Chitra Pournami is a Hindu festival observed on the full moon day in the month of Chithirai or Chaitra, which corresponds to the months of April–May in the English calendar. It is celebrated to mark the birth anniversary of Chitragupta, the assistant of the God of death, Yama. The word Chitra means ‘picture’ and Gupta means ‘hidden’ which symbolizes Chitragupta’s role as the keeper of records of all the actions and deeds committed by a person on Earth. Thus, Chitragupta is popularly called as the bookkeeper of heaven who will ultimately decide whether a person goes to heaven or to hell. Astrologically speaking, Chitragupta is the overlord of the shadow planet ‘Ketu’ and worshiping him on Chitra Pournami day will overcome ‘Ketu Dosha’ in the horoscope. Chitragupta is a popular deity in the Southern regions of the country, but there are very few temples dedicated to him. There is a prominent shrine for Chitragupta in Kanchipuram in the state of Tamilnadu. Devotees have a bath in holy rivers or other water bodies to wash away their sins and special poojas are conducted in honor of the deity on the Chitra Pournami day. Observing a fast and feeding the poor are also some of the rituals observed on Chitra Pournami day.
Celebrating Chitra Pournami at Home
Many people celebrate Chitra Pournami in a grand manner at home. On the night before Chitra Pournami, Pooja lamps are washed, and turmeric, kum kum dots (vermillion) and thread are kept ready for performing Pooja on the next day. The house is also thoroughly swept and kept clean. Neem flowers, dried flowers, a coconut, a raw mango and a palm hand fan are also kept for the Pooja.
They then proceed to decorate the home with colorful Maakolams (rice flour drawing) and start making preparations for the Pooja. Usually, a thearkolam (rice flour drawing of chariot) is drawn in the entrance of the house and the Pooja room. The foot of Chitragupta along with an umbrella, hand fan, stick, foot of a bull, foot of a horse and flag is drawn, to welcome Chitragupta into the house.
On the day of Chitra Pournami, people wake up early and have head bath, and then go on to prepare the dishes for Naivedyam. Sweet pidikozhukattai, Panagam, vellaipongal, mango pachadi and neermor are some of the other dishes prepared for the puja. If possible, all the Naivedyam dishes should be kept and served in mud pots and plates.
The Pooja celebrations should start at an auspicious time of the day, and Rahu Kalam or Yama Kandam times should be avoided. At the appropriate time, a lamp is lit and the Naivedyam offerings are placed before the deity. The muram (winnowing basket) with Navadhaniyam (blend of nine grains), hand written paper and pen, betel leaves, nuts, bananas and a coconut are kept ready for the Pooja. The panakam and neermor are kept in bowls while the sweet pidikozhukattai and white pongal are placed in a plate.
In keeping with Hindu tradition, the Pooja lamp and dhoop sticks are waved before the deity while an Aarti is performed. Many people recite stories of Chitragupta and chant some holy Slokas while performing the Pooja. Finally, after concluding all the rituals and successfully completing the Pooja, prasadam is distributed among all those present.
People then go on to enjoy a good lunch specially prepared for the occasion of Chitra Pournami. Vada and payasam are some of the favorite items served on the day, along with other dishes.
Though the general procedure remains the same, there could be slight variations in the way things are carried out in the Pooja. Many people offer food to the poor and needy to get the blessings of the almighty and absolve the sins committed in their sojourn in the world. All said and done, Chitra Pournami infuses faith, devotion and hope to lead a meaningful life, and gives us the courage to transit into a higher plane of existence when the time comes.