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VanamJwalaNarasimhaRao FreelanceJournalist NationalInformationServices Hyderabad,jwala99@gmail.com Availableon+919849103359 OldestVedicRitualAthirathramtobeheldinApril2011 ThursdayJanuary20,2011 (BeforetheRitualstarted)


TheWorld'soldestsurviving4000yearoldfascinatingVedicritual,Athirathramwill beperformedaspertheVedicritualhierarchy,afteragapof35yearsinAprilthisyear,in Panjal village of Kerala State. Athirathram refers to 'building up of the fireplace and performed overnight'. According toDr Sivakaran Namboothiri, member of Varthathe, A Keralabased Trust organizing Athirathram, it is considered to be one of the most complex andgreatestrituals. TheofficialwebsiteonAthirathramdescribedthat,theVedicritualshavecomedown tohumanbeingsintwobroadtypestheGrhyaandtheSrauta.Theformerisconcernedwith rites of an individual such as the Upanayana or Marriage. The later on the other hand, is solemn and exalted, show casing in oral tradition the great learning of the Sruti literature, comprising,inotherwords,thethreeVedasRig,YajurandSamaandtheirancillarytexts.The GrhyasystemisstillinexistencealmostalloverIndia,whereas,theSrautatypehassurvived inonlyfewisolatedpocketsofBrahmangroups. TheNamboodiriBrahmansofKeralahavebeenkeepingalivetraditionsoftheSrauta rituals. Agni to the Nambudiris, lasting twelve days, is a great spectacle and display of learning.TheritualisthebasicfeatureofthecivilizationandreligionsofIndia.Itisdifficultto find out the extent of its influence on Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism which are the religions originated in India. Ritual activity is essentially physical and is therefore primarily relatedtothebodyunlikethinkingorbelieving,whicharemainlyconnectedwiththemind. Athirathram ritual emerged around the 10th century BC, and was practiced until the 6th centuryBC.InpostVedictimes,therewerevariousrevivalsofthepractice,undertheGupta and Chola Empire. By the 11th Century, the ritual was kept alive only by the Namboodiri BrahmansofKerala. In1975the12dayritualwasperformedatPanjalbyNamboodiriBrahminsofKerala. Long considered extinct and never witnessed by outsiders, the ceremonies require several monthsofpreparationandrehearsals.ThisperformancewasinstigatedbytheIndologistDr. FritsStaalof the University of California and by Robert Gardner,withsupport fromseveral international agencies. The two Vedic Scholars primarily responsible for the 1975 performance were Brahmasree Muttathukattu Mammunnu Itti Ravi (undisputed master of the Jaiminiya Samaveda) and Brahmasree Cherumukku Vaidikan Vallabhan Somayajipad or CV(occupiesacentralpositionintheritualrealmoftheRigVedaandYajurveda).FritsStaal whoiscurrentlyEmeritusProfessorofPhilosophyandSouthandSoutheastAsianStudiesat theUniversityofCalifornia,Berkeleysucceededinpreservingthisritual.Hewasresponsible

fororganizingandrecordingtheritualindetailwiththehelpofgrantsanddonationsfrom Harvard,theSmithsonianInstitution,TheRockFoundationandothers. Seventeen priests are required for performing the Agni. The course of time is 12 days. The First day begins with the Yajamana and his priests entering the ritual enclosure carryingthreesacredfires inpots. The main ritual vessel is prepared fromclay. A symbolic animal sacrifice would be performed for Vayu. After selection of five chief priests fire is producedbyfriction.ThisisfollowedbytyingaturbanaroundtheheadofYajamana.Heis protected by a golden breast plate, is given a staff and closes his fists and deprived of speaking (except for recitations), from bathing etc. The Yajamana picks up the main ritual vesselfilledwithfire,andtakesthreestepswithit. OntheSeconddayanotherritualpot,alsomadeofclayisprepared.Asacrificialpole is made on the Third day. The measurements of the Mahavedi and of the birdshaped offeringaltararelaidout.OntheFourthdayamongothers,theIndraGodisinvitedtoattend theritual.Seedsaresownintheplowedgroundandthemainritualvesselofthefirstdayis buried.Constructionofthebirdshapedaltarisstarted.FromFifthdaytoSeventhday,after themorningactivity,subsequentlayersofthealtararelaidoneachday.Theeveningactivity follows. On the Eighth day in addition to the normal ritual of the day, the fifth layer is laid. ThentheYajamanawishesthebrickstoturnintocows.OfferingsaremadetoRudra.Onthe Ninthday,theimplementsusedintheprocessareputdownonthenewaltarintheshapeof a man .The Agni from new domestic altar is installed on the new offering altar. Long continuous oblation of ghee is made followed by other oblation and offerings. The hall of recitationismade.Thesymbolicanimalsacrificeisperformed. The ceremonies from Tenth day up to the dawn of twelfth day will continue throughout out the next two days and nights. On the tenth day some priests including Yajamana crawl in snake like procession on to altar for offering. Numerous rites are performedsimultaneously.Firesareinstalledinhearthsintherecitalhallalso.Symbolically elevenanimalsaresacrificed.OnthetwelfthdaytheYajamanaandhiswifetakeAvabhratha bathfollowedbyasymbolicsacrificeofgoat.TheYajamanainstallsthreefiresonhishome afterreturningtothehome.HeperformmorningandeveningAgnihothrafortherestofhis life. Eachday,theritualsvary.ThemajorofferingstothesacrificialfireareSomarasa,the juiceofSomalatha,anherbalplantplusdozensofotherherbs.Thefireiscreatedbyrubbing twopiecesofwood,asdetailedinancientVedicscriptures.Nomodernpropisused. AthirathramisnowbeingrevivedthroughagrandpubliceventbyVarthatheTrust formedbyagroupoflikemindedindividualsfromIndiaandabroad,cuttingacrossdifferent professions such as financial services (banking), advertising and law. Preparations are currentlyonforAthirathram.TheTrustisbasedinOttapalam,Palakkaddistrict,Kerala.The Trusthasbeenformedtoservethesocietyatlargebyimpartinganddisseminatingancient Indianscientificandphilosophicalknowledgetowardsattainingunity,peace,prosperityand ultimatewisdom. AthirathramisplannedinPanjalfromApril415,2011.Thetrainingandrehearsalsfor theritualareongoing.TheYajamanaofthe2011PanjalAgniwillbePutillattuRamanajan Somayaji. The ritual will be performed just as it was done 4000 years ago, with wooden vessels and bricks. No use of metal will be made. The Yajamana or the main conductor of

