Continued from the previous post
It is not only humans who need to rest to get rejuvenated from unhealthy environment and vibrations. Even presiding deities installed in the form of murtis, in our temples need to be rested to restore their divine power. People go to temples to get the spiritual vibrations of the sanctum, but unfortunately their own vibrations, which maybe far from positive pollute the premises. That is why the deities need to be rested periodically.
We saw how the deities in the Puri Jagannath temple are taken to an isolated place to be purified, treated, and rested before the commencement of the Rath Yatra. This may sound odd to those who don’t understand that the murtis of the deities are invested with jīva when their prana pratishttha is done at the time of their installation. They are not just lifeless ‘idols’ as insinuated by the ignorant. This year, COVID19 has ensured that the deities will be rested enough to grace the devotees with even more powerful divine vibrations once the temples open.
Ancient, big temples in the south have a unique way of purifying the temple premises as well as rest the deities periodically, which is usually every 12 years. Known as kumbhabhishekam, it is a consecration ritual that follows any structural repairs or restoration work, which are carried out. However, the periodicity can be either less or more, depending upon the damage or wear and tear to the temple, which can vary from a few years to more than 12 years–or as in the case of the Brihadeeswara temple of Thanjavur—just five times in a 1000 years!
Unlike in Puri, where the murtis are removed from the sanctum to be rested, the temples in the south have murtis are fixed and can’t be moved from the garbhagriha. So, they are given rest through another ritual preceding the kumbhabhishekam. Called paalaayam (பாலாலயம்), this ritual is performed for days, weeks and even months together as per the traditions and customs of that particular temple. The temples are closed for darshan during the period of restoration, with the main tower gate being shut. Only the pujaris and some selected helpers are allowed to do the daily puja and other rituals to the deities in the various sannidhis. In this massive effort of cleaning and renovating, people from all walks of life participate with reverence and enthusiasm, spiritually cleansing themselves by doing the required manual labour. In all these activities, people from every walk of life and from all communities participate, be they temple rituals or seva.
One can witness another temple-seva all-year round, across the state in different kshetras and also before and during annual temple festivals. This seva is known as uzhavara tiruppani (உழவாரத் திருப்பணி), which means ‘sacred labour done with the uzhavaram’. It involves physical labour and is included as one of the sadangus (சடங்கு) or rituals prescribed for human beings in ancient Tamil scriptures. It had been started in the latter part of the 5th century CE, by the great Saivite saint Tirunavukkarasar–one of the four great Nāyaṉmārs, (நாயன்மார்), who had spearheaded the Bhakti movement.
Tirunavukkarasar, or Appar, as he was called, always carried an uzhavaram, a cleaning tool that has a small spade at the end of a pole, to clear weeds and other obstacles on the paths leading to the Shiva temples he visited. His uzhavara tiruppani inspires countless devotees even today, to take up the cleaning work in temples, especially dilapidated ones that are in need of repair and maintenance. Those taking part in this sacred duty, do every kind of cleaning work in and around the temple including, sweeping, washing the inner complex at every sannidhi, cleaning and desilting the temple tank and lending a helping hand in the community cooking for annadanam—the last being a regular activity in big temples. The devotees get the sacred prasadam as reward for their seva.
Karseva is a comparable activity in north Indian temples and Gurdwaras. One can say that the various sevas at Gurudwaras are the equivalents of uzhavara tiruppani. Like the latter, these are carried out all year round and imbue the volunteer sevadars with humility, devotion and reverence towards the Supreme. Seva done to the devotees is seva done to God and therefore no work is seen as menial and even jodaghar seva (cleaning of shoes of devotees) and toilet cleaning are done by the sevadars with full dedication.
Coming back to paalaayam, once the renovation and repairs are done, the consecration rituals commence with sahasra kalaśa homam (सहस्र कलश होमं), followed by the kumbhabhiśekam (कुम्भाभिषेकं) done with the sacred water from the 1000 kalaśas to the kumbhas (कुम्भम्) at the top of the vimana above the sannidhi and also to the deities in the sanctum. The Abhiśeka tīrtha
sprinkled on devotees is a much sought after grace from the deity. The temple opens to the devotees after this purification ritual, with enhanced spiritual vibrations.
Visiting temples and undertaking uzhavaara pani and kar seva not only increase our inner strength but also give us spiritual energy and physical strength to face any crisis. They imbue the devotees with humility while providing mental and spiritual cleansing. All this is thanks to the wisdom of our ancestors, who had inseparably woven physical and mental health aspects into these activities.
In the next part, I will speak about the parivrajakas or wanderers who experience physical and spiritual cleansing as they walk, doing seva as they go.
…To be continued