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Castes and tribes of southern India (Volume 1) online

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very hungry on that day. The food is heaped up on
plantain leaves, and all the near relations go round
them, crying and beating their breasts. It is mostly
females who perform this rite, males standing aloof.
The food is taken to a tank, and the widow, decorated
and dressed up, is conducted thither. The food is
thrown into the water, and, if the widow is an elderly


orthodox woman, her tali is removed. On the same day,
her head is clean shaved. A widow is not allowed to
adorn herself with jewels and finery except on this day,
when all her close relations come and see her. IF~this
is not done, pregnant women may not see her for a year.
All the agnates should be present on the tenth day,
and perform tharpana (oblations of water). Until this
day they are under pollution, and, after prabhuthabali,
they bathe, and homam is performed. Some ashes from
the sacred fire are mixed with ghi, and a mark is made
on the foreheads of those who are under pollution, to
remove it. During the period of pollution, a Sri Vaish-
nava will have only a white mark without the red streak
on his forehead ; a Madhva will not have the black dot ;
and Smarthas avoid having marks altogether. The
tenth day ceremony is called Dasaham. On the
eleventh day, a ceremony called Ekodishtam (eleventh
day ceremony) is performed. A Brahman is seated to
represent the pretha or dead person, and fed after going
through sradh rites. As a rule, the man is a close
relation of the deceased. But, amongst certain classes
of Brahmans, an outsider is engaged, and well remuner-
ated. On the twelfth day, the Sapindikaranam (sapinda,
kinsman) ceremony, which is just like the ordinary
sradh, is performed. At the close thereof, six balls of
cooked rice are offered to three ancestors, male and
female (three balls for males, and three for females).
These balls are arranged in two rows, with a space
between them. An elongated mass of food is placed
between the rows, and divided with blades of dharbha
grass into three portions, which are arranged close to
the balls of rice. This is regarded as uniting the dead
man with the pitris (ancestors). A cow is usually
presented just before the union takes place, and the gift


is believed to render the crossing of the river Vaitarani
(river of death) easy for the departed soul. The
Sapindikaranam is a very important ceremony. When
there is a dispute concerning division of property on the
death of an individual, the ceremony is not performed
until the parties come to an agreement. For instance,
if a married man dies without issue, and his widow's
brothers-in-law cannot come to terms as regards the
partition of the property, the widow may refuse to allow
the performance of the ceremony. The Sapindikaranam
should, according to the shastras, be performed a year
after death, i.e., on the completion of all the Masikas
(monthly sradhs). But, at the present day, a ceremony
called Shodasam (the sixteen) is performed just before
the Sapindikaranam on the twelfth day. In the course
of the year, twelve monthly and four quarterly sradhs
should be performed, The Shodasam ceremony, which
is carried out in lieu thereof, consists in giving presents
of money and vessels to sixteen Brahmans. On the
twelfth day, a feast is held, and domestic worship is
carried out on a large scale. At the close thereof, a
sloka called Charma sloka, in praise of the deceased, is
composed and repeated by some one versed in Sanskrit.
Every month, for a year after a death in a family, sradh
should, as indicated, be ! performed. This corresponds
in detail with the annual sradh, which is regularly per-
formed, unless a visit is paid to Gaya, which renders
further performance of the rite not obligatory. For the
performance of this ceremony by the nearest agnate of
the deceased (eldest son or other), three Brahmans
should be called in, to represent respectively Vishnu,
the Devatas, and the ancestors. Sometimes two Brah-
mans are made to suffice, and Vishnu is represented by
a salagrama stone. In extreme cases, only one Brahman


assists at the ceremony, the two others being repre-
sented by dharbha grass. The sacred fire is lighted,
and ghi, a small quantity of raw and cooked rice, and
vegetables are offered up in the fire. The Brahmans
then wash their feet, and are fed. Before they enter the
space set apart for the meal, water, gingelly, and rice are
sprinkled about it, to keep off evil spirits. As soon as
the meal is finished, a ball of rice, called vayasa pindam
(crow's food), is offered to the pithru devatas (ancestors
of three generations), and thrown to the crows. If they
do not eat the rice, the omens are considered to be
unfavourable. The Brahmans receive betel and money
in payment for their services. On one occasion my
assistant was in camp at Kodaikanal on the Palni hills,
the higher altitudes of which are uninhabited by crows,
and he had perforce to march down to the plains, in
order to perform the annual ceremony for his deceased
father. The recurring annual sradh (Pratyabdhika)
need not of necessity be performed. It is, however,
regarded as an important ceremony, and, should an

individual neglect it, he would run the risk of beincr



The rites connected with the dead are based on the
Garuda Purana, according to which the libations of the
ten days are said to help the growth of the body of the
soul. In this connection, Monier Williams writes as
follows : * " On the first day, the ball (pinda) of rice
offered by the eldest son or other near relative nourishes
the spirit of the deceased in such a way as to furnish it
with a head ; on the second day, the offered pinda gives
a neck and shoulders ; on the third day a heart ; on the
fourth a back ; on the fifth a navel ; on the sixth a groin

