40th-day Pitru Bali Karma followed in Malabar

‘Naalpaadaamdinam Adiyantharam’ rituals form a very important ritual followed by Hindus across the country in one form or the other for the recently departed to ensure they finally attain moksha or higher dimensions in their journey towards Moksha. With this ritual, the soul who for the previous 40days is said to be with a Preta Sharira in Preta Loka dimension is honoured and elevated to the higher dimension of Pitru Loka and formally joined with their ancestors.

Thanks to my good friends and Guru’s I learnt 2nd Nov was indeed very special – it was ‘Skanda Shashti Shanivaar’ Skanda aka Kartikeya aka Murugan aka Subramanyam Bhagavan the six-headed commander of the Devas..and Skanda Shashti is celebrated in remembrance of Skandhas victory over the Asura Soorapathman after a six-day battle.

Besides being my Papa Kallakandy Jayaraman’s birthday and being the 41st day since his passing over – the day was chosen to perform the first Pitru Bali Karma and immersion of Chitha Bhasma at the sacred Trikkanad Tryambakeshwara Mahadeva Temple, Kasaragod.

Continuing on my learnings from my own dear Papa’s passing away. Here is an account on the rituals and customs followed by us Hindu families of Kannur during bereavement and post the grieving ‘pola’ or Pollution period of 13 days. There may be some variations based on specific community practices.

Depending on the Nakshatra and tithi at the time of death, various conjectures are made about the path the departed soul is likely to take, any doshas accrued to the soul or the grieving family etc. I had described the Aganaal ritual (in an earlier blog) performed for the lesser dosha of Nakshatra Bali associated with death occurring when certain Nakshatras are in the zodiac.

A major dosha is the Pancak Nakshatra dosha in which the last five Nakshatras of the Hindu month are considered. Death in any one of these five stars is thought to result in a few more deaths (3 to 5) within one year (family is the matrilineal lineage). For this kind of death where Panchak dosha is involved the rituals “performed after 40 days is cut to 20th day.. on the 20th day a small wooden seat – ‘pala’ is taken with the Sankalpa that it represents the departed soul (without nails) is placed in a neat secluded south-east corner of the house, propped against the wall without washing the pala.. the offerings are simple – no cooked food, no fried items is offered instead Aval (beaten rice), plantain and sugar is offered on the plantain leaf kept in front of the wood seat the pointy edge of leaf pointing away (Kodi Ella) from the Pala’..an oil lamp is lit with three of the wicks facing east and two west…post which sadya or lunch is given to the near and dear.. after this on the 40th day ritual is kept small scale with only the immediate family coming together.

In case Panchak dosha has not arisen then the Bali karmas are performed on 40th day and is called ‘Naalpaadaamdinam Adiyantharam’ and on the 41st day, the Chitha Bhasma or Asthi are taken for immersion to a holy Triveni (where three holy Rivers meet) at a holy site.

For the 40th day or Naalpaadaamdinam Adiyantharam’ rituals the house is thoroughly cleaned and a fresh coat of paint given to the walls a few days prior to the function, near and dear ones and well-wishers are informed, invited personally to come and pray for the Moksha and higher elevation of the departed followed by Sadhya or lunch. It is usually a big affair and the norm is to invite everyone who attended the cremation ritual to be invited and offered lunch. A day prior to the function certain Homas such as Maha Ganpati Homam indicating a new beginning, Mahamrityunjaya Homam for protection of the surviving members etc is performed.

On the day of the function, two small wooden seats or Palas (without nails can be obtained from a Puja store) are used, with Sankalpa or intention that one is the departed soul and the other used as their seat. The Palas are given a good bath first oil and thailam (used by the departed) is applied and then water at a temperature usually lukewarm preferred by the departed for taking bath is used for washing with soap. The pala is wiped clean with a new fresh towel or thorthu taking care to keep the head portion upright. The bathed pala is wrapped in a long length of soft pure white linen (usually a two-meter mulmul length with no borders – here it is called ‘otta mundu’) and brought out usually to the hall where most of the visitors would be gathered. The pala is kept propped against the wall with the cloth neatly wrapped from all sides including the other pala which is kept flat on the ground as their seat (the additional length of cloth is neatly stretched and tucked inside the pala).

