Monday, February 28, 2011

Kaal Ratri, Agan Ratri, Shiva Ratri

He was glad that he was at least asked for tea, offered some fruits and dry-fruits. It was a great gesture. This was a Gurit household. His elder sister was married into a Gurit family. In old days, come Shivratri and the Gurits would built a social cocoon around themselves, visitors who were not of the same gotra, non-Gurits, friends even relatives were not welcome, certainly not into the room of vatakraaz, the room of Pooza, the seat of lord himself, and if someone did visit, if that someone was offered a pitcher of water even that was ganimat, a great gesture and a generous backdown from dogma. All this was said, in jest and awe, of Gurits and their peculiar behavior around Shivratri. But the times had changed.

After offering tea, snacks and exchanging some ryi’tchar-pry’itchar, chit-chat about well-being, his sister walked back to the kitchen, rice was done, sabzis remained, a lot of work remained in the background, she was busy, invisible, yet every now and then her presence in the house was made obvious as she shouted out the names of her two kids and warned them to behave themselves and stop the ruckus. This had been her house and her family for quite some years now. She looked happy. She was happy. Before taking his leave, he thought of dropping a Namaskar to his brother-in-law who was practicing for the night of the great pooza even though it was still a few nights away. He followed the heavy baritone sound reverberating in the house. The echo in that sound had delightful studio quality that added semblance of divinity to it, it was a familiar sound. He checked his steps at the door to the storeroom that every time this time of the year served as the pooja-room for Shivratri. From the door he could see his brother-in-law sitting cross-legged in front of photographs of deities, surrounded by minor tumblers, some bowls, vidhi books and aarti booklets, a finger from his one hand on the pause button of a tape-player, the sound had stopped, a finger from his other hand positioned below a word in a line from a red-bound vidhi book whose cover name in Hindi announced ‘Shivratri Pooja’. He was stuck at a line and was trying to figure out a word. Even after years of practice doing this pooja for last many years, assisted by the recording, he still found some parts indecipherable, un-pronounceable, beyond comprehension, just plain difficult. Jostling with one such difficulty, he noticed his brother-in-law standing at the door wondering whether to enter the room or not. He gave a hearty smile and they exchanged loud greetings. He decided to enter as in the settings of this practice session a curious stratagem caught his eyes. He was looking at a possible solution to one of the most frustrating problems that he faced while performing the pooza. Synpotul, a small sized phallic symbol of Shiv-Shakti union baked in clay (or moulder in metal), and a prestiged member of Shiva’s odd Baraat, in an important rite of the pooza is seated on a grass throne at the base of a bowl, garlanded with flowers and then washed with water and milk as mantras of the rite are intoned by the tape. The problem is that after sometimes, it gets submerged in all the water poured, tape needs to be stopped in middle of the rite and water needs to be poured back out of the bowl. According to the rite, for optimal effect, the water needs to fall directly on the tip of Synpotul, the fact that Synpotul drowns even before half the rite is over does not look good. And on top of that while removing water from the bowel, Synpotul invariably gets dislodged from its grass seat, an involuntary act that feels like an avoidable sin. Here now, in the settings of the practice session of his brother-in-law he saw a way to save Synpotul from drowning.
‘That’s great! You always do that?’
‘Do what?’
‘Inside that vessel you have seated the Synpotul on top of an inverted smaller bowl. Works?’
‘Picked up this technique a couple of years ago. It works. Keeps the Synpotul from drowning and always above the water level. ’
‘This is brilliant,’ he said with conviction even as his brother-in-law again went back to playing with the tape-player.

Sometime later he was on his way to the house of his other elder sister. Before the lunchtime, he had planned to visit the homes of his two sisters, these were customary visits that a brother was supposed to make, by lunchtime he wanted to be back home to his own preparations for pooza.

In this house a part of the drawing room had been cordoned off to make room for Shiva and his Ghannas. As he sipped tea sitting on the couch facing the vatuk’s designated seat, he looked up at the dark oily spot on the white-washed wall behind him.  Breaking into an involuntary smile he asked his niece if they had got enough flowers this year. She broke into laughter and said, 'We are better prepared this year, but you never know how things will go in this house.’

This year everyone was better prepared. Preparations that held on perfectly till the night of Shiva arrived.

A commanding voice from the tape chanted ancients verse while the listeners instinctively dropped flower petals into a god bowl. ANIYW'SA VYAN POSH.

