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”.