Life & Style » Religion Thrissur, April 16, 2011
12-day 'Athirathram' comes to an end Staff Reporter Share · Comment (5) · print ·
The Hindu When the ‘Yagasala’ of the Athirathram was ceremonially set on fire on Friday night. Photo: K.C. Sowmish Twelve days of ‘chanting of mantras’ and ‘performing homam’ at the panoramic village of Panjal, near Shoranur, came to an end on Friday night. At the end of 'Athirathram', an ancient Vedic ritual that is considered to be the ultimate invocation of scriptures, the Yajamanan (Puthillathu Ramanujan Akkithiripad) and
Yajamanapathni (Dhanyapathanaadi) of the ritual ceremonially left the Yagashala carrying the fire from the altar to their house, where they would keep it burning. As thousands of people watched, the Yagashala in the vicinity of Panjal Lakshmi Narayana temple was ceremonially set on fire at 10 p.m. marking the conclusion of the 12-day ritual. Those present at the venue claimed that a ‘garuda’ (eagle) was seen flying over the ‘Yagasala’ early in the day, which experts claimed a good omen. Heavy rain that fell over the area delayed the final rituals for sometime. By letting members of various castes and communities to witness the Vedic rites, the Athiratram is said to have reflected the spirit of the changing times in Kerala. Lakhs of people witnessed the Yagam, which was once considered the preserve of the Brahmins. The ritual is aimed at promoting universal brotherhood, peace, solidarity, prosperity, and spiritual enlightenment. Panjal was the venue for many Athirathrams including the one that was held in 1975, under the leadership of Frits Staal, Indologist and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and South/Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Mr. Staal recalled the willingness of Namboodiri scholars in sharing their knowledge. The choice of the venue is in line with the geographic and Vaasthu principles. The Yagashala is uniquely positioned to imbibe the energy of the Sun, which has made Panjal the venue for key Yagas in Kerala in the past. The presence of many Samavedi gurus also makes Panjal a preferred site. Two families of Sama Veda experts, Nellikattu Mana and Muttathukattil Mana, are based in Panjal. Athirathram is believed to have originated in the 10th century BC and practised until the 6th century BC. The preparation for Athiratram takes many months and involves making a large number of mud vessels and wooden items. The eagle-shaped altar (chithi) of the Yagashala has been made of 1,110 specially designed bricks. The Athirathram 2011 was hosted by the Ottappalam-based Varthathe Trust. A research wing that was constituted as part of Athiratram has been conducting several experiments to study the affects of the Yaga on dynamics of Nature, biosphere, and troposphere. The key findings of the scientific studies were expected to be released by May 15.
Rain lashes Kerala village as fire ritual ends Madhusree Chatterjee IANS First Published : 15 Apr 2011 11:35:44 PM IST
PANJAL (KERALA): About 200,000 people watched in utter astonishment as the starry night suddenly turned cloudy and a heavy downpour, accompanied by strong winds, drenched the "yagasala" altar in this Kerala village before and after it was set afire Friday to mark the ceremonial end of Athirathram, the ancient Vedic fire ritual. Rain appeared miraculously because the weather throughout the day was blistering hot and dry and the sky remained starry and clear in the evening. It changed in five minutes as the sky turned dark and a strong wind built up at around 9.30 p.m. All areas in the village of Panjal in Thrissur and also in Kochi, the port city, received the rain in a repeat to the 1975 Athirathram, said the organisers. "The rain was caused by the strong convection current generated by the smoke rising from the altar and the continuous chanting of the mantras," V.P.N. Namboodiri, head of the research team of the Panjal Athirathram, told IANS as people milled around the venue enjoying the cool rain. Namboodiri is a former director of the International School of Photonics at Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) and emeritus scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The altar was set on fire at 10 p.m. followed by a fresh wave of rain. Nearly 200,000 people had gathered on the concluding evening of the 4000-year-old fire ritual. They erupted into thunderous applause as the first drops of the rain fell. While the priests claimed it a "miracle", scientists said the Vedas were far ahead of its time in generating local rainfall, a practice that has gained ground of late with chemical nucleation in many parts of India's drought ravaged areas. The 12-day fire ritual for peace, purification, fertility, health and rain began April 4. It was organised by a local non-profit group Varthathe Trust to revive dying Vedic traditions in the country. Panjal is one of the key bastions of the "Samavedis" and "Rigvedis" - practitioners of the ancient Hindu scriptures Sama Veda and the Rig Veda - who have kept the two living traditions of Vedic chants and 'yagnya' (worship of elements) alive for nearly 4,000 years. The village was host to four major Athirathrams in 1901, 1918, 1956 and 1975.
