.

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The water is brought for the priests to drink (and sprinkle on their heads).

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Next, a Ramana family member gives each priest some money.

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Then a banana. So the priests have washed, and been given drink, money, and food.

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Next, they are honored by Ramana family members.

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I have included this photo below to show the intense activity of photographers during this ceremony. You can see the man next to me taking a video.

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The last act with these five priests is to put a flower mala around their necks. This is done by a Ramana family member.

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The mandala is taking shape. Now two priests are again working on it.

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Meanwhile the Karta has taken his place in front of the main altar…

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…while work continues on the mandala.

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The Karta completes a pooja.

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The action then moves to the end of the yagasala, to where a mother cow and a calf have been brought.

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It is time for the cow pooja.

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The cow is marked with yellow turmeric, and red kumkum, and flowers thrown onto it.

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Naturally, the cow needs to be dressed.

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More flowers are tossed, while the cow is held in tight control by its handler.

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The cow gets a few bananas to eat, so there is some payoff for it.

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Then a camphor light is lit and the flame offered to the cow. I notice that they offer it to the rear of the cow. Maybe it would be afraid of the fire if offered to its head?

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Finally the priests and many in attendance walk pradakshina around the cow and calf.

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Here is the colored rice flower figure. Quite nice! And it was interesting to see just how they made it.

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Turmeric powder is being added to the top of the main fire pit. It must be getting to be the time for the fire sacrifice, the homa.

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While some priests talk about what is next, there is another rice flower figure being started on the ground.

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Outside the yagasala, someone starts a chant. I am not sure who he is, and I notice that he does not have a Brahmin’s thread over his shoulder. A reader commented that he is an Odhuvar. He is a singer, and Odhuvar’s do not wear sacred threads. Hindu Blog says:

Odhuvar are men who sing ‘Thevaram’ and other Tamil devotional hymns and songs in Shiva, Ganesha and Muruga temples in South India. They sing the sacred hymns during the main puja period. The word odhuvar comes from the word odhu or othu, meaning to chant. The verses they chant are usually from the Tirumurai, which is a collection of twelve books with hymns praising the glory of Shiva, Parvati, Ganesh and Muruga. It was compiled by Saint Nambiandar.

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A grid has been laid out for the next figure…

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…while the Karta is making an offering to the Purna-Kumbhas on the main altar.

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Three young men, Brahmins all, sit near the main altar. Notice three different styles of tonsure, hair cuts, on each of them. With their white threads, they almost look to me like they’re listening to IPods, with the white earbud cords.

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A flame is offered to the altar. Next it is offered to V.S. Ramanan and the rest of Ramana’s family.

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And the Karta does a full-body pranam to the altar.

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Yet another figure being laid out on the floor of the yagasala.

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Now a fire is being lit in a metal pan in front of the fire pit.

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The next colored figure is almost finished, with a white pattern on top of the colored circles.

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Now V.S. Ramanan’s wife, Susila Ramanan, is brought over to lift the metal pan to the fire pit, and to start the sacrificial fire for the Kumbabishekam.

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Now one more drawing is underway. This one is the feet of god. This image is important. The feet of the god are where he is said to actually manifest in this world.

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Smoke starts to rise from the fire pit.

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The Karta has sticks in his hands. These are special tools used to offer ghee to the fire.

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Flames start to rise out of the fire pit.

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The figures laid out on the floor are for a special pooja setup. A Purna-Kumbha has been placed in the center (on top of a bed of rice, and a piece of sacred grass). Other items for the pooja are set out, too.

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Many priests have joined the Karta around the sacrificial fire. They are throwing handfuls of special grass into the fire as the Karta chants. A fragrant smell fills the air.

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The photo below shows a detail I noticed. I have often wondered how these priests can sit so long on their crossed legs. When I do this, the first things that start to hurt are my ankle bones. This priest has big callouses on his!

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A priest sits at the colored mandala and starts his pooja.

