I took a break from my Puthucode blogging for the JFI entry. But now I can continue with my Puthucode memories. As I mentioned we had got together this time for the Upanayanam and Choulam of my nephews.
Upanayanam has more Vedic rituals than marriage and is usually preceded by a nandi sradham for taking blessings of the forefathers. Very rarely an ashtotharam is conducted before upanayanam. There was an ashtotharam conducted in our family about 30 years ago, during the upanayanam of my cousin and my brother had decided to conduct one now.
Conducting an ashtotharam needs elaborate preparation as the ritual itself consists of invoking the 108 different images of Mahavishnu (The Ashtothara sata-namah) on Saligrama and doing puja to them. Apart from this the Dwadasa or 12 (the Dwadasa Nama puja) images of Mahavishnu are also invoked and puja done to them. After this, the 108 namas and 12 namas of Mahavishnu are invoked on Pratyaksha Brahmins and puja done to them. Therefore, the first and foremost requirement is to assemble 120 Brahmins at the venue. As the invitations to them are extended well in advance, replacements for any sudden dropouts due unexpected circumstances have to be accounted for. These Brahmins are picked from the nearby villages (Palakkad is famous for the 18 gramams surrounding it). Many factors make the task of the organiser very difficult these days. Some of them are:
- The financial status of the younger generation today is better. The Brahmin settlements in the gramams have depleted considerably over the past few decades.
- Most of the people are educated and have regular employment and are not able to spare time for such activities.
- The organising vadhyar and the Brahmins invited have no direct commitment to each other as a vadhyar is required to organise such a puja only on very few occasions in his lifetime. Many of the present day vadhyars are not familiar with such a function.
- Call of conscience is the sole motivation for an invitee to attend keeping aside other more lucrative offers on the same day.
However, great strides in communication facilities and transport facilities helped the vadhyar in organising the required number. Special mention should be made of the relentless efforts by Shri Dharmaraja Vadhyar and his two sons in organising the august assembly of 140+ Brahmins for the function and the successful conduct of the Ashtotharam, Nandisradham, Upanayanam and Choulam. Incidentally, he had presided over our marriage as Bride’s family priest more than three decades and a half ago. He had the fortune to have been associated with great vadhyars like Shri Chami vadhyar and Srinivasa Vadhyar of Puthucode, who were my father’s maternal uncles.
The function mainly consists of inviting the 120 brahmins, receiving them by washing their feet, invoking one image of Mahavishnu on each of them, for whom pujas have already been done and performing various Upacharas and Pujas, and gifting them asanam, Vastram and Jalapatram. They are then fed sumptuously and offered thamboolams and dakshina.
As doing all these rituals by a single couple is strenuous and time consuming, it was decided to associate brothers and other elders for the performance of the Puja. We had six couples who readily undertook to perform the Puja. As some of the couples were senior citizens, there were other couples ready to take their place, in case they felt any discomfort during the 4 hrs puja.
There were many behind the scene activities also, in which the whole family had to involve themselves so that the functions would move smoothly. Accordingly, the Brahmins were divided into six groups of 20 each, to be associated with the six couples for puja. One vadhyar each was assigned to each group. After the initial rituals, common for all the groups, were performed by the main priest, the six groups performed the puja simultaneously at six designated sites in the same hall. Sourcing and arranging the items required for danams was the result of the combined effort between my brother and the priest. For the feast they all had to be accommodated in one venue, seated on the ground, served at the same time, as there were some rituals to be performed during this time also.
Since it would have been difficult to entertain so many Brahmins in our house, we decided that the function would be conducted in the newly built halls in the north village (Chami Vadhyar Memorial Trust). My father’s cousins have converted their ancestral house into a large hall, kitchen and some rooms for the conduct of such functions for the family. The house adjacent to it has also been converted into a big function hall on the ground floor and living quarters on the first floor. They insisted that the function be conducted there and my cousin (a big industrialist) took time off from his busy schedule and supervised all the arrangements for the smooth conduct of the functions. Our priest had arranged with 150 Brahmins to be present just in case someone opted out.
As usual my cousin, my beautiful and talented niece, and I did the kolams the previous evening itself. The functions started early in the morning with Ganapathi Homam followed by Ashtotharam. By the Blessings of the Almighty and all the elders, they were all in good spirits and the functions went off smoothly.
Serving food to the 150 Brahmins at the same time was the major problem, but with the collective efforts of everyone, somehow this was also done without much difficulty.
The lunch itself is called Samaradhanai menu as there are some vegetables which are not be included in this type of lunch. Usually carrot, beans, cabbage, (which are known as English vegetables) are not used. Sambar is not made. Pradhaman is not made, only Palpayasam is made. Pappadam is not served, only chips are served. Onion of course is a very big NO NO.
At this event, the menu, consisted of
After the meals, all the brahmins were seated in a circle, and all the family members did pradikshanam when they were chanting vedic hymns invoking the blessings for one and all.
Thus, concluded the 1st day functions.
It was only after all the Brahmins were seen off that the family and other invitees had their lunch, around 2.30pm.
We had to get ready for the next day’s Nandi Shradham.