Poojai Arai: The Place of Bhakthi in Practice

On Thursdays, I would remember an English movie which belonged to the year 1969. The story is about an English tour guide who takes American tourists on an eighteen-day tour of Europe and the tour happens in 9 countries. The guide takes them to various places following a schedule. By which they get to see a particular place on a specific day and hence the name, ‘If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium.’

My Grandmother, Lalitha Bai, would begin to think about the preparations for her Friday Pooja by about 11 am. She would make a list of items on a piece of paper. This would include coconuts, bananas, mosambis, and a variety of flowers. We had a large flower garden at home and therefore one of the ladies in the family will make a couple of flower strands and sprinkle a bit of water on them. These strands would have been prepared when the flowers were yet to open up. The flower strand coil would be placed in a container that had a numerous pores. The idea was to permit fresh air reach the flowers. One was not supposed to smell the flowers while preparing these strands.

The pooja room in our house was a spacious one and was full of Gods who were ensconced in frames of all kinds. There was a three-feet tall Krishna who would be decked with coral strands and those strands would be prepared by my great grandfather, P. A. Raju Chettiar. At the time of the World War I, he had drawn silver wires manually and used them for the making of the coral strands.

 There was a small pooja altar on the ground. A picture of Lalitha Tripurasundari was fixed in it and a number of other deities were also placed in the altar. A small silver pitcher of Ganga Theertha and a medium-sized Silver Malabar Lamp were found in the centre of the altar. This Malabar Lamp would be lit after being supplied with ghee. Silver idols of Pattabhiraama, Krishna, Saraswathi, Lakshmi and Karthikeya were in the altar.

I still remember the big Gajalakshmi made of silver. This was similar to the idol seen in the Tamil movie, ‘Vietnam Veedu.’ A small container made of silver had a Bana Lingam within and one small silver Mandhaasana (Throne) housed a couple of icons. The several pictures on the wall included that of Koniamman, the guardian deity of Coimbatore, Vishnu, Guruvayoorappan, Thyagaraja with Rama and his brothers, Sathyanaaraayana Swamy, Bhuvaneshwari from Pudhukottai, Kanchi Kamakshi, Madurai Meenakshi, Kasi Visalaakshi in a single frame. A huge rosewood box containing her veena and her father’s tambura was also within the pooja room. A nice locker and a few steel cupboards were also part of the room. A huge quantity of gold jewellery, diamond jewellery, silverware and cash were ever-present in the pooja room. The residential ghee container was also kept in the custody of the Gods.

Grandmother would have lunch and relax herself for some time before cleaning the pooja room. Each portrait and icon would be wiped clean. All the icons, lamps, bell, and the utensils used for the pooja would be washed and dried with a piece of cloth. She used to have one saffron cloth known as Kashi thundu for this purpose. The walls and flooring would be cleaned, and cobwebs if any would be removed. All the pooja items were made of silver. The wooden plank placed in front of the deities was completely covered in silver. Two silver flower baskets and two silver trays were also a part of the things required to perform pooja.

My grandmother would make fresh sandalwood paste and place bindhi-s on all the icons and pictures. She would place tiny dots of vermilion immediately thereafter. All the icons and pictures would go back to their allotted spaces. She would put a kolam in front of Lord Krishna and write the words, Sri Rama Jayam in Telugu. The veena and the thambura would also receive the same treatment.

Grandmother would be having the name of God on her lips while attending to the work at the pooja room. She would never touch her hair or mouth during the entire exercise. The silver lamps would be filled with oil and decorated with bindhi-s. Fresh cotton wicks would be placed. The central silver lamp would attract special attention. A long vermilion bindhi would be created on the bud of the lamp at the top. We were also told that all the items need not be made of silver or gold and the idea behind making it so was picked from the tradition with the intention that the best was always first offered to God.

There were peacock-shaped agarbatthi stands and fresh agarbatthi-s would be fixed on them. My grandmother’s grandmother, Thaayaar Ammal, had given another set of agarbatthi stands and they were also placed in the pooja rooms. There was a silver Kamandalam (Water container with a spout in the side) and this would be filled with fresh Siruvani water. All the utensils would be decorated with bindhi-s. The sambraani holder would be kept ready with a few pieces of coal which was also made of silver. All the items in the pooja room were from my grandmother’s collection. She had just brought two pictures of God and one pitcher of Ganga water from our ancestral home. Everything else had been left there itself.

My grandmother was in a habit of reading the ‘Naaraayaneeyam’ on a cyclical basis and this was placed on a Madhanakol (X-shaped book holder) in the pooja room. Her copy of the ‘Naaraayaneeyam’ book had been published by Sengalipuram Anantarama Deekshithar. It contained a Tamil treatise written by him and this was based on the Sanskrit work of Naaraayana Battathri.

The entire exercise of getting the pooja room ready would take anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour. My mother, Aravindakumari and my aunts, Nirmala and Vasantha, used to help her once in a while. Grandmother was very particular to give a fresh set of silver Vigraham-s (Icons) to all her kids and therefore she had made four sets through her sister-in-law, Pathi Vittala Bai, and her husband Pathi Radhakrishna at Bangalore.

When we moved over to the new house, she gave one set of those vigraham-s and one silver mandhaasanam to us and my mother continued the same practice. Now a days, my wife, Sujatha, does the same. This practice of readying the pooja room on Thursdays has been part of our immortal tradition and has been going on in every Hindu household.

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