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More grass is thrown into the fire.

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The other mandala is taking shape now.

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Smoke rises from the fire. One priest is doing a special pooja on a colored drawing. Another priest is making another colored drawing. Many things going on at once.

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A very different kind of figure from the other one is shaping up here.

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Now the priest is throwing handfuls of sacred grass onto the Purna-Kumbha he has been offering a pooja to.

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These fires get smoky! Sometimes the smoke is hard to take for those watching, so it must be hard for the priests sitting next to it. And the fire gives off a lot of heat as well. It is not so comfortable making a homa.

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A man took my camera, and wanted to take my picture. Here it is.

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A thick cloud of smoke rises from the fire.

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Now a flower pattern is being added on top of the pile of sacred grass.

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The other mandala is almost finished. Quite nice!

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And the fire continues to rise from the fire pit.

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It is about 12:30 now. I have to leave so I can get my camera batteries recharged for this evening. I went to Pondicherry earlier this week to buy a new camera for this event, since my last had just stopped working. They only had one spare battery, so I have only two of them. They are both about fully discharged from this morning’s pictures, and will take two hours to recharge each. I have to be back at Ramanasramam at 5 PM for the next part.

The next of this series of posts will start with these photos.

A word of appreciation should be given to Sri Sendhil Nadha Ganapatigal, teacher at the Veda Pathsala, at Sri Ramanasramam, who arranged this ceremony.

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For more information about the Kumbabishekam process, please view the posts below. They show in detail what happens at these holy celebrations. A Hindu priest worked with me so we could provide the correct details.

Kumbabishekam for Gowthama Maharishi Temple on Tiruvannamalai’s Girivalam Road

Kumbabishekam for Gowthama Maharishi Temple–Final Day

Culmination of Kumbabishekam of Gowthama Maharishi Temple in Tiruvannamalai

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9 Responses to “Ramanasramam Kumbabishekam: Part 1”

  1. Elangovan Perumal Says:

    Richard, thank you for your excellent coverage of the event.
    Hope you won’t mind a small suggestion from me, I feel, it will be better to mention as “Sri V.S. Ramanan’s family” instead of “Sri Ramana’s Family”. We all know, after leaving his Madurai Home on 29 Aug1896, Bhagavan never had a family. Now and even when Bhagavan was in his bodily form, we, all of his devotees and disciples constituted his family. I think, yourself and the President of Ramanasramam will agree.

  2. Venkata Ramana Sarma Podury Says:

    No regrets in missing this important event being away from Arunachalam. You made it so wonderful. You were sent by Almighty to Tiruvannamalai for a purpose and you have been doing it excellently.
    The name ‘mathrubooteswaraalayam’ was suggested by Ganapati muni

    The nadasaram bit is in raga shanmukha priya which means liked by muruga. It also starts with ‘saravanabhava’ another name of muruga. Ganapati Muni declared that Bhagavan is incarnation of Lord Muruga’.

  3. ram sarma Says:

    richard i was observing you all the three days.  what a patience ! u r standing hours together for photographs at 70+ age and again ready for the next shift without break . your (spi-) ritual batteries are always charged . should be bhagawan’s grace on you ram mohan sarma

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      I am afraid that I missed several hours of the celebration, having run out of energy. But thanks for the kind words.

  4. twopaisa Says:

    Good coverage. Just a small correction. V.S. Ramanan is not the nephew of Bhagwan. His father was.

  5. yveeinsj Says:

    Richard, thank you so much! I love both the pictures and commentary, it’s the next best thing to being there. Can’t wait for the next parts.

  6. Ammanji Vasu Says:

    “Outside the yagasala, someone starts a chant. I am not sure who he is, and I notice that he does not have a Brahmin’s thread over his shoulder. “.This person is called “ODHUVAR”. He sings tamil hymns, odhuvarsdoes not wear poonal.thanks for uploading photos.

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