Athirathram has gone through rigorous preparation prescribed for performance of Athirathram. The Adhvaryam of the Yajurveda in the ritual and the heaviest load will be bornebytheKaprafamily,theHautramoftheRigVedaisledbytheNarasfamilyandthe AudgatramoftheSamavedaintheritualbyTottam. Panjal in Kerala is getting ready to host Athirathram. Preparations for the Panjal Athirathram 2011 began after obtaining consent from Lord Dakshinamurthy of the ShukapuramTemple.Thedeity'sblessingsweresoughtbyrecitingShlokasandprayers.The Yajurveda and Samaveda practices that precede Athirathram have already begun at Panjal. Traditionalcraftsmenarebusymakingtheinnumerableclayandwoodenutensilsthatwillbe utilizedduringtheritual.Thechoiceofthevenueisalsoinaccordancewithgeographicand vaastu principles.Panjal is in close proximity to the Edappal Shukapuram Temple, regarded theepicenterofallYagarituals. Can anyone confidently confirm that ritual has been conducted precisely in accordance with the Vedas? "Spotting of a solitary eagle flying in the sky above the Yagnashalaandaheavydownpourareindicationsthatthegodsarepleasedwiththeritual," saysaNamboodiriwhobelievesstronglyintheAthirathram.In1975,forinstance,itrained! Writing about Athirathram, Prof Staal mentioned that, temples, cathedrals, and skyscraperswerebuiltandfellintodecay,languagesandreligionshavecomeandwent,and innumerable wars were fought, the Vedas and their ritual continued to be transmitted by word of mouth, from teacher to pupil, and from father to son. What a triumph of human spirit over the limitations of matter and the physical body!Staal, now over 77 years old,along with a large team from Harvard is expected totravel to Kerala and observe the performanceofthe'Athirathram'inAprilatPanjal.MoredetailsonAthirathramcanbefound at: http://www.athirathram2011.com

LakhsofPeopleWitnessPanjalAthirathram2011VedicRitual SaturdayMay7,2011 (AftertheRitualwasperformed)


It was April 15, 2011, twelfth and the concluding day of four thousands year old Athirathram Vedic Ritual, that got off to an auspicious start on 4th April at Panjal, a village with a population of 32,000, near Trichur in Kerala. It is believed that at the end of Athirathram there would be heavy rain. The Panjal Athirathram of 1975, the previous one that was held, witnessed rains sometime after the Yagashala was set on fire. This time the ritual of setting the Yagashala on fire got delayed and was done at 10 PM. With a few minutestosparefortheYagashalatobesetonfire,therewasaheavydownpourinPanjal. Lakhsofpeoplewhohadgatheredtowitnesstheritualcheeredandclapped.Afewminutes later,theotherriteswereconcludedandtheYagashalawassetonfire.Theculminationof Athirathramwastrulymagical.IncidentallytherewasheavyraininHyderabadCitytoo,the firstaftertheTeluguNewYearsDayUgadiandontheconcludingdayofAthirathram.

