Every temple in India has certain rituals and ceremonies that are performed to appease the deity and invoke his/her blessings for the devotees. Arati, Archana, Homa, Pooja, etc, are some of these rituals which are common to most temples. One important ritual that one can witness in many Kerala temples is Poomoodal. It is very common in North Kerala. Rituals have specific purposes. In the case of Poomoodal, it is performed mainly for wish-fulfillment. The most famous Poomoodal ritual can be seen at the Kadampuzha Devi Temple.
The legend behind Poomoodal Ritual:
The Poomoodal ritual is based on an incident that is described in Hindu mythology. It is mentioned in the Mahabharata, one of the two major Hindu epics. The Mahabharata talks about two clans – the Kauravas and Pandavas – and their rivalry. They were actually cousins, but envy and greed caused the Kauravas to turn against the Pandavas, leading to a great battle called the Kurukshetra war, which culminated in victory for the Pandavas. The Kauravas denied the Pandavas their rightful dues using deceit and trickery. They sent the Pandavas into a long exile in the forest after grabbing their kingdom by cheating at a game of dice.
While they were living in the forest, Shiva as Kiratamurti, or chief of the Kiratas, who were mountain dwellers, appeared before Arjuna, who was one of the Pandava brothers and a very skilled archer. Arjuna had been doing a severe penance to please Lord Shiva in order to acquire divine weapons that would help the Pandavas in a war against the Kauravas. Shiva’s consort, Parvati, was worried if he would use the weapons wisely and judiciously. To test this, Shiva decided to take the form of Kiratamurti. Shiva fought Arjuna, and supposedly, all the arrows that Arjuna shot at Shiva turned into flowers by the grace of Kadampuzha Devi (a form of Goddess Shakti). This is how the Poomoodal ritual is said to have originated. Once Shiva had tested Arjuna to his satisfaction, he gave him the Pasupata arrow, which Arjuna would use later in the Kurukshetra war to defeat his greatest adversary, Karna.
How Is Poomoodal Ritual Performed?
In this ritual, the deity is worshipped with plenty of flowers. The idol of the deity in the sanctum sanctorum is fully covered with Chethi Poo (Jungle Geranium or Ixora Coccinea). Food offerings that are made as part of the ritual include palpayasam (a sweet made of rice and milk) and ari naivedyam (another rice offering). On the day of the Pooja, poor people are also offered food.
Traditional belief has it that ‘Poomoodal’ is the favorite ritual of Ayyappa, the deity of Sabarimala temple. Many baskets of flowers are used to cover his idol during the ritual. It is believed that by performing this ritual, one can fulfill one’s wishes.
Lord Ayyappa is the main deity of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. This temple is visited by hordes of devotees who undergo a 41- day period of rigorous austerities before they undertake the pilgrimage to this hill shrine. This period is called the Mandala Kaalam, and it ends with the Mandala Pooja at the temple. Carrying the irumudi, a small black cloth bundle holding pooja items and some personal possessions, and wearing a rudraksh mala, devotees make their way to the temple, climbing 18 steps to reach the sanctum sanctorum. They keep chanting ‘Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa’ as they climb the steps.
The fast and austerities by Ayyappa devotees begin in the month of Vrischikam (November-December). The temple festival is called Makaravilakku. It also refers to the lamp lit at Ponnambalmedu, a forest area 8 km from the Sabrimala shrine. Witnessing the Makara Jyothi is the highlight of Makara Vilakku festival. This happens during the Makara Sankranti festival on January 14. The star, Makara, or Sirius, appears on the horizon at this time. Local lore has it that Ayyappa himself comes as the star in order to bless his devotees. This is called the Makara Jyothi.
Makaravilakku ritual is done after the appearance of Makara Jyothi. This ritual was earlier performed by Malayaraya tribals. After the temple administration was taken over by the Travancore Devaswom Board in the early 1950s, the tribals lost the right to perform this ritual.