* Op. cit.


and the parts usually concealed ; on the seventh thighs ;
on the eighth and ninth knees and feet. On the tenth
day, the intermediate body is sufficiently formed to
produce the sensation of hunger and thirst. Other
pindas are therefore put before it, and, on the eleventh
and twelfth days, the embodied spirit feeds voraciously
on the offerings thus supplied, and so gains strength for
its journey to its future abode. Then, on the thirteenth
day after death, it is conducted either to heaven or hell.
If to the latter, it has need of the most nourishing food,
to enable it to bear up against the terrible ordeal which
awaits it."

To the Hindu mind, Yama (the god of death) is a

hideous god, whose servants are represented as being

capable of tormenting the soul of the dead. " No

sooner," writes Monier Williams, " has death occurred,

and cremation of the terrestrial body taken place, than

Yama's two messengers (Yama Dutan), who are waiting

near at hand, make themselves visible to the released

spirit, which retains its subtle body composed of the

subtle elements, and is said to be of the size of a

thumb (angustha-matra). Their aspect is terrific, for

they have glaring eyes, hair standing erect, gnashing

teeth, crow-black skin, and claw-like nails, and they

hold in their hands the awful rod and noose of Yama.

Then, as if their appearance in this form were not

sufficiently alarming, they proceed to terrify their victim

by terrible visions of the torments (yatana) in store

for him. They then convey the bound spirit along

the road to Yama's abode. Being led before Yama's

judgment seat, it is confronted with his Registrar or

Recorder named Chitra Gupta. This officer stands by

Yama's side, with an open book before him. It is his

business to note down all the good and evil deeds of


every human being born into the world, with the result-
ing merit (punya) and demerit (papa), and to produce a
debtor and creditor account properly made up and
balanced on the day when that being is brought before
Yama. According to the balance on the side of merit
or demerit is judgment pronounced. The road by
which Yama's two officers force a wicked man to descend
to the regions of torment is described in the first two
chapters of the Garuda Purana. The length of the way
is said to be 86,000 leagues (yojanas). The condemned
soul, invested with its sensitive body, and made to travel
at the rate of 200 leagues a day, finds no shady trees,
no resting place, no food, no water. At one time it
is scorched by a burning heat equal to that of twelve
meridian suns, at another it is pierced by icy cold winds ;
now its tender frame is rent by thorns ; now it is attacked
by lions, tigers, savage dogs, venomous serpents, and
scorpions. In one place it has to traverse a dense forest,
whose leaves are swords ; in another it falls into deep
pits ; in another it is precipitated from precipices ; in
another it has to walk on the edge of razors ; in another
on iron spikes. Here it stumbles about helplessly in
profound darkness ; there it struggles through loathsome
mud swarming with leeches ; here it toils through burn-
ing sand ; there its progress is arrested by heaps of
red-hot charcoal and stifling smoke. Compelled to pass
through every obstacle, however formidable, it next
encounters a succession of terrific showers, not of rain,
but of live coals, stones, blood, boiling water and filth.
Then it has to descend into appalling fissures, or ascend
to sickening heights, or lose itself in vast caves, or
wade through lakes seething with foetid ordures. Then
midway it has to pass the awful river Vaitarani, one
hundred leagues in breadth, of unfathomable depth ;
20 *


flowing with irresistible impetuosity ; filled with blood,
matter, hair, and bones ; infested with huge sharks,
crocodiles, and sea monsters ; darkened by clouds of
hideous vultures and obscene birds of prey. Thousands
of condemned spirits stand trembling on the banks,
horrified by the prospect before them. Consumed by a
raging thirst, they drink the blood which flows at their
feet ; then, tumbling headlong into the torrent, they are
overwhelmed by the rushing waves. Finally, they are
hurried down to the lowest depths of hell, and yet not
destroyed. Pursued by Yama's officers, they are dragged
away, and made to undergo inconceivable tortures, the
detail of which is given with the utmost minuteness in
the succeeding chapters of the Garuda Purana."

