Athirathram: Preserving a priceless treasure

via Courtesy: Sivadas Varma - Express News Service published on April 19, 2011

KOCHI: The Nellikkattu Mamannu Mana in Panjal, an ancient Namboothiri family,  has got the rare distinction to conduct two Sagnichithya Athiraathrams on the premises of the Mana. The members of the successive generations of the Mana were very keen to preserve the Chithi (the bird-shaped homakundam) of the two Athirathrams intact. The remnants of the Chithis of the Athirathrams conducted in 1901 and 1954 can still be seen on the premises of the Mana.

The homakundams are in a dilapidated condition now as they are remaining exposed throughout the year to the vagaries of nature. Only the top layer of the five layers of the homakundam of the 1901 Athirathram is visible now.

“In the Athirathram of 1954 my father Nellikkaattu Mamannu Neelakantan Namboothiri was the Yajamanan,” Neelakantan Namboothiri of the Mamannu Mana, who turns 84 (Shathaabhishekam) in September, told Express.

In an exclusive interview in the background of the Athirathram which concluded at Panjal a couple of days ago, Neelakantan Namboothiri, who also holds the title of Akkithiri, said: “My mother Uma Pathanaadi was the Yajamana Pathni.

The holy fire (Yaagaagni) was preserved in the Vadakkini of our Tharavaadu. Thus my father as well as the grandfather received the title of Agnihothri.”

The holy fire was preserved till the death of my mother Uma Pathanaadi. The holy fire was used to light her funeral pyre.

According to the traditional custom, the holy fire being kept in the Vadakkini should be used for the cremation of either the Yajamanan or Yajamana Pathni who dies first.

After the 1954 Athiraathram my mother died first. Till then the holy fire was being preserved in our Vadakkini.Earlier, the holy fire of the Athirathram of 1901 was kept till the death of my grandmother whose name also was Uma Pathanaadi, Neelakantan Namboothiri recalled.

Though the holy fire of the two Athirathrams were merged with the mortal remains of two Yajamaana Pathnis, the members of the successive generations were very keen to preserve the Athirathram Chithis without any change.

Banyan trees have come up from the centre of the Chithi of 1954. The Chithi of the Athirathram of 1954 had special features, he said. “It had a six-layer brick base in proportion to the size of my father Neelakantan Akkithiripad,” he said. 

“We have been handing over the baton of this holy tradition from generation to generation and all members of the younger generation recognise the richness of the family tradition,” says Neelakantan Namboothiri. The Chithis and the well drilled for the first Athiraathram of 1901 are being preserved now.

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