Thursday, 7 March 2013

A Temple and the Umbilical Chord

I had been supporting the construction of a temple dedicated to the deity of my ancestral village. Swept by the current trend and due to demands of my working life, I had moved from my village to an urban area. I had constructed a house in the State Capital Bhubaneswar, almost 30 years ago. Due to call of work, I had moved all over India and had never got the opportunity of living in this house. After my retirement in 2009, the wife and I moved into this house. At this time, I felt the pull of my village where I had spent my childhood and had my primary education. The village-deity was housed in a small structure of about 6 feet with a dome at the top. Soon after my retirement, the villagers felt that it was time for construction of a bigger temple. A 25 feet temple was planned and my fellow villagers sought my support. This was the time I was experiencing the pull towards my idyllic village and I was only too willing to join.

The construction took about 3 years and the beautiful temple was consecrated in a 5-day ceremony from the 17th to 21st February, 2013. The Ratna Muda (sealing of the top of the structure) ceremony had been conducted about a year ago and the villagers had chosen me to be the Karta (principal performer of a puja) in it. In the final consecration ceremony also, I was chosen to be the Karta. So, for 5 days, I discarded my Western clothes and donned a two piece dhoti. On the first two days, it was white dhotis. It was preliminary puja on the first day. Puja was conducted on the idol to be installed. Then the idol was placed in a horizontal position and first, my wife (as kartri) and I as karta  put paddy over it amidst chanting of mantras. Then others put paddy over it as the chanting of mantras continued. The idol was fully covered with paddy.

The principal activity on the second day was panitola (ceremonial bringing of water from a river about 3 Kilo Metres from the temple to the Yajnasthala), walking the distance bare feet. One hundred and eight specially chosen ladies, attired in yellow-and-red coloured sarees, carried water in kalasas (earthen pots). I was at the head of this procession and carried the main kalasa.

The procession was a colourful one. We were preceded by drummers and musicians. The priests walked in front of me. A large number of other ladies, men and youngster (girls and boys) were at the tail end of the procession. The number of people in the procession exceeded 1000! Fire-works accompanied the procession. The serpentine procession meandered through the village. The onward journey, during which I carried the empty kalasa with a mango-twig and a green coconut on top, was easy.

After we reached the river, there was ceremonial puja near the water. The priests and I sat on the river-bed at the centre. All the Kalasas also were placed there. We were surrounded by a thick ring formed by the 108 ladies wearing identical yellow sarees with red border and small red flower-designs on the body. This ring in ‘uniform’ was surrounded by another layer of women and men in ‘civil’ dress. The whole thing appeared like a sight fit for gods to see!

The return journey was a difficult job. We had to trudge the village road bare-foot, carrying the water-loaded kalasa. Mine was larger and so heavier. And the requirement was that no water should spill on the way. To add to my pleasing burden, we had to halt at about 5 places, where ladies of the locality did puja and arati for the main kalasa which I was carrying. Before arati, one of the ladies would wash my feet with turmeric-water. During this process, I had to stand erect and almost motionless. At one of such ceremonies a lady put a tumble of green coconut water to my mouth and I sipped it with great relief. It was later explained to me that since I was carrying the main kalasa, I represented the deity and hence my feet were to be ceremonially washed. (However, I felt embarrassed.)

Towards the end, I felt tired and started worrying whether I would be able to make it to the temple. Throughout the return journey, a young man walked close to me to avert any possible mishap. I planned to hand over the kalasa to him in case of need. But with the blessings of the deity, I completed the journey. At the end, I was fully exhausted but felt very happy.   

The kalasas were placed near the Yagnasthala. In the evening, the yajnakunda where homa (holy fire) was to be conducted was ceremonially lighted. On the third day, ceremonial worship of the sun and then of a cow and other rituals were conducted. On the fourth day, the ceremonial worship of the sun and a cow was repeated. This cow was later gifted to the chief priest.

Then the idol was brought to snana mandap (bathing place) and turmeric paste, sandal wood paste, ghee were applied on it. After that the idol was bathed with milk and finally, with water. As usual, my wife (as the Kartri) and I as karta started the process which was completed by the other devotees. After more puja,  the idol ceremonially ‘slept’ on the yajna mandap and evening arati was conducted.

On the final day, after worship of the sun, the process of jibanyasa (breathing life into the idol) was conducted and the spirit of the deity was instilled in the idol. After more puja, the deity was taken around the entire village in a decorated vehicle improvised as a rath (chariot) along with beating of drums and playing of music. The priests, I and a few other devotees sat at the feet of the deity. Others followed on foot.  The vehicle stopped at a few places where the residents worshipped the deity. Then the deity was taken into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple amidst chanting of mantras, playing of devotional music and beating of drums. Purnahuti (final offering) marked the completion of the process of consecration of the temple.

With the entry of the deity, the structure became a temple.

In all the 5 evenings, bhajans, kirtans and other devotional programmes were conducted. In one evening, Arabinda Muduli, the leading devotional singer of Odisha performed. In another evening, Swami Krishna Premanand Saraswati Maharajji of Chinmaya Mission conducted a Prabachan (spiritual discourse).

The 5-day programme was an humbling and uplifting experience for me. From mundane life, I felt transported to a different world. The memory of that exalted feeling has been permanently etched in my mind. The wife was all along by my side as sahadharmini.

My parents, uncles and aunts are no more. My brothers and I have moved away to cities. No one from my extended family any longer lives in my village. Our ancestral house has been let out to a neighbour on a nominal rent, to take care of its maintenance . Our visits to the village are scarce. This temple will provide me an attachment and attraction and raison detre for me to visit the village where I came into this world.

During these 5 days, I stayed in our ancestral house (which was earlier my home) in the village; I became a guest in our own house! The tenant's family took good care of me. By a coincidence, the room in which I was put up was the same room where I was born! I visualised myself as a baby. Nostalgic memories of my early life filled my mind. Throughout, I felt the presence of my mother by my side.

One day, I visited the village school (since upgraded) where I first learnt the alphabets on a slate with a 'khadi'. I talked to the students and teachers sharing memories of the past. I was taken back to a scene where I found myself as a tiny tot going to the school with a bag hung from the shoulders, containing a couple of books, a note book, a rather long ink-pen with an open nib  and an ink-pot in hand! I can't forget my first teacher (an old and wise soul) and the other teachers of my time there. I took a photo of mine against the background of the school, established in 1932. I passed out from this school (Class III) in 1956.

My mind is filled with emotions and feelings which I fail to find words to describe.

I feel the pull of the umbilical chord.    


  1. The temple is so beautiful and a very much touching article for me, I simply love Pujas. Though sometimes loose patience! :P

    And, Uncle you look so cool in the first picture! Dhoti and specs?!(or Goggles?!) :)

    1. Thank you.

      2. I have added 2 new paragraphs before the last sentence of the post.

      3.It is specs with photochromatic lenses and not goggles.

    2. None of other photos can beat the first one! :)

  2. This must have been a wonderful experience.

  3. It indeed was.

    Thank you for visiting.