The Ahannikams, or daily observances, of a religious
JBrahman are very many. Nowadays, Brahmans who
lead a purely religious life are comparatively few, and
are mostly found in villages. The daily observances
of such are the bath, the performance of the Sandhya
service, Brahma yagna, Deva puja or Devatarchana,
Tarpana (oblations of water), Vaisvadeva ceremony, and
the reading of Puranas or Ithihasas. Every orthodox
Brahman is expected to rise at the time" called Brahma
Muhurtam in the hour and a half before sunrise. He
should then clean his teeth, using as a brush mango leaf,
or twigs of Acacia arabica or nim (Me Ha Azadirachta],
He next bathes in a river or tank (pond), standing knee-
deep in the water, and repeating the following : " I am
about to perform the morning ablution in this sacred
stream (Ganges, Sarasvati, Yamuna, Godavari, etc.), in
the presence of the gods and Brahmans, with a view to
the removal of guilt resulting from act, speech, and
thought, from what has been touched and untouched,
known and unknown, eaten and not eaten, drunk and



not drunk." After the bath, he wipes his body with a
damp cloth, and puts on his cotton madi cloth, which
has been washed and dried. The cloth, washed, wrung,
and hung up to dry, should not be touched by anybody.
If this should happen prior to the bath, the cloth is
polluted, and ceases to be madi. A silk cloth, which
cannot be polluted, is substituted for it. The madi or
silk cloth should be worn until the close of the morning
ceremonies and meal. The man next puts the marks
which are characteristic of his sect on the forehead and
body, and performs the Sandhya service. This is very
important, and is binding on all Brahmans after the
Upanayanam ceremony, though a large number are not
particular in observing it. According to the shastras, the
Sandhya should be done in the morning and evening ;
but in practice there is an additional service at midday.
Sandhyavandhanam means the thanksgiving to God when
day and night meet in the morning and evening. The
rite commences with the sipping of water (achamanam)
from_jthejiollpw of the right palm. This is done three
times, w r hile the words Achyuthayanamaha, Anantaya-
namaha, and Govindayana are repeated. Immediately
after sipping, twelve parts of the body are touched with
the fingers of the right hand in the following order :

The two cheeks with the thumb, repeating the
names Kesava and Narayana ;

The two eyes with the ring-finger, repeating
Madhava and Govinda ;

The two sides of the nose with the forefinger,
repeating Vishnu and Madhusudhana ;

The two ears with the little finger, repeating Triv-
krama and Vamana ;

The shoulders with the middle finger, repeating
Sridhara and Rishikesa ;


The navel and head with all the fingers, repeating
Padmanabha and Damodar.

This Achamana is the usual preliminary to all
Brahman religious rites. The water sipped is believed
to cleanse the internal parts of the body, as bathing
cleanses the external parts.

.After Achamana comes Pranayama, or holding in of
vital breath, which consists in repeating the Gayatri
(hymn) and holding the breath by three distinct opera-
tions, viz. :

Puraka, or pressing the right nostril with the
fingers, and drawing in the breath through the left
nostril, and vice versa.

Kumbhaka, or pressing both nostrils with finger
and thumb or with all the fingers, and holding the breath
as long as possible.

Rechaka, or pressing the right nostril with the
thumb, and expelling the breath through the left nostril,
and vice versd.

The suppression of the breath is said to be a
preliminary yoga practice, enabling a person to fix his
mind on the Supreme Being who is meditated on.

The celebrant next repeats the Sankalpa (determi-
nation), with the hands brought together, the right palm
over the left, and placed on the right thigh. Every kind
of ceremony commences with the Sankalpa, which, for
the Sandhya service, is as follows : " I am worshipping
for the removal of all my sins that have adhered to me,
and for the purpose of acquiring the favour of Narayana
or the Supreme Being." The performer of the rite then
sprinkles himself with water, repeating : " Oh ! ye
waters, the sources of all comforts, grant us food, so
that our senses may grow strong and give us joy.
Make us the recipients of your essence, which is the