An oil lamp is lit with three wicks facing east and two facing west in front of the pala. a plantain leaf with it’s pointing edge intact (Kodi Ella) is placed in front of the pala on which the cooked rice and servings of curries including oil deep-fried Pappadam (oil fried items such as Pappad and fish fry etc are prepared the first time on this day after bereavement) is placed along with couple of sweet porridges or payasam. A bowl of raw rice is kept which is showered on the setup by the well-wishers after praying for the departed and inviting the departed to accept the food.

Next to this setup, a framed garlanded picture of the departed is kept with flower petals in a bowl next to it and the well-wishers shower petals on the picture after praying. Once all the well-wishers have prayed and showered the rice grains and flower petals the plantain leaf is removed from the front of the pala. In another clean secluded room, similar arrangements are done a seat or a ‘payi’ is laid out but now with five plantain leaves indicating three prior generations, one for the departed and one for departed siblings, cousins, friends. Here the Sankalpa or intention is to invite the recently departed soul from the hall and unite them with the departed ancestors who are invited to accept the offerings in the room. One important sweet dish is the ‘Curry’ actually porridge made from soaked chana daal, jaggery, coconut milk and a small helping of ground rice paste.

The dishes liked by the departed are prepared (rice, sambar curry, vegetable dish, fish curry, fish fry, and some are cooked and brought by loved ones are offered including several kinds of sweet porridges like Paal Payasam (made of rice), Godamba Payasam (made of beaten whole wheat), Pazam Katti (a sweet dish made from ripe plantain and jaggery), Ada, Unni appam etc.

In case the family follows non-veg diet servings of fried fish, fish curry would also be given (shelled fishes are not offered) and a leaf is reserved for souls who would have preferred veg food (the offerings kept outside are kept limited, ie all the dishes prepared are not offered on the leaf kept in the hall) but all the dishes prepared that day are offered inside the closed room This ritual is called ‘Okka Kootal’ or uniting the recently departed soul with previous generations of ancestors.

Again rice grains are showered on the arrangements inviting the departed ancestors and recently departed soul to accept the offerings, the room is closed for a few minutes allowing the departed the peace and quiet to accept the food offered. After this, the door is opened with a knock and once again raw rice is showered on the arrangements giving permission to all the ancestors to leave.

The lamp, the seats, plantain leaves and glasses of water are moved a little indicating the souls have arisen from their seats and are leaving. Usually, there is a scramble for the offerings on the leaves and the immediate family members accept one leaf each as their lunch for that day. A small portion is taken from each leaf and taken to the South-East corner of the compound and offered to various orphaned lost souls who would have been attracted by the rituals and accompanied our loved ones.

It seems once this ritual is done then for the entire year no Bali ritual is performed at home till the first year anniversary when the choicest of food is prepared for the departed and offered inside the house. No Bali karma is done even during Karkada vaav or Tula vaav till one year is completed.

And thus another thread to an interesting insight about the wisdom, compassion and all-inclusive nature of our ancestors who could divine there were orphaned, trapped lost souls and could accommodate them in our rituals by making a separate offering to them and showing them the path to Moksha”)

Following this, the visiting relatives and guests are then offered lunch or sadya. When we went to the South-East corner of the compound my elder brother was delighted to find a small postcard-sized patch of green called ‘Chiothi Kauth’ growing in between the tile cracks. He was mighty pleased with the “nimitham” / good sign as we had inadvertently reached the chosen spot without knowing the tiny plant was thriving there.

He made a ring by pouring water on the ground including the plant and then asked me to place the plantain leaf I was holding in the centre of the water ring. Within a few seconds, a few ants swarmed in making him happier. While we waited for the crow (which I was sceptical wondering how the crow would ever notice this small bit of offering given this was the corner of the building hemmed in between the boundary wall, car shed and overhead high trees ).

He explained this tiny herb is dear to Mother Goddess and a specific form of a deity called ‘Chiothi Kauth’ is venerated by offering this tiny plant as the central offering from the main day of Onam for 16 days till Magham Nakshatra ( I have detailed out the significance of this herb in a separate post).

