GRIHA PRAVESH- Agnilingam 'Housewarming' Ceremony- Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu 2011

These pictures show a traditional Griha Pravesh, a sort of 'housewarming' ceremony performed along with a Ganapati Puja. It was a traditional Yagya or religious sacrificial ritual, performed at my newly rented house on Agnilingam Street in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. The ceremony began at 4am in the morning
  • HOMA or HAVAN KUND  HOMA or HAVAN KUND: This is the fire pit constructed for the occasion. It is the center of the  YAGYA or Sacrifical ritual for the Griha Pravesha. It is into this fire that all the sacrifices are ritually offered. The Homa or sacrificial fire pit was built using bricks and sand, right in the middle of my living room. You see here  a cup of ghee and a ladle for feeding the ghee into the fire.   This ritual is traditionally performed when first entering into a new house. This particular one, was the type for an 'already existing' house that was about to be lived in. There was also a Ganapati or Ganesh Puja performed. It was chosen for that particular moment in time (muhurta), It was meant to bring prosperity and good fortune into the house. What follows in the following sequence of pictures are the subsequent parts of the Griha Pravesha ritual.
  • Beginning of Ritual Yagya of Worship and Sacrifice  The ceremony began with a mother cow and her calf being brought to the front gate of my house in the early morning around 4am. All the Gods are said to reside in the cow and the ceremony begins with a Go Puja or worship of the cow done on the threshold of the house. The God Ganesh and the Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati are said to reside on the threshold  and they are especially honored at this point. This first puja honors the threshold guardians and they 'guard' the house, preventing any negative or evil forces from entering.
  • Worship of the cow on threshold of house  The Brahmin Priest is beginning the worship of the cow. The man with the turquoise turban is the cowherd. Vera, my landlord and his wife are with the Brahmin Priest. Vera's daughter who helped throughout the ceremony is in a red top
  • Cow and Calf outside front gate  It is traditional for a cow and her calf to be brought to the house as symbolic of the blessings of all the Gods. They are  worshipped  at the threshold of the house with flowers, turmeric and kum kum. In worshipping the cow, one is worshipping all the Gods
  • Brahman Priest Annonting Cow  The Brahman Priest is annointing the cows with yellow turmmeric and red kum kum outside the house at beginning of ceremony. Bells are ringing and chanting is going on. It is close to 3am in the morning. I was worried about all the noise for my neighbors, but, everyone said, 'It is a blessing" and no one complained
  • Rangoli  Rangoli or chalk mandala on ground in front of house. Every morning of the year Tamil women will make a Rangoli outside the front door of their house. Usually, they are in white chalk and sometimes in bright colors. This one invokes the Gods and the nine planets to act as a witness to the ceremony.
  • Worship of the Cow  Worship of the Cow by the Brahmin Priest
  • Arati on Cows at 3am  Arati- The waving or offering of  'light' to  the cow and all the Gods
  • AgniLingam House-The Cow - 14  Outside my front gate the Brahmin Priest is worshipping the Cow and calf,  symbols of Lakshmi, all the Gods and all that is auspicious. You can see the 'Rangoli' on the ground in white chalk.
  • Offering of Light  The offering of light to the cows/Lakshmi.
  • Dundha Pranam  Full Dundha Pranam to the cow.  Everyone performed a full dundhpranam, laying themselves prostrate on the ground infront of the cows and the Gods
  • Agnilingam House- Front Door  My front door at 3am, adorned with flowers, all the lights on,  Everything is ready for the cows to walk through into the house and the Yagya to begin
  • Leading Cows into house  Mother cow and calf are being 'led' into the house through the front gate by the cowherd. Notice that it is the cow that is the first to enter the house
  • AgniLingam  I have never seen a cow , much less two cows in a house before. We  laid out cardboard on the floor so the cows felt safe. They do not like to walk on slick, smooth surfaces.
  • Cows come into house  The Mother cow and calf are led through every room in the house. Here they are in the Living Room, followed by women bearing trays for worship with all the  elements represented in flowers, fruits, grains, water, kum kum, coconut, incense and camphor
  • Cows in the house as part of yagya  The calf peed on the floor in the hallway. Everyone said that was auspicious.