PreparationsfortheYagam

Spreadacross12days,AthirathramisconsideredtobethegreatestVedicritualandis theworldsoldestsurvivingritual.Overfivethousandpeoplewereatthevenueondayone to witness the ritual performed after 35 years gap. Scholars, researchers and academicians from several international universities including Harvard reached the venue to study Athirathram. Professor Frits Staal, an Indologist and one of the driving forces behind the preservation of Athirathram also attended the ritual. Athirathram has been revived by Varthathe Trusta body formed by a group of likeminded individuals and professionals spread across the country to preserve Indias culture and heritagein a grand public ceremony. Varthathe Trusts maiden initiative is aimed at invoking universal harmony and peace,andtospreadthemessageofbeingonewithnature. SomescientificstudieswerealsomadeatAthirathramunderthesupervisionofDrVP NNampoori,formerDirectorofInternationalSchoolofPhotonics,CochinUniversity(CUSAT)

andEmeritusScientistatCouncilforIndustrialandScientificResearch(CSIR),Governmentof India. The research involves studying the impact of Vedic chanting and Yaga on agriculture anditsimplicationsonmicroorganisms.

FirstDaysVisitors

OndayoneritualslikeIshtimeasurementofYajamansheight,collectionofUkha(like pots), Vayavya Ishti (worship of air) were performed. In addition, Rakshapurushavaranam (AppointmentofRakshapurushaforsecurityofYaga);Ritwikvarana(AppointmentofRitwiks); Naandhimukam (Ritual for conclusion of Yaga without any obstruction); Shuddhi (Bahyashuddhiexternal purification by bathing); Punyahavachanam (cleansing ritualthe recitation of the Punyaha Mantra); Abhyantara (internal purification by Pranayama); Shraddhaahwaanam (Invitation of the Shraddha Devathaconcentration); Sankalpa (ExplanationofperformanceofAthirathram);Shaalapravesha(Ritwiksenteringthroughthe western gate, Invitation of the horse, donkey); Saavitrihoma (Preparation of sacred ghee); Agnimathanam(Churningofsacredfirethroughfriction);Agniviharanam(Distributionofthe sacredfireintothreehomakundas);Hotrahoma(Functionforavoidingimpuritieslikepula deathinthefamily);Kushmaandihomam(Repentingmistakescommittedinthepastbythe Ritwiks);Apsudeeksha(Purificationbath);Deekshaneyashti(StartingoftheVratha,explaining therulesforRitwiksduringAthirathram)andPraishartha(Satwikfood)werealsoperformed onfirstday. TheritualsontheseconddayincludedVatsapraUpasthaanam(adorationoftheUkha fire), Sanigraham (formal collection of money for the Yaga), Pravargya Sambhaaramthe formal collection and Samskaaram of the items required for Pravargyam. The rituals performed during the day are: Vishnukramanam (A gold coin is threaded in a piece of coir andputaroundYajamansneck),Krishnajana(deerskin)iswornbytheYajamanawhothen withhisfistupintheairtakeshisvowsfortheday.Hethenrecitesover50dosanddonts. These include: no sleep during the day, will not think anything negative, will not mock anybody,wonteatanythingunnecessary,wontcutnailsorhairandwontapplyoil,among others.

Other rituals performed on the second day include: Valsapraupasthaanam (recite mantraforValsapramaharishi),Vedikaranam(ThemeasurementsoftheMahavediandthe birdshapedofferingaltararelaidout)andYoopaSampaadanam(Asacrificialpoleismadeby cuttingatreeanditisinstalledattheYagnashala).Mantraswerechantedforprotectionof fivePranaspresentinthetree.Themantraswerealsochantedtopreventthesecretedgum fromthetreetonotrobitofitsSatvikqualitiesandfornondisturbanceofanylivingbeingor inhabitantsofthetree.Devayagnaadhyavasaanam(restrictingspacefortheYajamana)was done. Yajamana declared places he can visit within the Yagashala. Shetramaapavam (MeasurementofthemainhallandChiddioneofthefewprocessesofAthirathramwhereno mantraisrecited)andMahavedeekaranam(Themainhallandchiddibirdshapedaltar)were prepared.ThedayendedwithVrathaDoham(milkingthecow,andboilingthemilk,allwith theaccompanyingmantras)andVrathaPaanam(consumptionoftheboiledmilk).Vrathamis themilkfortheconsumptionoftheYajamanaandthePathni(Yajaman'swife). On day three, Seventeen Ritwiks from Rig Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda (main priests);35assistantsand10Acharyas(supervisorsandmentors)supportedtheAthirathram YajamanaPutthillamRamanujanSomayajiinsidetheYagashala.Theoldestteammemberis Acharya Ravi Akkithirrippad at 83 while the youngest is 11year old Samavedi Sivakaran. Sivakaranstudiesin6thstandardandhasbeentrainedforeightmonthsbyhisfatherKrishnan Namboothiri for Athirathram. Sivakaran says he finds Vedas interesting and likes to read Vivekananda stories. The Ritwiks at Athirathram comprised of four Yajur Veda Ritwiks includingthemainpriestAdhwaryuwhoassiststheYajamana;fourHothapriestswhochant RigVedaandfourUthgathapriestswhochantSamaveda. Sivakaran played the role of Subrahmanya priest at Athirathram who invited Lord Indra, the god of all devas, for soma pressing, an important ritual of Athirathram. The invitation is extended for six days in the mornings and evenings.Initially, the invitation is extended directly to Indra through the samaveda chant Indiraaagaccha. When Indra does notarrive,heisinvitedastheparamourofAhalyaIndiraahalyaajaarainthehopeitpleases himandhecouldaccepttheinvitation.Onthemorningofthe10thdayofAthirathram,the SubrahmanyapriestextendedaninvitationtoLordIndrainthenameoftheYajamana.Soma isthemostimportantofferingatAthirathram. The highlight of the third day was Pravargyeisti. In this ceremony, ghee is poured in theMahavirapotandburnt.Cowsmilkisaddedtothepotwhichcausesatallcolumnoffire. Sometimes the fire could go up to 30 feet. This custom is not meant to be witnessed by women; one of the reasons being the fumes emanating from this Homam is not good for womenshealth.TheothermainritualperformedwasShianachitthiinwhichthefirstlayerof thebirdshapedmainAltar(Anelevatedplaceorstructurebeforewhichreligiousceremonies wouldbeenactedoruponwhichsacrificescouldbeoffered)ofAthirathramwaslaidout.The Garudashapedaltarhousespositiveenergy. In addition to Pravargyesthi and Shianachitthi, other rituals that were performed during the day are: Garhapathyachitthipreparation of the Chitthi named garhapatya; Aahawaniyaagni (fire from the first three days of Athirathram) was removed and fresh soil was laid on the Chitthi and water purified through mantra is sprinkled on the fresh soil; Adhwaryu (main Yajur Veda Ritwik who assists the Yajamana) prepares the Chitthi; Somasadanam(whereSomaplantiskeptintheaasana);PadhagrahanamAcalfisbroughtin and it takes seven steps and the area where the calf lays its seventh step is marked;

