In Tiruvannamalai, Navratri is marked with a pretty big-ten day festival. We heard from a friend that there is a wonderful small ritual that is done each day in the morning. So we went to Ramana Ashram today to check it out.
When we arrived, monkeys waited for us. They seemed to especially like this man.
Inside the Mother’s Temple is where most of the action is. Here they have just started to get Durga ready for the day.
They are very sensitive about the gods on the sides of the Inner Sanctum being unclothed. So even while they were cleaning Ma Durga so She could be dressed for the day, they leave this ornament on her.
While Durga is being cleaned and dressed, chanting and a pooja are offered to her.
Here is the priest and altar.
Another priest has almost finished dressing Durga. Since Navratri is a celebration of the feminine goddess, as represented by Durga, all during this festival she is well dressed and cared for. This festival is in honor of Shakti – the (feminine) Power of the Universe.
Here is a close-up. The Durga has been given a silver mask as well as elegant clothing and decorations. She is in the space on the north side of the shrine.
Behind the Inner Sanctum is the chair that is used to carry Durga on her processions during the festival, on the first and last days.
Since this is a temple, even during these rites people come to sit and worship. Here is someone at the Ganesh shrine.
In front of the Mother’s Temple, ashram women are laying out pooja plates, filled with items to be offered as gifts.
There is a part of this celebration that is done by Ramana Ashram that is not usually done around here, I think. It is a special offering, usually done at home by Iyer (Brahmin caste) women, offering gifts to other women.
We are seeing the preparation for this. I am not sure what the name of this Iyer rite is. I think it might be “Thamboolam.” A Rediff page says:
Iyer particularly enjoys arranging the thamboolam for her friends and relatives.
"Each day, as part of the thamboolam, the sumangalis who visit our house are gifted a range of accessories after the evening pooja. While bangles, bindis and mirrors are common, some of them also gift expensive sarees to nine sumangalis on one of the days. Women love collecting and sharing these gifts," informs Iyer.
Since this is basically a family ritual, it is not surprising that different Iyer families have different traditions. We are seeing the traditions of Ramana Maharshi (a Tamil Brahmin, of the Iyer group).
Sarees have been added to the gift trays.
Gift trays will be offered to four women each day of Navaratri. What I read about the Iyer rites talked about celebrating with married women, but we heard that of the four females to be honored each day, one is a younger girl, so they are making these gift offerings to girls as well as women. I was standing with the Ramanasramam President, Sri VS Ramanan, and he told me that selected for this rite were known friends of the Ashram, Ramana devotees.
This girl is one.
Here she sits next to the priest.
Two other ladies have joined her. There will be four altogether.
The rite is started by the wife of Sri VS Ramanan, Susila Ramanan. She is sprinkling holy water onto each of the participants.
They each take a sip and use it to anoint their feet and heads.
Sarees (or clothes, in the case of the girl) are offered to each woman.
During this, the normal activities of the Ashram continue. Right next to us is the morning pooja for the Mother’s shrine.
Many women are outside the shrine, watching.
The camphor flame is offered to Mother.
After the women are gifted the new clothes, they go in a small procession to the rear of the shrine, behind the Inner Sanctum. This area is blocked off from both sides for a few minutes.
In Ramana’s Samadhi, he is also being prepared for the day.
The girl has returned. If you look and compare her with the earlier picture, you will see that she has changed clothes. She wears the new clothes that have been gifted to her.
Next to these women, the morning pooja is being conducted for Ma Durga, the one you saw get dressed for the day. After the dressing is the pooja.
Flowers and jewelry are added to the girl’s hair. This will be done for all the women. It takes the other women longer to return, since they are wearing sarees, and it take a bit longer to get them ‘tied’ properly.
One of the women has returned. She is having new bangles slid over her wrist.
The priest is offering a camphor flame to Ma Durga. Richard is taking a photo.
Here is the photo.
A woman’s feet are being, I think, rubbed with turmeric paste. I saw this done to their faces and arms, but was not able to get a photo.
Flowers are given to each woman. See, they hold them in their saree palu, spread out before them.
Holy water is offered again.
The women drink it. (This photos is too bright. A flash from another camera went off just as it was snapped. We usually do not use flash in situations like this, since the flash is distracting and washes out the colors. We get fewer good photos, but the ones that we do get are better.)
Smt. Susila Ramanan offers the camphor flame to each of the women.
Then another part of the ceremony starts, one that I think is pretty typical. This rite is not just for those four women who were given the special gifts. What happens now is that the other women who are present can come and honor the four women, and then, in turn, be given gifts by these women. I think the symbolism is clear: Navratri worships the feminine. This rite personalizes this by worshiping these specific women. At the end of the ceremony the women present, in turn, worship these four women-as-representatives-of-God, and in turn are blessed by them.
Flowers from the Goddess to the worshiper.
During this, a simple prasad is offered to all present, so each of us can partake of God’s blessing.
The worship and blessings continue.
Ma Durga, in all her splendor, has watched over it all.
Here is the altar that the priest was using.
The New Hall is decorated for Navratri.
Here is the goddess, the main goddess, dressed for the day.
Close up of Her in all Her glory.
The morning pooja at Ramana’s shrine is almost over.
This all happened from about 8:30 in the morning to a little after 10. Really only a few people watched or participated. I think this is another precious ceremony, and I love those that honor women. I hope this post will let you share in this.