  • Cows Approaching Bedroom  The cows  in the room outside the kitchen, by the refrigerator. Vera, my landlord in the white shirt, is gesturing to me, saying that the cows want to go into my bedroom
  • Cow and Calf are Fed  Feeding bananas to the cow and calf on floor in house in front of kitchen
  • Cowherd with cows outside kitchen  Mother cow and calf eating from a plate together on the floor in the hall outside of the kitchen while the cowherd attends on them
  • Cowherd feeding the cows  I was told these were very special cows, brought in especially for the yagya. I learned that they are hired out for this ceremony often
  • Mother Cow and her Calf  Mother cow and her calf are eating from a plate together on the floor. They are adorned with tilak, turmeric and kum kum, a symbol of divinity throughout India. The cows were calm and  happy to be fed, as always
  • Cows eating  It was  'beautiful and wonderful' to see two cows in my house eating off the floor outside my kitchen. For a Westerner, the whole thing was a strange juxtaposition of events and places.
  • Cows Walking out of House  Leading the cow and her calf back out of the house. Note the bananas in the cowherds hands. They offer  a sure way to get a cow to follow you. The presence of the cow and calf have blessed the house with all the qualities of the Goddess Lakshmi which they incarnate. Now, after the house has been blessed by the cows, we will begin the fire sacrifice inside the house
  • Preparing the House  The night before- there was preparation  for the yagya (sacrifical occasion)
  • Preparing the homa in Living Room
  • Preparing the Homa  Vera and the Brahmin Priest made the fire-pit and arranged the materials and offerings
  • Preparing for the Yagya  The fire pit or Havan is made of bricks which create a rectangle. First cardboard is placed on the floor. Then the bricks and then  sand is poured inside  them. The fire is then made on top of the sand within the bricks
  • Preparation  Arranging the offerings around the homa the night before the yagya
  • Preparation of House for Yagya  All the materials are brought and made ready for the 3am Yagya or ritual sacrifice the next day
  • Preparation for the Yagya  Preparing the  the night before-. the Homa or Fire-pit is being built
  • Brahmin Priest at Ceremony  Brahmin Priest for Ceremony. He showed up at 3am and took charge of the ceremony
  • Lighting of the Homa  This is the homa when first lit. The bricks are ritually decorated with chalk and kum kum
  • Agnilingam House- Offering of Ghee into Fire - 7  The pouring of ghee into the sacred fire with a ladle made out of bamboo wrapped with a leaf of a plant. The offering of ghee is an essential part of nearly every Vedic ceremony
  • Around the Havan  The fire blazes up when ghee is poured into it. It is a most ancient ritual, the offering of ghee into fire
  • Agnilingam House- Offering of Ghee into Fire -13  The Homa with ghee pot and ladle, bags of flowers and arati lights
  • Offering of Ghee into Fire - 12  The Fire, the Pot of Ghee and the Ladle for pouring the ghee into the fire- Agni. All things are offered into the fire of Agni, the mouth of the Gods. Agni then transforms the offerings into food for the Gods, purifying everyone and everything in the process
  • Offering of Ghee into Fire - 2  Pouring of ghee into the fire:  Ghee is  the very essence of milk, which is the essence of grass, which has  impounded the fiery  energy of the sun. This ghee is offered back into the fire from which it comes. How does ghee come from fire? Ghee comes from the sun and fire is the unwrapping of the sun from where it has been impounded in plants and wood.
