Neo-Navaraathri

Another Navaraathri winds to an end. Dolls. Sundal. Vadai. Payasam. Puffed rice. Tires over lemons and baby banana plants tied to vehicles (which will be nibbled on by goats and cows at traffic signals in the coming weeks)

It was Vijayadasami today and the senior Paattu class students in the apartment complex nearby learnt Brochevaa in Khamas as a new song today. The junior ones learnt Varaveena in Mohanam.

It was also Ayudha Pooja.

But some flashback first. A long while ago, I asked a relative of mine why we do this whole “pariseshanam” thingie. For the uninitiated, that’s a ceremonial spreading of a few drops of water around one’s banana leaf/plate that male Tambrams do before proceeding to tuck into Paruppu usili, kosumalli and pineapple rasam.

He (the relative) explained to me that the significance was twofold. On the one hand, it is a symbolic thanksgiving gesture to Annapurna. On the other hand, the water forms a shield against the invasion of rice loving ants. I asked him why it was only a male thing, and he said that in those days women ate on their husbands’ plate/leaf and one pariseshanam per meal per plate was enough. After all, husband and wife were one, he explained.

I didn’t quite pursue the male-centricity argument further (because I was 12 and generally disliked anything with two X chromosomes), but my takeaway from that was that there was some practical underpinning to most rituals (The ant shield, in this case). But practicalities have a tendency to change with the times. So coming back to our topic, Ayudha pooja is one such example. The notion of taking care of ones tools and implements by cleaning them, polishing them and generally giving them a day of rest is a very practical and sensible one.

But we’ve moved on from the age of agricultural implements, from when these rituals originated to e-seva and e-archana conducted online on temple portals, paid for through Paypal.

So I notice (well, at least in my family) that this whole practical dimension seems to have completely disappeared. So the Chandanam and Kungumam are bought out, some baby banana plants are tied to vehicles, some ding-ding goes on and we are done.

How can one bring back a sense of practicality and contemporariness to rituals and ceremonies? Symbols without a contextual background tend to get distorted, diluted or lost. So what’s Neo-Navaraathri?

1. Contemporary Imagery : In addition to deities, we could upgrade all those rather dated Chettiar/Koravan/wedding scene dolls to something more contemporary. Seriously Chennai Kolus must showcase at least one IT company office. 10 zombies, sipping Nescafe, sitting in front of 5 computers (on a shift system of course)

2. Healthy food :Low-fat, organic sundal served with double-decaf soy-milk non-whip Kumbakonam degree coffee? Sacchari-pongal?

3. Contemporary machine maintenance :Ayudha Pooja – If tool/machine maintenance is the whole practical essence of this, why not actually do something like that? How about

  • An Pooja special Oil change/maintenance checks for cars.
  • A special anti-virus/anti-spamware patch to clean up all those unfortunate PCs that run Windows? Defrag? Better still, an Ayudha pooja Ubuntu makeover.
  • Fresh new strings for musical instruments instead of just the kungumam/chandanam smearing formality
  • Sparkplug/oil change for bikes

4. Communication :We could Skypecast Kolus to our family and relatives living abroad.

5. Environment friendly Kolus -No plastic covers or zip-lock bags for sundal. Buy local/organic ingredients. Carpooling between ladies to manage all house visits.

I often get accused of attempting to besmirch the purity of ancient rituals. Of bringing too much science and modernity into something timeless. But I will point this out. Village scenes are considered to be OK/kosher at most kolus. The village usually has a well, with a pulley. At some point of time in the past, that pulley represented “modernity” and “science”.

15 Comments

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  1. Well, where are pictures of your kolu? Isn’t it mandatory to post them? Now now, I don’t want to be fooled by random pictures from Flickr, so I want Raghav in the picture too. 😉

  2. I surely support your views on 1,3,5 and all the vehicles in our household, visit the beauty parlor for oil checks, servicing etc.

    But don’t attack the food! Festivals are our only excuse to hog high amounts of carb and proteins. Even people who are on a strict diet for medical reasons, or diabetic patients are also allowed to hog.

    It’s like spending 9 days in gitmo bay to stay away from the payasam and sundal! kuch bhi bolo bhai, lekin it’s in our ‘thaymannu’.

  3. Thankfully, some modernizations are good. Like substituting lemons for the heads of the enemies that our chariots were supposed to crush on our way to greater glory.

    Maye its time they reinstituted the old custom though. Urban-angst reduction and population control in one shot.

  4. for sundal. Buy local/organic ingredients — use dhonnais, or simply pottulam kattufy in maligai saaman kadai (yes we still have them) paper…second recycle…
    3. Contemporary machine maintenance — happens all the time at our household; sandhanam-kungumam pottu for laptops/stereo systems/microwave…but the hilarious thing was seeing a hall full of PCs in a BPO smeared with sandalwood paste and kungumam
    healthy food – sundal itself is s healthy..proteins you see!…avoid oil, and cook in a microwave…
    More modernism we need to usher in…think we need to have an animated Golu. Each bommai has a 30-sec theme repeating itself in within the defined boundaries of space…and perhaps a digital phot-frame for effects…

  5. Krish,
    My comp keput gonging off and was too busy with a proposal (of the software service kind-hehe)-so on and off i was….

    vasoo

  6. Excellent blog. Vijaya Dashami – (The Tenth day of victory, Sanskrit) as the name signifies, the day is celebrated as the victory of good over evil, either on the victory of the Lord Rama over the asura (Demon) king Ravana in Lanka, or worshipping godessess Durga. It is said that the Pandavas, who returned from their exile of one year, worshipped godessess Durga on this day. It is celebrated on the tenth day of the Hindu month of Ashwin.

    According to the Indian mythology, the Pandavas, after their exile in Drupada’s Capital city panchala, for a year, came back to the ‘shami’ tree on the outskirts of the panchaala city* where they had hidden their precious weapons (#). They worshipped the shami tree which had protected their weapons for all that time, and worshipped godessess Durga who had blessed them with her protection for the weapons when they had come there to hide it. Meanwhile, the kauravas had attacked Panchala, Drupada’s Capital with a huge army. The Pandavas took their weapons, made it straight to the battle from there and won the battle comprehensvely. Hence the day was since then known as ‘Vijaya Dashami’.

    Even to this day, people exchange shami leaves and wish each other victory in their own ventures and efforts. The following shloka is used, sometimes, to signify that:

  7. “At some point of time in the past, that pulley represented “modernity” and “science”.
    Very nice point, wish more ppl thought in terms of history , including history of science and tech.

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