News When Lord Indra answered the call of Vedas By IANS Saturday, 16 April 2011, 05:09 IST Panjal: The primal Vedic chants that ring across the rolling greens of this village in Thrissur district are a ceremonial invitation to Lord Indra, the god of rain, to join the ancient fire ritual of Athirathram.Towards the evening, thunder rumbles in the distance, almost as if Lord Indra is responding to the call of the 18 Vedic priests. And it rains. The priests have been chanting round-the-clock for the last three days to build up the energy level. Panjal, 30 km from Thrissur town, was teeming with humanity on the 11th day of the ritual Thursday evening. For most tourists, it was a cultural and spiritual pilgrimage covering the Kerala Kala Mandalam, near the venue of the ritual, and the Guruvayoor temple in Thrissur
district. The village of 32,000 people has drawn nearly 300,000 visitors in the last 10 days. The footfall is likely to touch 500,000 Friday when the sprawling 380-square metre venue is set afire to mark the end of the 12-day fire ritual for peace, purification, fertility, health and rain. It has been organised by a local non-profit group Varthathe Trust to revive dying Vedic traditions in the country. Panjal is one of the key bastions of the 'Samavedis' and 'Rigvedis' - practitioners of the ancient Hindu scriptures Sama Veda and the Rig Veda - who have kept the two living traditions of Vedic chants and 'yagnya' (worship of elements) alive for nearly 4,000 years. Five families each of Rig Veda practitioners and Sama Veda practitioners preserve the tradition. The village has played host to four major Athirathrams in 1901, 1918, 1956 and 1975. In 1975, noted Dutch Indologist Frits Staal documented the ritual in a two-volume Vedic treatise -- "Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar". Staal, 81, who has returned this time, watched the proceedings from behind a barricaded enclosure. "Not much has changed. The ritual is alive and well. But it is a real pleasure to be back to Thrissur," he said. A team from Harvard University led by professor Micheal Witzel is also studying the Sama Vedic chants. "It is one of the oldest living Vedic traditions and has not changed much," Witzel told IANS. The ancient fire rite is an elaborate avatar of 'agnihotram' and 'somayaga' - fire worship and offering of the 'soma' rasa to the ritual fire - prescribed in the Vedas. It's said to symbolise the creation of the world with a ball of fire from the big bang, scientists studying the phenomenon say. Athirathram is the most complex of the Vedic fire 'yagnas', first documented in 1100 BC and continued till 600 BC across the northern Indian river plains after which it disappeared from the northern part of the country. A Vedic community of Namboodiris Brahmins in south India, however, clung to it. "It combines chants and rites from the Rig Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda," said Nellikaatilmamanul Vasudevan Namboodiri, one of the oldest Sama Veda practitioners of
Panjal. Yajamana Ramanujan Akkhithiripad, a priest from Chembra in Mallapuram district, presided over the rituals assisted by a team of 17 Vedic priests. Ramanujan's wife - known as the 'yajman pathni', has been camping at the 'yagshala' - the venue of the rite - for the 12 days with her husband as part of the rituals. The yajamana (presiding priest) and his wife carry the scared fire home in pots and keep it burning for the rest of their lives, Vasudevan Namboodiri said. At the heart of the ritual is the sacrificial fire that burns in a blaze of fragrant wood and herbal smoke. The ritual hearth resembles the white-crested red eagle found in the area. "Sighting an eagle is a good omen," says priest Sivakaran Namboodiri. However, the ritual that generated maximum curiosity was the pressing of Soma stalks or 'somaabhishavam' on the 10th day to be offered as oblation to the fire god Agni. The 'soma' - an intoxicating creeper that grows in the Western Ghats - is ferried to the venue in special donkey-drawn 'soma' carts in a recreation of the Vedic era. Over 300 women, decked as brides, partook of the special offering, 'soumyam, (prasadam)', a dish of clarified butter and rice -- for heal thy childbirth and conjugal happiness. And an 'annaydanam (food offering)' kitchen fed 40,000 people everyday with traditional Kerala platters of ponni rice, poreal, avial, sambhar, pickles and payasam.