SomakrayamPurchase of soma from the cart; AdhitheishtiSomalatha is brought in the bullockcartandkeptinthepeedha;SakhyamTheRitwikspledgetoworkasateamforthe success of Athirathram; UpasathPart of Yajamans deeksha; Subrahmanyaaahwaanamthe subrahmanya priest extended an invitation to Lord Indra; Vedikaranam and Kuzhipada ArrangementoftheVedi(platformfortheyaga);Pravargyeishtiwasrepeatedintheevening.

11yearoldSamavediSivakaran

Shianachitthi3rdday

OnthedayFive,81yearsoldFritsStaal,whovisitedPanjal,deliveredaspeciallecture on A Theory of Ritual at Brahmaswam Madham (Vedic Research Centre) in Trichur. Athirathram has also seen participation from research scholars and academicians from international universities such as Harvard, Howard and Kyoto. Prof. Staal is a renowned IndologistandoneofthedrivingforcesbehindthepreservationofAthirathram.ProfStaal,

currently Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and South & Southeast Asian Studies at the UniversityofCalifornia,Berkeley. In 1975, Prof Staal spent a few months to study and record the performance of Athirathram.ThePrefaceofhisbookAGNIreferencebookonAgnichayana,hasafascinating account of how Prof Staal came to record Athirathram. Scholars, professors, Vedic experts andothersattendedthetalk.Dr.JohanFrederick(Frits)StaalstudiedMathematics,Physics andphilosophyfromtheUniversityofAmsterdamin194854.During19541957hegothis Ph.D. from University of Madras and also studied Indian Philosophy and Sanskrit from the BanarasHinduUniversity. WithAthirathramenteringitssixthday,almost50percentoftheformalprocedures completedinthe12dayVedicritual.TheritualsconductedonsixthdayincludedPravagyam, offeringofmilkandgheeforAshwiniDevasintheMahaveerapot;Upasath(offeringgheefor Agni,SomaandVishnu)andSubhramanyaAhwanam(InvitingLordIndra). EightyearoldSankarnarayananfromKaapramaarathumana,aparikrami(assistant)at Athirathram,waspartoftheritesforthelayingoutof3rdlayerforShianachitthi(mainbird shaped altar).Sankaranarayanan has been studying Vedas for one year now fromBrahmaswam Madham (Vedic Research Centre). His grandfatherSankaranarayanan akkithirippadwastheYajamanaofanAthirathraminaprivatefunctionbyafamilyin2006. MichioYano,ProfessorofSanskritandIndianculturalhistoryatJapansKyotoSangyo University,attendedAthirathram.Heattendedthe3000yearoldVedicritualforinputsfor his new book in Japanese Inspiration of Indian Mathematics.There will be a chapter on most ancient mathematics and that started at Athirathram, with the Shianachitthi. I have read a great deal about it but wanted to visit Athirathram to see it with my own eyes. EverythingIhavereadIhaveseenhereandIamhappy,saidProfYano.HefirstvisitedIndia in1975,coincidentallythesameyearwhenAthirathramwaslastheldinPanjal.Athirathram alsosawmanyleadingacademiciansandscholarsvisitingtheritualonSunday.Amongthem wasnationalacademyawardwinningnovelistDr.PunnathilKunjabbdullah. ThefourthlayeroftheShianachithiwaslaidoutontheseventhdayandPravargyam an important ritual that involves adding milk to ghee heated in very high temperaturewas performed.AhugeballoffireeruptedoutoftheMahavirapotwhichwasphotographedby ArtistGireesanBhattathiripad.ThedaysceremoniesalsoincludedUpasath(offeringgheefor Agni,SomaandVishnu)andSubhramanyaahwanam(InvitingLordIndra). Forty years old Gireesan, numbered the tiles used for Shianachithi and also drew sketchesofBull(ItsymbolizesthearrivalofBull,thecarrierofLordSivaondayonewhenthe Shianachithilayerislaidout.TheBullwaitsforHimtillthelastlayerislaid),Vyaali(Dragon face seen in the entrance of temples seen as good omen, this is drawn on the Chithi entrance) and Vikarni on the tiles used forthe mainaltar. He used dissolved ricepower to makethedrawings.

