Chitra Pournami is a Hindu ritual dedicated to Chitragupta, assistant of the god of death, Yama, and the heavenly bookkeeper who maintains a record of all the deeds and actions of a person in their lifetime on earth. This day commemorates the birthday of Chitragupta and also pays tribute to Indra, the god of the heavens. It is on this auspicious day that the star Chitra and Pournami (full moon) coincide with each other.
The word ‘Chitra’ means pictures and the word ‘Gupta’ means hidden. Chitragupta is referred to as the god from whom nothing is hidden and who keeps a detailed history of every person in the world. When a person sheds the mortal body, the soul is freed and stands before Chitragupta for an assessment of all the good and bad deeds. After weighing all the actions of the person, Chitragupta and Yama decide whether the soul should ascend to heaven or descend to hell.
Significance of Chitra Pournami
Thus, people perform special poojas on Chitra Pournami day and appeal to Chitragupta to forgive their sins and wipe the slate clean. Many devotees have a bath in holy rivers and temple ponds to wash away their sins; many also observe a fast to purify the body and soul.
Chitra Pournami is considered the most auspicious day to cleanse accumulated sins and reform our deeds, actions and behavior so that no more bad karma is created. Chitragupta’s roving eye is on every individual, and none can escape the consequences of their actions. The Chitragupta temple in Kanchipuram is the only shrine dedicated to the deity in the state of Tamilnadu, and it is packed with devotees who come from all over on Chitra Pournami day to redeem their sins.
There is also another temple in Kodangipatti and a couple more in Kerala which have an image of Chitragupta installed.
Legend of Chitragupta
There is an interesting anecdote surrounding Chitra Pournami involving Lord Indra, the king of the Devas and his Guru Brihaspati. Indra and Brihaspati had an argument, upon which the sage stopped advising Indra. This led to a situation where Indra was unable to carry out his duties effectively and requested the Guru to forgive him and return back. Brihaspati was moved by Indra’s plight and advised him to undertake a pilgrimage to earth to alleviate his sins.
Indra did as advised and immediately felt the burden being lifted from his shoulders. He decided to pay his respects to Lord Shiva and started praying to a Shiva Linga under a Kadamba tree. Indra propitiated Lord Shiva with a golden lotus which blossomed in a nearby pond. It was the day of Chitra Pournami when this occurred and the place was Madurai in Tamilnadu. This event is commemorated with a Pooja being held in the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple on the day of Chitra Pournami.
Celebrating Chitra Pournami
Chitra Pournami is widely perceived to be specially observed by women, but even men participate in the Pooja. Members of the family arise early and have a bath, before going on to commence the Pooja. Colorful Kolams are drawn in the threshold of the house and on the Pooja altar, with the south side being left open to welcome Chitragupta into the house. Various offerings are made to the deity and an Aarti is then performed, to accompany the holy Slokas. Offerings include Naivedyam, rice, dhal, pongal and more. However, the payasam and moong dhal is prepared from buffalo milk, as it is the symbol of Yama.
Feeding the Poor and the Needy
One of the important rituals observed on Chitra Pournami is feeding the poor and the needy, as it is the easiest way of cleansing bad karma. Taking care of the needs of others is also the simplest way of getting the blessings of the almighty for you and your family.
This act of charity can be carried out anywhere, but many devotees prefer to do so at Thillai (Chidambaram) which is one among the Panchabhootha Sthalams (temple dedicated for one of the five elements of nature).
Fasting on Chitra Pournami
Observing a fast on Chitra Pournami is considered to be very auspicious and many devotees observe the ritual from dawn to dusk. It is advisable to avoid salt in any food item on this day and devotees break the fast with curd rice prepared without any salt.
All said and done, Chitra Pournami is a momentous occasion and gives everyone an opportunity to atone for their sins in this lifetime itself. Worshiping Chitragupta on his birthday relieves us from carrying our burden over into the Pitru Lok, and the soul can pass unhindered to the ultimate destination of Swarag Lok.