‘Please use little fewer flowers. Why are you using the entire flower? Use the petals instead, fewer petals. At this rate we will run out of flowers,’ the old woman of this house kept reminding his old husband. Old man wasn’t listening. He was ignoring her pleas. ‘How can one keep count of flowers being offered to Gods?’

Flowers had been the bone of contention last year also, and had been so for many years. It was a subversive war for order and control. On this particular night every year, this war took on all kind of forms and was fought in various dimensions. Only last year the situation had imploded in a dramatic way like never before. In the middle of the rite, the old man, in his anger over the constant nagging rejoinders from his wife about ‘flower overuse’, had flung a bowl of oil at the opposing wall. The spot was still there on the white wall even though the wall had been freshly white washed as was required for Shivratri preparation.

‘Please use more flowers. What are you doing? Please. More. Use flowers. Stop playing like a kid. We have lot of flowers.’
The kids were chuckling uncontrollable as the old man slowly and carefully, in an orchestrated manner plucked a petal from a bud of Marigold, proceeded to tear that petal into eight equal small pieces and then carefully offered each piece to the waiting bowl of god even as the tape seemed to be hurriedly belting out the verses in praise of the lord.

Things were looking good this year. The water level was within control. Synpotul was well above water. The trick worked.
‘No wait. Stop pouring water. Stop the tape. Synpotul is going to topple. Synpotulas kariv thaph. Papaji wait. Papaji wait. Wait.The air inside the inverted bowl on which it is seated is causing the bowl to float over water.’
Amid flower petals, over milky white water, a brass colored small metal Synpotul was now wildly and dangerously floating in that big metal utensil. The inverted bowl it was kept on kept, the potential solution to the problem, was making it duck in and out of water. It was a serious problem. An impediment to the holy proceeding of the night.
Synpotulas kar thaph. Hold the Synpotul,’ he asked his young nephew who couldn’t stop laughing.
‘What were you thinking? You need to ask you kids about Euclids and laws of buoyancy. Eureka! Eureka!’
As he proceeds to pour water out of the bowl to lower the water level he laughed back and said to the boy, ‘Bad Chukh Saence Daandh. Vaari kar thaph. Saence Daan chukh banaan. You big  bull of Science. Hold on to it properly. You trying to be a scientist now.’

Synpotul toppled into water. It was retrieved. Seated again. Tape was started again. Amid laughter this process was repeated till Synpotul’s part was over in the proceeding of the Shiva’s night.

KALRATRI, AGANRATRI, SHIVARATRI. KALRATRI, AGANRATRI, SHIVERATRI. KALRATRI, AGANRATRI, SHAVERATRI. KALRATRI, AGANRATRI, SHAV...

The voice from the tape-player kept repeated and kept on repeating. The tape was stuck. Without any sign of panic, he hit the stop button. He kept the rewind button pressed for a few seconds and then hit the play button.

'AAnnnnn iiiiiiiw saaaaaaa waaaaayen poooosh,' was the machine's cute and muted reply. Still unflinching, he opened the deck. The machine was eating the tape. Talking the situation in, with light breaths, he carefully and patiently gathered the tape. Everyone looked on for his verdict, hoping against hope for the best, silently. Machine wasn’t the problem, it was the tape. It seemed he had practiced a bit too much. Poor old tape purchased more than half-a-decade earlier couldn't take it. The tape was dead. This was its last Heyrath .

‘You didn’t have to overdo it!’ his wife and mother both simultaneously claimed  after holding on to their silence for half-a-minute after the announcement of tape's death.

‘You both know what happened last year. I didn’t want to take any chances this year. I was trying to...’

Last year, much to their shock and embarrassment, their Pooza had finished in just over an hour. It had taken then some time to figure out what had happened. Shivratri Pooja in a set of two cassettes, Cassette 1 had the beginning and Cassette 2 had the end. Few minutes into the tape when the voice asked them to light a fire, they suspected something amiss. The fire part, the havan, always came towards the end. But they went on with it wishing that maybe they were mistaken, maybe it was all normal. But when the tape asked them to offer food to the Vatukraaj, make that final offering of food to god, the act which certainly marked the end of the ceremony, they rudely woke up to their sad goof-up. They had played the Cassette 2, the end cassette, first. Gravity of the mistake ran so heavy on them that without thinking much they hurriedly went on to play the Cassette 1, after re-labeling it PART 1. When the time for Cassette 2 came, they listened in silence, they had already used up the ingredients and fervor meant for this part. But towards the end somehow their spirits were again high as they offered food, even if a bit colder, to the god vessel, the Vatukraaj. No debacle could stop them.