ProfStaal

Prof.MichioYano

The story behind Vikarni is interesting. Legend has it that she was a washerwoman withnoears.OnedayshesawsmokecomingoutofaYagashala.Sheenquiredaboutitto thepassersbyandwastoldallDevashadgatheredforaYagaandthattheycouldevenbless herwithears.VikarnileftherworkmidwayandrantotheYagashalaobliviousofherscantily clad status. She lost her clothes as she ran to the Yagashala where the devas blessed her, gaveherclothestowearandshewasalsogivenears.Shewasthengivenapermanentseat attheYagashala.

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With Athirathram entering eighth day, the main Altar Shianachithi was to be completed and the last and fifth layer of the altar laid out on that day. The altar is constructedsuchthatlayers1,3and5aredifferentfrom2and4withthelayerssignifying the changing seasons. The Garudashaped chithi has been used for centuries by rishis who createdtheshapeonthebasisofVaastuShashtra. An important ritual Ksheera dhara was performed on eighth day which involved pouringofgoatsmilkonthealtar.DuringKsheeradhara,apowerfulRigVedaChantcalled SreeRudra,theimpactofwhichissaidtobehigh,waschanted.Fromnow,allmantraswill bechantedonthismainaltarandallyagaswillbeheldhere.TheChithiwillthereforehouse ampleamountofenergy.SreerudraischantedtopacifytheChithi.Goatsmilkispouredover theChithiinasteadystreamduringKsheeradhara.Incidentally,goatsmilkisprescribedas partofAyurvedictreatmentforPithadosha.AwoodenfrogwasalsoplacedontheChithito as part of the cooling down process. A kite was seen flying over Panjal today where Athirathramisbeingheld.Thebirdwasalsospottedyesterday.Thisisseenasaverygood omen.ThedaysotherritesincludedPravargyam,UpasathandSubramanyaaahwaanam.The days ceremonies ended with Chithi Namaskaram and Chithi Dakshina, and repetition of PravargyamandUpasath.

Altar3rdlayer6thday AsAthirathramentereditstenthday,theancientritualcontinuedfromthenonwards, withoutabreakforover65hourstillitconcludedon15thAprileveningwhentheYagashala wassetonfire.Whiletheritualscontinuedthroughthenightonthe12thday(April1415), someweretobeextendedthroughthenightduringthenexttwodaysalso. Themostsignificantritualperformedonthe9thdaywas,AgniPrayanaminvitationof AgnitothemainaltarandinstallingitontheShianachithi.Ahomamwasperformedfollowed bytransportationofalltheitemsincludingtheMahavirapotandotherimplementsusedin thePravargyainatraditionalmannertotheDasapadam(eastofthealtar).Thesewerethen placed on the Shianachithi and arranged in the form of a male human figure, known as

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Yajnapurusha.TheimplementsusedforPravargyawerearrangedtosymbolisetheorgansof Yajnapurusha. Agniwasthencarriedtothenewaltarandinstalledinthecentreofthebirdaltar.A longcontinuousoblationofclarifiedbutterwasmadeintothesacrificialfirethroughalarge ladle and this rite is called Vasordhaara (Flow of Wealth). During Vasor dhaara, ghee is poured continuously into the fire accompanied by chamaka mantram, which is a Yajurveda mantrameanttoenergize.