most blissful, just as affectionate mothers (feed their
children with milk from their breasts). May we obtain
enough of that essence of yours, the existence of which
within you makes you feel glad. Oh ! waters, grant us
offspring." He then takes up the water in his palm, and
drinks it, repeating the following : " May the sun and
anger, may the lords of anger, preserve me from my
sins of pride and passion. Whate'er the nightly sins of
thought, word, deed, wrought by my mind, my speech,
my hands, my feet ; wrought through my appetite and
sensual organs ; may the departing night remove them
all. In thy immortal light, Oh ! radiant sun, I offer up
myself and this my guilt." At the evening service, the
same is repeated, with the word Agni instead of Surya
(sun). At the midday service the following is recited :
" May the waters purify the earth by pouring down rain.
May the earth thus purified make us pure. May the
waters purify my spiritual preceptor, and may the Veda
(as 'taught by the purified preceptor) purify me. What-
ever leavings of another's food, and whatever impure
things I may have eaten, whatever I may have received as
gift from the unworthy, may the waters destroy all that
sin and purify me. For this purpose, I pour this sancti-
fied water as a libation down my mouth." Once more the
celebrant sprinkles himself with water, and says : " I
sing the praise of the god Dadikravan, who is victorious,
all-pervading, and who moves with great speed. May he
make our mouths (and the senses) fragrant, and may he
prolong our lives. Oh ! ye waters, the sources of all
comforts, grant us food," etc.

The ceremonies performed so far are intended for
both external and internal purification. By their means,
the individual is supposed to have made himself worthy
to salute the Lord who resides in the orb of the rising


luminary, and render him homage in true Brahman style
by what is called Arghya. This is an offering of water
to any respected guest. Repeating the Gayatri, the
worshipper throws water in the air from the palms of the
hands joined together with the sacred thread round the
thumbs. The Gayatri is the hymn par excellence, and
is said to contain the sum and substance of all Vedic

After these items, the worshipper sits down, and
does Japam (recitation of prayers in an undertone). The
Gayatri, as repeated, consists of the Gayatri proper
Vyahritis, and Gayatri Siromantra. It runs as fol-
lows :

Om, Bhuh ; Om, Bhuvah ;

Cm, Suvah ; Om, Mahaha ;

Om, Janaha ; Om, Thapaha ;

Om, Sathyam.

Om, Thatsaviturvarenyam ;

Bhargodevasya dhimahi dhiyo-yonah prachodayat ;

Om, Jyotiraso amrutam

Brahma, Bhur, Bhuvasvarum.

The Vyahritis are generally taken to refer to the
seven worlds, and the prefixing of the Pranava (Om)
means that all these worlds have sprung from the Supreme
Being. The Pranava given above means " All the
seven worlds are (the visible manifestations of) Om,
the all-pervading Brahman. We think of the adorable
light of the Lord, who shines in our hearts, and guides
us. May he guide our intellects aright. Water, light,
all things that have savour (such as trees, herbs, and
plants), the nectar of the gods, the three worlds, in fact
everything that is Brahman, the universal soul."

The mystic syllable Om is the most sacred of all
Hindu utterances. Concerning it, Monier Williams
writes that it is " made up of the three letters A,U,M,


and symbolical of the threefold manifestation of the one
Supreme Being in the gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva,
and is constantly repeated during the Sandhya service.
This prayer is, as we have seen, the most sacred of all
Vedic utterances, and, like the Lord's Prayer among
Christians, or like the Fatihah or opening chapter of
the Kuran among Muhammadans, must always, among
Hindus, take precedence of all other forms of suppli-

The celebrant next proceeds to invoke the Gayatri
Devata thus : " May the goddess Gayatri Devata, who
grants all our desires, come to us to make known to us
the eternal Lord, who is revealed to us only through
the scriptures. May the Gayatri, the mother of all the
Vedas, reveal to us the eternal truth. Oh ! Gayatri,
thou art the source of all spiritual strength. Thou art
the power that drivest away the evil inclinations which
are mine enemies. Thou, by conducing to a sound
mind, conducest to a sound body. Thou art the light of
the gods, that dispellest my intellectual darkness, and
illuminest my heart with divine wisdom. Thou art all.
In the whole universe there is naught but thee that is.
Thou art the eternal truth that destroys all sins. Thou
art the Pranava that reveals to me the unknown. Come
to my succour, Oh ! thou Gayatri, and make me wise."
This invocation is followed by the repetition of the Gayatri
108 or only 28 times. The celebrant then says : " The
goddess Gayatri resides on a lofty peak on the summit
of mount Meru (whose base is deeply fixed) in the earth.
Oh ! thou goddess, take leave from the Brahmans (who
have worshipped thee, and been blessed with thy grace),
and go back to thy abode as comfortably as possible."
The Sandhya service is closed with the following prayer
to the rising sun : " We sing the adorable glory of


