Once again, I was forced into a long hibernation. I was busy going about making preparations for the Soundarya Lahari Pooja I had planned. I had to invite many of my friends for the function. This is a function thought about and performed by a small group of ladies who had practised reciting the 100 slokas of the great Sankaracharya. Our teacher here has given music to it and each sloka is sung in a different raga. The function is a simple one in which we assemble in the house of the one desirous of conducting it and sing the slokas. We perform a simple pooja to a specially decorated picture and or an idol of any deity preferably DEVI in whose praise the slokas have been rendered. At the end of the recitation Arathi is performed and a neivedyam is offered. Depending on the time of day we arrange lunch or light refreshments to all the invitees. The function at our house was spread over a little over three hours. I was also planning for a Goa trip immediately thereafter, which also needed some hectic reorganizing of my various projects scheduled for the last week of March. At the end, however, the Goa trip did not come through due to other reasons.
Soundarya Lahari Pooja, of course, was conducted in a highly satisfying manner with the Blessings of Annaporneswari. It was well attended and it went off as planned in every detail.
In between on 14th March, we celebrated "Karadayan Nonbu" or more simply Nonbu(in typical Kerala Iyer lingua). This is a very important festival in our calendar. This festival is celebrated at the time of Meena Sankramam (the time the sun enters the Pisces sign, according to the solar calendar) and hence the time of offering the pooja falls at different times of the day in different years. We offer Pooja any time during the 24 hours, from the wee hours to mid-afternoon to evening to midnight. Hence, this festival is very different from all the festivals, which are celebrated on a particular day of the year at a particular time.
This year the time for the pooja was at 8.15pm, which was a very convenient time to do the pooja. This pooja is especially done for the well being and long life of the husband and even little girls are made to perform this pooja so that they will get a good husband and a happy married life. The neyvedyam (offering) for the pooja is a very simple steamed sweet cake and butter. The ladies and girls also wear a "manjal charadu"(a thread dipped in turmeric paste), similar to one tied during the time of marriage. In the olden days, when we were children, it was a practise to keep this manjal charadu till the next nonbu or as long as it lasted. We never removed it on our own. These days most people remove it the next day after the pooja, for reasons best known to them.
This pooja is conducted in remembrance of the dedication and determination of the faithful mythological Savitri, in bringing back the life of her husband Satyavan from the God of death, Yama. The story goes as follows. Savitri was a princess of a rich kingdom in ancient India and was the only child of her parents. When she reached marriageable age, she told her father that she would herself search for a suitable husband for her. She went on a tour of the vast kingdom traversing the various landscapes and forests and mountains. At last in a forest, she met an old couple and their young and handsome son serving them, living in a simple hut. She found out that the couple were the king and queen of a nearby kingdom, banished from their kingdom by their enemies. Savitri was overcome by the devotion shown by the son to his old parents and decided that he was the suitable husband for her. The name of this young man was Satyavan. True to his name, Satyavan was very honest and dedicated to his parents. Savitri returned to her parents and announced that she would marry only Satyavan. The King and the queen were not very happy to marry their only child to the son of a banished king. But Savitri was steadfast on her decision and the parents had to yield to her. The palace astrologer, however warned her that according to his horoscope, Satyavan had only one more year's life left and he would die in a year. Savitri was not to be discouraged with this announcement either. The marriage of Satyavan and Savitri was performed and Savitri went to live with her husband and in-laws in the forest. Savitri took care of her husband and old in-laws with dedication and devotion and followed Satyavan whenever he went inside the forest in search of food and fuel. Days passed and the last day of Satyavn's life as per the prediction dawned. Savitri insisted on accompanying Satyvan to the forest. Satyavan made Savitri sit under a tree and went to fetch fruits and logs for fuel. After sometime, he returned feeling very tired. Savitri made him lie in a bed made of fresh green leaves keeping his head in her lap. As Satyavan started closing his eyes, there appeared in front of Savitri, a huge figure with a bison for his vahana. Savitri with her dedication and devotion could immediately recognize the figure as that of Yama, the God of death. She immediately saluted him and asked him the purpose of his visit. Yama replied that as destined Satyavan's life span was over and he had come to take his life to the other world. Saying this Yama started walking away with Satyavan's soul. Savitri left the body of the lifeless Satyavan under the tree and started following Yama. Yama forbade her from following him, saying she could not follow him to the other world, as Yamaloka was inaccessible to living beings. Only souls of dead beings are taken there. Savitri insisted on following her husband’s soul. Yama could not stop her from following him. At last, Yama agreed to grant her three wishes on condition that she would go back. She agreed. She asked as the first boon, that her in-laws get back their lost kingdom which Yama granted readily. For the second wish she asked that, as she was the only child of her parents, they get more children. This was also granted by Yama immediately. As the last wish, she asked that she be granted the wish of having many children which also was granted by Yama in his eagerness to get rid of her. Only after granting this wish, did Yama realise that he had been tricked into granting Satyavan life, as a pious and pathivratha (chaste) woman like Savitri cannot have children if Satyavan were to be dead. Yama had to accept his defeat and restore the life of Satyavan. Savitri came back to the tree where she had left the lifeless body of Satyavan. By the blessings of Yama Satyvan woke up as if from his sleep and Savitri narrated the happenings to him. To offer her gratitude to the Gods, Savitri immediately made a simple neyvedyam with available things on hand and tied the mangala sutra once again as her husband had got back his life. This neyvedyam is also offered on a leaf of a forest tree, as against the usual plantain leaf used for all poojas.(more about this special, but simple neyvedyam later)
To instil such dedication and devotion in married life, this story is repeated to the young girls and the pooja is performed every year at the time of meena sankramam.