Pravargyam6thday Other rituals performed include Pravargyam, Upasath Ishti, Subrahmanyaahwaanam, Chithi samskaaram (for purification of main altar), Gharmodwaasanam, (disposal of the pravargya implements), Brahmovdhanam, (preparation of food for Brahma) Vaajaprashaveeyam,anofferingofmanymedicinalplantstothefireprayingforcuretoall illnesses, Pashuishti (offering of Vaapa, originally comes from goat and now symbolically madewithriceandHavis)andpanchadohampreparationofmilk. The tenth day started at 2 am and saw several important rituals being performed including Somaabhishavam or Soma pressing. Soma is an important offering in the Athirathram Yaga. The Soma was taken out of the cart and the important Praatharana Uvaakamwasperformed.FormalAbhishavamwasdoneseparatelyforeachSavanam.They aretobedonejustbeforeandaftersunrise,respectively,supportedbytheveryimportant Shodasi sasthram of Hothan. The first Somaahuthi, called Upaamsuhomam, was done by AdhwaryuandpouredintotheUpaamsu,andtheYajamanperformsSomaahuthiwithit. The preparation of Soma juice for the second Somaahuthi is an important ritual. A cloth piece (Dasaapavithram) is kept stretched for straining Soma into the vessel (Dronakalasam)keptunderneathontheUparavappalaka.TheSomajuiceistakenfromthe vessel with an earthen pot (Kindi) and poured over Dasaapavithram and the strained juice dropsdownasastreamDhaaraintotheDronakalasam.ItisfromthisDhaarathatSomais

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collected as and when needed, using wooden OordhwaPaathrams. Eleven of these are requiredformostordinaryYaagams.NinearemadeofPeraal(banyanFicusbengalensis). ForAthiraathram,3morepots,calledAthigraahyas,arealsoneeded.

Balloffireduringpravargyam

As part of the tenth day rites, the Ritwiks occupied their respective positions, a process known as Kutipukkirikkuka and sing Bahish Pavamaana Sthuthi for cleansing the mind, and other Sthuthis and Sasthrams, before the Savanam rituals. It is believed that Aswinidevathas hear this Stuthi. After Sthuthi, Soma is caught (Grahanam) in the Aaswina Paathram. After this, a general and specific Upasthaanam (Somopasthaanam) is done with theSomajuicekeptinthedifferentvessels.Vaapahomamwasalsoperformedbypreparing vaapainearthernpots. The other rituals performed include Praathassavanam, Bahish Pavamaana Sthuthi, Graha Grahanam, Savaneeya Yagam, SthuthiSasthras Somaahuthis, First Aajya Sasthram, First Aajya Sthuthi, Pra uga Sasthram, Second Aajya Sasthram, Second Aajya Sthuthi, Third AajyaSasthram,ThirdAajyaSthuthi,FourthAajyaSasthram,FourthAajyaSthuthi,Extracting Soma juice, Maadhyandina Pavamaana Sthuthi, Savaneeya Pasupurodaasa Homam, Savaneeya Purodasa Homam, Dakshina Maruthwatjya Sasthram, Abhishekam of Yajamana, Bruhat Saamasthuthi, Nishkaivalya Sasthram, Vaamadevya Sthuthi, Second Nishkaivalya sasthram, Naudhasa Sthuthi, Third Nishkaivalya sasthram, Kaaleya Sthuthi and Fourth Nishkaivalyasasthram. MaadhyandinaSavanamisaritualwhenafterSthuthis,Somaiscaught(Grahanam)in theAaswinaPaathram.Afterthis,ageneralandspecificUpasthaanam(Somopasthaanam)is done with the Soma juice kept in the different vessels. Embers from Agneedhriyam DhishnyamaretakenandplacedintheothersevenDhishnyamsandHomamsareperformed. ThisiscalledDhishnyaVyaaghaaranam.

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Fourthlayerofchithi At 3 am on Thursdaythe eleventh day, as part of the rites, Panjal Athirathram YajamanaRamanujanwascoronetedasAkkithirripad,anhonorreservedforthemainpriest of any Athirathram. Abhishekam is the ritual (after a series of six homams) performed by AdhwaryubeforeformallychristeningtheYajamanaasAkkithiripad.Athirathramisseenas theultimatesacrificeoftheYajamanawhocommitshisentirelifetotheritual.Aftertheend ofAthirathram,theYajamanacarriesthefirefromtheritualwhichwillbekeptburningathis house.Hewillperformdailyritualsforaslongashelivesandthisfirewillbeusedtolightthe pyre when he or his wife passes away. The Yajamana of Panjal Athirathram 2011 is Ramanujan Akkithiripad, 57, from Chembra in Palakkad District. He did his Soma Yaga in Trichur in 2003. He was a priest at the Trikovil Vishu Shetram temple in Chembra before performingAthirathram.HeandhiswifeDhanyapaththanaadihavethreesonsRavindranath, UmanathandNarayanan.