Wealth of knowledge in Sanskrit texts yet to be explored: scholar K. Santhosh Share Âˇ print Âˇ
The untold wealth of knowledge in Sanskrit manuscripts is yet to be explored by the modern world, Michael Witzel, Professor of Sanskrit in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies of Harvard University, has said. He is here to attend Athirathram, a 12-day Vedic ritual being held in Panjal, 35 km from here. “The estimated number of Sanskrit manuscripts in India is 30 million. As many as 1 lakh manuscripts have been found in Pune alone. Large collections of manuscripts have been found in Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai and Thanjavur. Many manuscripts are stored in houses of priests and scholars. Just as the manuscript of Arthasastra was found and published in the early 1900s, many more are waiting to be discovered,” he says. He states that interest in Sanskrit is growing in the West. “Since the 1800s, Sanskrit has been studied in Europe — mainly out of academic interest. Sanskrit was then studied as the parent language of North Indian and European languages as there were similarities in sounds/words. In late 19th century, it was recognised as the sister language (not parent language as originally thought) of European languages with common Indo-European ancestors,” he says. He says that such similarities are seen in religion and culture too. “Roman fire rituals are similar to Indian fire rituals.”
He describes the Athirathram as one of the most complex Vedic rituals. “Not many changes are seen at Athirathram from the way it is prescribed in the Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra texts,” he notes. He observes that the Vedas influence modern life in many ways. “The 19th century reform movement launched by the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj changed the way India looked at the Vedas. Women were allowed to perform some rituals in the late 19th century. Vedas are for all. They are India's wealth and can be used for positive community building,” he says.
Athirathram reflects social changes in State K. Santhosh Share · print ·
Allowing the general public to witness Athirathram, an age-old Vedic ritual which was the prerogative of Brahmins, reflects changes in Kerala society over a century, observe experts. Athirathram is currently being performed at Panjal, 35 km from here. It will conclude on April 15. Subramanian Namboodiri, son of Itty Ravi Namboodiri, who participated in the Athirathram performed in Panjal in 1975, says, “The history of Athirathram reflects changes in the world view of the Namboodiri community. Athirathram was taken to the outside world because the Namboodiri community realised that it could not remain isolated. The world was fast changing. And the community too had to change. Namboodiri scholars knew that the only way to preserve the tradition was to reveal it to the whole world.” Why is Panjal chosen as a venue for Athirathram? Most Samavedi gurus hail from this region. Two families of Sama Veda experts, Nellikattu Mana and Muttathukattil Mana, are based in Panjal.