In the evening there is a ritual of taking the widow outside the home to break the forty-day confinement. In the olden days, they were confined to the house and wouldn’t step out during the 40-day grieving period. Usually, the widow is taken to her maternal home accompanied by the sister in law and co sisters-in-law either for a few hours or for a few days.

The next day, ie the 41st day the Chita Bhasma, if taken from the cremation pyre, is taken to a religious site usually a holy Temple at a Sangam site where three Rivers merge or seashore for performing Bali once again ritualistic offerings of cooked rice, cloth etc. and symbolic union of recently departed with earlier generations thus elevating them to Pitru Sthanam followed by immersion.

In our case after performing the ‘Naalpadaamdinam Adiyantharam’ rituals on the 1st of Nov we left Kannur for Trikkanad Tryambakeshwara Mahadeva Temple, Kasaragod on 2nd at 5 am, a busload of relatives accompanying us with a few who wanted to perform the Bali karma for Papa.. we reached the Temple at 7 am just as the day was breaking. we played religious mantras all through the journey and the vibes were very spiritual.

I felt so good reading so many very informative posts on Skanda aka Kartikeya especially the significance of the unstoppable Vel or spear gifted to him by his mother Goddess Parvati during his war against the asuras. I remembered another hurried drive to far off Neeleashwaram a couple of months ago to the famous and very ancient Subramanyam Temple where we had offered a Gold Vel in Papa’s name (at that time not knowing all the mesmerizing stories associated with the Vel except that we knew it is his most favoured and effective weapon of choice)

Trikkanad is a very sacred and pristine site is by the seashore near famous Bekal fort in Kasaragod district ..the sea is across the road and quite rough at this site due to very very large granite boulders at the sea edge where the waves break.. the unique feature of this Temple is that it is the only Shiva Temple that faces West facing the Sea… It is said to have been constructed and consecrated by Parashuram Swami.. more on the Temple charitram in a later post.. one of the most important features is the large Temple pond on the east side of the Temple .. first take a dip in the pond and wearing the same wet clothes walk to the seashore where they themselves or a priest guides them through the Bali rituals

This Temple is chosen by grieving families to perform final rites and Pitru rites for their dear departed.. other favourite destinations for performing Bali karma in Kerala are Tirunavaya Alwaye, Triuneli in Wayand, Rameshwaram etc

The Bali karma involves taking a dip in the Temple pond outside the Eastern perimeter. The water is icy and walking through the Temple premises soaking wet to the seashore across the road. There a Shashtri or priest guides the family through the Bali rituals and offerings (a receipt has to made beforehand at the temple counter and care has to be taken not to take the Chitha Bhasma inside the Temple).

Main ritual being making rice balls which signify the departed ancestral lineage and offering a crumbled ball of rice signifying the joining of the recently departed soul with the ancestors.. such beautifully rich yet simple acts where we give so much importance to the departed.. the cooked rice ball is kept on the plantain leaf by twisting the wrist (like when one spins the ball) the same on plantain leaf ..post which the family takes the Chitha Bhasma in an unpolished earthen pot which is covered with a red coloured cloth and immerses it in the sea along with other offerings of flower petals, raw rice grains, Til or black sesame etc.

I did insist on getting my head into the crashing waves.. wow was the undertow strong.. it was nearly a 40 degree slope with the waves tugging the sand beneath in shovels.. the sand grain is large-sized and golden .. the beach had debris of old horoscopes written on barks with nails which were the norm a few decades ago.. the horoscope of the departed is cast away in the sea usually within one year of passing away.

Following this, once again people performing the rituals walk to the temple-pond and take a dip in it. After changing the wet clothes they can go inside the temple sanctum and pray in front of Mahadeva Shiva lingam entering through the north side (In our case, we went inside in our wet clothes… the bus driver had parked the bus far away). Our best picture was the crow atop. The temple spire with a Halo of a rainbow from the rising sun in the background.

Though I still feel cheated by destiny for the haste of my Papa’s passing away we are grateful in the knowledge that there is definitely a higher purpose and control in all the recent events.

Om Namah Shivaya

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