ChithiNamaskaram

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AformalprocedurecalledSowmyamwasalsoconductedthatday.Sowmyamismade using Charu (a product made of rice) and is prepared by Prathiprasthhaathan, after which gheeispouredintotheCharuandtheThaithareeyasaswellastheSaamavedisintheSadass seetheirownreflectionintheghee.TheHomaSesham(remainsoftheoffer),ifconsumed by pregnant women, particularly if she is in the first 2 months of pregnancy, is believed to causebegoodforherchild.Itisalsobelievedthatconsumingtheremainsofhomam,isgood for fertility. Some cases of childless couples bearing children after consuming Saumya have beenreportedinthepast.HundredsofcouplesreceivedSaumyatoday. The other rituals performed during the 11thday of Athirathram include: Thrutheeya savanam which is recital of Sama stutis;Extraction of Soma juice; Aarbhava Pavamana Sthuthi; Havir Homam; Mahavaiswadeva Sasthram; Agnishoma Sthuthi; Agnimaarutha Sasathram (Sasthram intended for Agni and Maruth, God of wind); Ukthya Stuthis; Ukthya Sasthras; Shodasi Sthuthi (Recited when the Sun is Half set in praise of Indra); Shodasi Sasthram(1000mantrasof16wordseach);RathriParyayaSthuthis;RathriParyayaSasthras; AaswinaSthuthiandAaswinaSasthram. PanjalwasenergizedfromthenonstopRigVeda,YajurVedaandSamaVedachants resonating across the village during Athirathram. Thousands of verses have been chanted duringtheritual.ThemaximumverseshavebeenfromYajurvedafollowedbyRigVedaand Sama Veda. Over 150,000 words (including repetitions) of Yajur Veda have been chanted duringAthirathram.Toalargeextent,YajurVedaprovidesthedescriptionoftheritualsand how these are to be performed. Rig Veda is mostly hymns and is chanted during the preparatory stage and when oblations are offered. Over 8000 lines (including repetitions) havebeenrecitedfromRigVedaduringAthirathram.

WoodenfrogusedinAthirathram

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Carrying Agni to chithi

Fire installed on shiana chithi SamaVedadepictsBhaktirasaandisrecitedtoentertainthegodsafterofferingthem Soma and other offerings. The melodious Sama Veda ganam has been chanted for several hours. 29 Samaveda Stutis which comprise 26 Pariyaya Stutis and 3 Pavamana Stutis have been chanted during Athirathram. Each Pariyaya stuti has 3 stanzas of 3 to 4 lines each of which one stanza is repeated thrice. The Pavamana Stuti lasts half an hour comprising 15 SamaganamswitheachSamaganacomprising5or6vachanas(lines).DuringeachPravargya, 35 Samaganams were recited which were repeated thrice. The Prasthotha Samayaga gana

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was recited five times. As part of the rites to sanctify the main altar (Chithi), the Uthgatha (Chief Samavedi Priest of Athirathram) chants three samaganaseach for sanctifying the Northernwing,SouthernWing,Head,TailandAtmaoftheChithi.DuringVapaHomam,an important custom of Athirathram, a Samaveda chant called Vapasaamam is chanted which comprises 33 Samagaanas repeated thrice. This lasts two hours. Uthgatha is the chief Samaveda priest who is assisted by Prastotha. The Prastotha starts chanting the Samaveda which is then taken over by Uthgatha. The roles of Subramanha and Pratiharta Priests are relativelylimitedcomparedtotheothertwomainSamavedapriests.

VASOR DHARA

Yagna Purusha

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SomajuicebeingofferedtoHoma

SomaPressing

The380squaremeterareaofAthirathramYagashalaisbasedonthePurushalength of the Yajamana (the length of the Yajamana with raised hand). Everything is centered on Yupam (Eastern most point of the Yaga area). The Western area called Pracheenashala consists of Patnishala and the Yagna space (Garhapatya, Dakshinagini, Vedi and Aahawaneeyam). The contour area of the Shianachithi (Birdshaped Altar) is 7.5 square Purushaandisequalto108thousandsquareangula(Thepurushalengthisdividedby120to getonepurushaangula).TheEasternareacomprisesMahavedi(areaofprimeyagna),Sadas Hall (where Ritwiks assemble for rendition of Vedas), Havirdhaanam (where certain ritual preparations are made) and Uttaravedi (the area of the birdshaped altar). Only natural

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materials and wood is used for construction of the Yagnashala. It is traditionally known to rainsometimeaftertheYagashalaissetonfireduringAthirathram.

VaapabeingpreparedforHomam

VolunteeringatAthirathram

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ThrethaagniistakentotheYajaman'sresidence