the sun god, who sustains all men (by causing rain) ;
which glory is eternal, and most worthy of being adored
with wonder. The sun, well knowing the inclinations
of men, directs them to their several pursuits. The
sun upholds both heaven and earth ; the sun observes
all creatures (and their actions) without ever winking.
To this eternal being we offer the oblation mixed with
ghi. Oh ! sun, may that man who through such sacrifice
offers oblations to thee become endowed with wealth and
plenty. He who is under thy protection is not cut
off by untimely death ; he is not vanquished by any-
body, and sin has no hold on this man either from
near or from afar." In the evening, the following prayer
to Varuna is substituted : " Hear, Oh ! Varuna, this
prayer of mine. Be gracious unto me this day. Long-
ing for thy protection, I cry to thee. Adoring thee
with prayer, I beg long life of thee. The sacrificer
does the same with the oblations he offers thee. There-
fore, Oh ! Varuna, without indifference in this matter,
take my prayer into your kind consideration, and do not
cut off our life. Oh ! Lord Varuna, whatever law of
thine we, as men, violate day after day, forgive us these
trespasses. Oh ! Lord Varuna, whatever offence we, as
men, have committed against divine beings, whatever
work of thine we have neglected through ignorance, do
not destroy us, Oh ! Lord, for such sin. Whatever sin
is attributed to us by our enemies, as by gamblers at
dice, whatever sins we may have really committed, and
what we may have done without knowing, do thou
scatter and destroy all these sins. Then, Oh ! Lord, we
shall become beloved of thee." The Sandhya prayer
closes with the Abhivadhana or salutation, which has
been given in the account of marriage. After the
Sandhya service in the morning, the Brahma yagna, or


worship of the Supreme Being as represented in the
sacred books is gone through. The first hymn of the
Rig Veda is recited in detail, and then follow the first
words of the Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharvana Veda,
the Nirukta, etc.

The next item is the Tarpana ceremony, or offering
of water to the Devatas, Rishis, and Pitris. The sacred
thread is placed over the left shoulder and under the
right arm (upavita), and water is taken in the right hand,
and poured as an offering to the Devatas. Then,
with the sacred thread round the neck like a necklace
(niviti), the worshipper pours water for the Rishis.
Lastly, the sacred thread is placed over the right shoulder
(prachina vithi) and water is poured for the Pitris

The various ceremonies described so far should be
performed by all the male members of a family, whereas
the daily Devatarchana or Devata puja is generally done
by any one member of a family. The gods worshipped
by pious Brahmans are Siva and Vishnu, and their
consorts Parvati and Lakshmi. Homage is paid thereto
through images, salagrama stones, or stone lingams. In
the house of a Brahman, a corner or special room is set
apart for the worship of the god. Some families keep
their gods in a small almirah (chest).

Smarthas use in their domestic worship five stones,
viz. :

1. Salagrama, representing Vishnu.

2. Bana linga, a white stone representing the essence of Siva.

3. A red stone (jasper), representing Ganesha.

4. A bit of metallic ore, representing Parvathi, or a lingam

representing Siva and Parvathi.

5. A piece of pebble or crystal, to represent the sun.

Smarthas commence their worship by invoking the
aid of Vigneswara (Ganesha). Then, placing a vessel


(kalasa) filled with water, they utter the following prayer.
" In the mouth of the water-vessel abideth Vishnu, in
its lower part is Brahma, while the whole company of
the mothers (matris) are congregated in its middle part.
Oh ! Ganges, Yamuna, Godavari, Sarasvati, Narmada,
Sindhu, and Kaveri, be present in this water." The
conch or chank shell (Turbinella rapd] is then wor-
shipped as follows : " Oh ! conch shell, thou wast pro-
duced in the sea, and art held by Vishnu in his hand.
Thou art worshipped by all the gods. Receive my
homage." The bell is then worshipped with the
prayer : " Oh ! bell, make a sound for the approach of
the gods, and for the departure of the demons. Homage
to the goddess Ghanta (bell). I offer perfumes, grains
of rice, and flowers, in token of rendering all due homage
to the bell." The worshipper claps his hands, and rings
the bell. All the tulsi (sacred basil, Ocimiim sanction)
leaves, flowers, sandal paste, etc., used for worship on
the previous day, are removed. " The tulsi is the most

Online LibraryEdgar ThurstonCastes and tribes of southern India (Volume 1) → online text (page 27 of 33)