Neelakantan Namboodiri of Nellikattu Mana says that his father, grandfather and great grandfather have performed Athirathram — in 1901, 1918 and 1954. The remains of the ‘chithi' or altar of the yagashala for the Athirathram performed in 1954 are still seen in a wooded area of Panjal. A huge banyan tree has grown from the centre of the altar. Vasudevan Namboodiri, brother of Neelakantan Namboodiri, who was ‘Pratiharta' in the 1975 Athirathram, says that his family has benefited by the wisdom of past generations of Samavedis. Frits Staal, who organised Athirathram in 1975 and documented it through grants and donations from institutions such as Harvard University and Smithsonian Institution, recalls the willingness of Namboodiri scholars to share their knowledge. The details that he garnered from his interaction with the scholars have gone into the two-volume book on Athirathram, Agni — The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar. “Over the decades, while I penetrated the riches of their Vedic heritage, I made many Namboodiri friends and came to know them better. I have found them sincere, straightforward and disciplined. After initial reluctance, they are eager to explain the intricacies of their recitations, chants and ceremonies. They never claim knowledge that they do not possess. They will not preach or become pompous. They will express no interest in going to the U.S. Though no longer averse to modernisation, they remain attached to their simple habits,” Prof. Staal observes. At a seminar in the University of Amsterdam, Prof. Staal was asked to name six persons whose scholarship had impressed him the most. He first mentioned Noam Chomsky, American linguist and philosopher. And then Cherumukku Vallabhan Namboodiri (CV to his friends and admirers) and Mammannu Itty Ravi Namboodiri. Prof. Staal had learned the finer points of Somayaga from them in the 1960s and the 1970s. Prof. Staal remembers with great awe Itty Ravi's knowledge of Sama Veda and CV's of Rig Veda and Yajur Veda. “When we talk about Athirathram, we refer to the foundations of Indian culture and sacred knowledge,” notes Mr. Vasudevan Namboodiri. India's sacred knowledge is contained in the Vedas, the Brahmanas appended to them, and the Aryanakas and Upanishads that serve as an epilogue or conclusion. The Rig Veda (sacred songs or hymns of praise), Sama Veda (melodies and chants used by priests during sacrifices), Yajur Veda (sacrificial formulae) and Atharva Veda (spells, charms and exorcist chants) constitute the Vedas. Mr. Vasudevan Namboodiri adds, “Vedic influence can be seen in every aspect of life. ‘Agni' does not signify fire alone. It represents energy. It does not demand to be preserved or protected. If you do it, you benefit.”
Findings from Athirathram to be revealed by May 15 K. Santhosh Share · print ·
research: Members of a research team constituted as part of Athirathram being held at Panjal, near Thrissur, carry out experiments. — Photo: K.C. Sowmish : The key findings of scientific studies conducted on Athirathram, a 12-day Vedic ritual being held at Panjal, will be released by May 15. V.P.N. Nampoori, Emeritus Scientist at the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research and the former Director of the International School of Photonics, Cochin University of Science and Technology, who was leading a research team constituted as part of Athirathram, told The Hindu that several experiments were being carried out at the event. About 35 students from schools and colleges in and around Panjal are assisting the team of researchers. “Yaga is known to affect the dynamics of Nature, biosphere and troposphere. A study is being conducted to analyse the impact of Athirathram on biological systems and to find whether it affects germination of plants. Experiments will compare different sets of seeds and plants that germinated before and during the event. Every three days, a fresh batch of seeds is being germinated,” Dr. Nampoori said.
A study analyses the effects on mitotic index. It measures the degree of cell division in the roots of the plants. “Russians have studied in detail the impact of music on plants. The effect of Vedic chanting on germination of seeds has been established in a study done in a controlled environment by the University of Florida. Sounds are vibrations that can travel through different material. Continuous vibrations through chanting are being imparted to seeds in experiments performed by us. It should be examined whether chanting done in a particular style, say in the Vedic style, influences cell division,” he explained. Another study focusses on changes in atmospheric pressure. “Do items offered in yagas cause changes in temperature? The effect of ingredients vapourised in the atmosphere and heat could act as a stimulant for growth,” he noted. Do yagas purify air? “A researcher from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics is studying the molecular presence in smoke from the yagashala. If hydrogen is found in excess, it could hint purification of air. Strong air flow is reported before Pravargyam (a prefatory ceremony related to the rite, ‘Agnishtoma' or sacrifice of Soma). The speed of air flow is being studied using laserbeam deflection,” he stated. Microbial studies on soil are being conducted. “Subsoil and soil from surface have been collected to study the growth of microbes during Athirathram. The samples will be tested in a laboratory in Kochi. Microbial content in water too is being analysed,” he said. A team from Andhra Pradesh is engaged in gas analysis at Athirathram. “High levels of energy are involved in Pravargyam. During the rite, columns of fire go up to 30 ft. Gas analysis is being done during the rite,” he said. He observed that such rites should not be dismissed as anachronistic exercises resting on superstition. “Only scientific experiments can throw light on the relevance of the age-old rites,” he added.
Research done by microbiologists, scietists.