While the Athirathram was being performed, 479 volunteers from Panjal village managedmillionsofvisitorstoensuresmoothflowofevents.Theywereseeneverywhere, working tirelessly, sweating and toiling in the blistering heat. They were present near the Yagnashala managing the swelling crowd of lakhs of people, ensuring everyone gets to witnessthehappeninginsidetheYagashala;attheAnnadhanamareamakingthepartaking of food with thousands of people a comfortable experience; on the road managing heavy traffic with such ease thatthe traffic police would be proud of them.They are the unsung heroesofAthirathramthevolunteersofPanjalwhohavemadesuretheexperienceofthe visitorstoAthirathramisbefittingoftheuniqueritual. Finally on the last day the countdown began. The auspicious day of Vishu, the New YearinKerala,sawtheculminationofthe12dayAthirathramwhentheYagashalaareawas setonfiremarkingtheendoftheVedicritual.Panjalwasswarmingwithpeople.Thedaysaw lakhs of people (approximatelya million) attending Athirathram. They were waiting for the final event of setting the Yagashala on fire. The rituals were still ongoing and the fire was expectedtobesetaround9PM.SeveralSashtramswereperformedonthelastday.These includedHothansShodashiSasthram,ParyaayaSasthramsaandAaswinaSasthram.Thiswas followedbyAnuyaajamandHaariyojanamwhichmarkstheendofthesomarituals. Yajamana performed Pindam (homam) at Maarjaaleeyam. All Rithwiks performed homam at Agneendriyam (Palacharani Praayaschitham). The performances like Dhaana Iduka, Adhwaryu's Sruvaahuthi (Saakala homam), Chamasa Visargam (detatching the rithwiks from the respective chamasam), SakhyaVisargam (releasing the bond of Camaraderie among the Rithwiks, undertaken earlier with Thaanoonasthram), Pathnee Samyojam, Performance of Praayaschitham (here, KalpaPraayaschitham), in order to overcomeanyimperfectionsintheperformance.

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LakhsofVisitorsgatheredatPanjalonthelastday AvabhruthamIshti(startingintheSaalaandendinginthepond,lakeorriver),inwhich most of the used items were deposited in a water body (pond, lake or river), everyone bathed(AvabhruthamSnaanam)andreturnedtotheSaala.ThisisfollowedbyUpasthaanam. After returning from the pond, the three Ishti (homams) namely Udayananiyeshti, Maithraavaruneshti,andSakthuhomamwereperformed. Udayaneeyeshti, followed by Prathiprasthaathan's Ishti and finally the Maithraavaruneeyeshti (a long ritual of 2 hours with 4 Charus and a Purodaasam, as five havissuorofferingtofiveGodsnamelyAnumathi,Ila,Sineevaali,Kuhu,Dhathaa).Powdered rice is then used for Sakthu Homam. This is followed by Agnervimoka homam, Aapthyu Upasthaanam, termination of Agneendriyam, 5chamatha Homam, Upasthaanam to Aadithyan,DadidrafsamBhakshanam,&Namaskaaram.ThusendsThritheeyaSavanamand also that is the end of Suthyam. Thereafter, the Threthaagnis (the three spiritual fires attained through Yaagam) are shown (Kaachi) at and invoked back to the Arani. Once the Threthaagni is invoked back to Arani, the remaining fire in the Yagashala has conceptually become forest fire with no spiritualcontent. Also, the Yagashala lost its divine nature. The Yagnashalaisthensetonfire. On the way (Prathyaagamanam), either Ubhavaneeya Ishti or Poornaahuthi is performedandthisThrethaagniistakentotheYajaman'sresidence(Illam)andplacedinan appropriate location like Vadukkini or Padinjaatti (two rooms in a Namboothiri Illam). The Athiraathram was now over and the Yajamana now becomes a Akkithiri while his wife remains as Paththanaadi. Agnihothram Rituals, using Threthaagni has to be performed by Yajamana twice daily, and Darsesthi and Poornamaaseeyesthi on every Prathipadam (first dayafterfullmoonornewmoon),throughouttheirlife.DarsesthiandPoornamaaseeyesthi (about two hours long) require, apart from Yajamana, four Rithwiks, namely, Adhwaryu, Brahman,AgneedharanandHothan,whocanbemembersofYajaman'sfamily,unlessthey havePula.ThoughPula(defilementSomekindofpollution)forcestheYajamanatostopthe Yaagam;itdoesnotaffecttheAgnihothramrituals,whicharecontinuedtobeperformed.

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Yagashalaareawassetonfire LifeofThrethaagnihasalsobeendefined.Whoever(Yajamanaorhiswife)diesfirst the Akkithiri or Pathanaadi is cremated using this fire, preceded and followed by special cremationrituals,muchdifferentfromtheusualcremationprocedureofNamboothiris.The Threthaagnithenceasestoexist,andthesurvivordiscontinuesAgnihothramandtheIshtis. TheAkkithiriiseligibletoreviveThrethaagnionlyifanyonePathanaadiisaliveandbothare readytorepeatAadhanam(calledPunaraadhaanam).(Itmaybenotedthattheymusthave doneAdhaanampriortoperforminganyYaagam).Here,SomayaagamorAthiraathramneed notberepeated(justaperformanceofAadhaanamwilldo)toreviveThrethaagni.Incaseof his wife's death, if the Yajamana did not revive Threthaagni, he is cremated in the usual Namboothirimanner. OveroneLakhpeoplevisitedAthirathramduringthefirstthreedays,overtwolakhs peoplevisitedthevillageonSundaytheseventhday,nearlyhalfamillionpeoplefrominand aroundKeraladescendeduponPanjalontenthdayandinallanestimatedovertwomillion people visited in the first eleven days. Organizers were unable to estimate the number of visitorsontheconcludingday!