This year too, taking the minor debacle of 'tape's death' in stride, they continued with the ceremony right from where it had been abruptly stopped. To continue, they picked up the book of ‘Shivrati Pooja’ and performed the various complex rites of the ceremony by reading the simple instructions and intoning the sacred chants. Complex rites were performed simply. Intonation wasn’t perfect. Words and parts were skipped, mutilated. But they offered food to the gods, filled the vessels to the brim and thanked the lord above.

The last part of the ceremony is common in Pandits of all reeths and beliefs. In the end, with folded hands they ask for God’s forgiveness and they ask to be forgiven their ignorance and miss-beliefs. In the end they plead that they performed the rites and the ceremony to the best of their knowledge and abilities. In the end they all say, 'Forgive us.'


9 comments:

  1. such pleasure reading how you do it up there Vinayak! Do you chant the Rudram Chamakam at all? What are the various Shiv Mantras that one would chant on Shivratri?

    ReplyDelete
  2. The words that are said in praise of Shiva-Parvati mostly involve Shrutis. There is Shiv Sankalp from Yajur Ved. There is Abhinav Gupta's Shiv Stuti and Shiv Chamar Stuti. There is Shivashtakam, Lingashtakam, then something that goes Shivoha-Shivoha-Shivoha, ther is the famous ShivaPanchaShahastraStotra,Shri Rudrashtaka, Shiv Shadakshar Stotram that starts with'omkar bindu sayankut' and I think a few more. The small booklet that I have right now only has these. Next time I am going to post a more detailed list from the actual book of 'Shivratri Puja'.

    But I, like most Kashmiris, see this festival more as a wedding and it is celebrated as such. For Kashmiris it is the day of the actual wedding of Shiv and Parvati. And as so often happens in weddings, ritual have great impact than words.

    The ancient rituals celebrated by Kashmiri Pandits, the actual beauty of this festival was wedded into a poetic mystical experience by Pandit Krishnajoo Razdan (1850-1926) in his work Shiva Lagna. The rituals he described can he traced in the rituals now followed and these are partly Kashmiri marriage rituals. (check out 'Folklore, public sphere, and civil society' (2004) from NFSC for more)

    The source of the Shiv Ratri Puja as performed by Kashmiri Pandits now is based on early 2Oth century documantation by Pandit Keshav Bhat Jyotishi (1873-1946) who is credited for preserving a lot of old Kashmiri works by setting up a Printing Press that made ancient works cheaply and easily available to masses.

    Lot of short-cuts and modification have been introduced in the Pooja since that era but the procedure essentially remains the same. If I remember right the cassettes of the Shivratri Puja and the Booklets popular among Pandits are in fact produced by progenies of Pandit Keshav Bhat Jyotishi.

    ReplyDelete
  3. shaadi unhone kee aur hum kyun jaag rahe hain?
    right now I can drop dead!
    have to work tomorrow........
    but thanx a ton! these stories you tell are fascinating.
    great that you are documenting whatever you can...
    shivoham shivoham shivoham is the Nirvanasuktam
    am going to look up Shiva Chamara Stuti don't know this one.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sivohamx3 = Nirvanasuktam.

    So its pretty much the same set of chantings/shlokas
    though Siva Chamar Stuti is something i am unaware of...

    any specific influence of Adi Sankara or no? given that most of these compositions are his and he was there for a bit,

    I guess its their wedding nite then, so why the hell am I awake?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Didn't know the name Nirvanasuktam.

    Abhinav Gupta's Shiva Chamara Stuti starts with 'Ati Bheeshan...'. It's possibly the most famous one among Kashmiri Pandits...most recognizable one for me...rendered in a peculiar sing-song manner. Just realized that it is this peculiar meter that adds ‘Chamara’ to the name. 'Chamara’ meter – signifies the movement of a hand fan. ‘Chamara’ comes from the Sanskrit word 'Charmkara ' meaning tail of a yak. Apparently this tail was used as fan. [Seeing images of Sikh Granthis in head]. This has been a very verbose and edifying Shivratri.

    ReplyDelete

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