Athirathram – First layer of garuda-shaped homakundam set

via published on April 7, 2011

PANJAL (THRISSUR): The first layer of the bird-shaped homakundam was readied on Thursday, the day four of the Athirathram, with ‘Shianachitthi’(the ritual to lay the garuda-shaped homakundam).

The making of the bird-shaped homakundam is significant as the whole structure is built to suit the Yajamanan’s height. Yajamanan is the priest, who along with his wife, performs the yaga and is supported by the ritwiks in the ritual.

Before the making of the 1008 bricks shaped in triangular, rectangular, square and pentagon shapes, the ‘Yajamanan’ stands with his hands raised in prayer and measurements are taken so that the height of the homakundam will be up to his knee length while standing.

It is based on these calculations that the bricks are made.

“It has happened earlier when a Yajamanan could not participate because of a death in his family and another person took his place. Since the homakundam is based on his height, it would have to be changed. Fortunately, they were of the same height and hence there was no interruption to the yaga then,” Nettom Bhavatradhan Namboothiri, one of the senior ritwiks at the Athirathram, said.

One layer will be built daily amidst the chanting of the mantras and by the ninth day, the structure will be ready. Each piece will be placed individually after chanting mantras. ‘Making of the homakundam’ is one of longest and time-consuming proceedings in the Athirathram.

It has to be laid carefully and ritwiks are trained in the making of the structure on a prototype so that there is no confusion during the actual ritual when it has to be done without any interruption.

Once the structure is ready, the yaga will be a non-stop process for the last three days. Night and day become one, hence ‘Athirathram’.

The other main ritual of the day was Pravargyeisti, in which ghee is poured in the Mahavira pot and burnt. Cow’s milk is added to the pot which causes a tall column of fire.

 Sometimes, the fire could go up to 30 feet. Women are not supposed to witness this ritual as it is believed that fumes emanating from this homam is not good for their health.

Meanwhile, Prof Frits Staal, who organised the Athirathram in Panjal 35 years ago, will speak on ‘A Theory of Rituals’ at Sreechandra Hall, Brahmaswam Madham (Vedic Research Centre) in Thrissur at 5.30 p.m. on Friday.

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