  • Offering of Ghee into Fire - 1  This fire is burning in the center of my living room. The fire-pit is laid out according to the four directions according to the Vedic science of Vastu- the relationship of space to consciousness and qualtity of life
  • Agnilingam House- Offering of Ghee into Fire - 4  Ladling ghee into the fire causes the fire to leap up. Sacrifice is the fundamental ritual of all religions. This ritual symbolizes the sacrifice of self and everything, which is the Truth of life
  • Offering of Ghee into Fire - 5  Vera is ladling the ghee while the Brahmin Priest feeds the fire with wood sticks
  • Offering of Grains and Flowers  Vera and family offering ov various grains, coconut, flowers, camphor, water, cloth and other symbols of  sacrifice. You can see the smoke of the offerings beginning to fill the atmosphere. The smoke forms an essential part of the ritual as the offerings are transformed by the fire into minute particles which are considered to purify the atmosphere and everyone and everything in the area
  • Brahmin Priest Worshipping Agni  Brahmin Priest is chanting mantras to the fire
  • Agnilingam House Yagya   The Yagya is proceeding
  • Offering of Grains and Flowers Prasad  Brahmin Priest attending the fire with Vera and family in background, they are holding a tray of symbolic foodstuffs which are to be poured into the fire
  • Brahmin offering from the yagya  Priest offering items  from the yagya to Vera
  • Agnilingam House Yagya - 10  Priest Blessing the Child of Vera's son
  • Offerings being poured into fire  Offering of items into the  fire. the fire, Fire or Agni is considered to be the mouth of the Gods and by feeding that 'mouth. Agni carries the offerings to the  Divine realm
  • Brahmin, Vera and Wife at Yagya  The Brahmin Priest is constantly chanting Vedic mantras throughout the ceremony
  • The Chanting of Vedic Mantras  The  Priest is chanting Vedic mantras and waving a ghee lamp offering or arati
  • Rice into the Fire  Vera and wife throwing rice and other offerings into the fire while chanting prayers for good fortune
  • Agnilingam House- The Sacrificial Yagya - 21  Brahmin Priest, Vera and wife in midst of yagya
  • Yagya  Priest sits facing North and Vera and his wife sit facing East. In the Indian tradition, one must be married to carry out the Vedic rituals.
  • Brahmin Priest offering Prasad  Brahmin Priest offering Prasad or what is left over from the sacrifice or Yagya to Vera and his wife. Notice the smoke that has drifted throughout the house. It is the ending of a very beautiful and intentionally meaningful occcasion
  • Smoke Fills the Room  The smoke from the fire is filling  the house. It is said to purify the atmosphere and it seemed I could literally feel it for days afterwards
  • Namaskar  Namaskar to the Gods and Blessings to all beings
  • After the Yagya  The beauty of the homa or fire-pit after the fire has gone out. Only the ashes remain
  • Feeding of the Sadhus  This ceremony is not complete without the feeding of those who live without a home- the Sadhus or those whose 'home' is everywhere. The Sadhus are the ancient order of religious renunciates who live in abundance around the sacred mountain-Arunachala. There were a large group of them waiting outside the door after the ceremony was over
  • Sadhus before entering Agnilingam - 2  About 20 of them  gathered outside my entry gate for a Bandhara or mass feeding of Sadhus that always accompanies the griha pravesha or housewarming ceremony
  • Sadhu Greeting  The ancient gesture of blessing and greeting from a Sadhu
  • Sadhus entering into my courtyard before their meal  The Sadhus file inside my courtyard and two neighborhood kids come to watch and see if they can get anything to eat. Sadhus have renounced the world and live on the grace of God. To feed them is considered to be an obligation of householders and brings a blessing to all involved.
  • Sadhus eating Agnilingam - 01  Sadhus being fed on banana leaf plates in courtyard of my house
  • Peter Looking at Bandhara  The Sadhus are eating on the marble patio, outside my house in the courtyard. I was honored to be part of the occasion. You may notice that my front  doorway is very short. I tried to change that but was told that the height of the door was according to Vedic-Vastu specifications, in which the height of the door is twice its width. So, after hitting my head many times, I am now sufficiently humbled, whether entering or leaving
  • Feeding of Sadhus  The 'feeding' was a quiet and wonderful occasion to feed so many renunciates. They sat, chanted a prayer, offering the food to God,  they were fed, they ate and they left. It was all over within a half hour and nobody was rushed
  • Sadhus eating Agnilingam - 25  The women of Vera's family did all the preparation, serving , washing up and cleaning. This is the tradition in Tamil Nadu and India in general: Women do all the domestic work.
  • Sadhus eating Agnilingam - 36  Every one of the Sadhus cleaned his leaf plate. When the meal is over, the leaves are gathered up and fed to the cows.
  • Sadhus eating Agnilingam - 40  Women serving Sadhus eating. It is a Tamil belief that serving food to others is service to God and humanily
  • Food on a Banana Leaf  Tamil 'Thali' of rice, dal, chili, papadum, chapatti, pasayam, rasam and sambar. It is tasty and simple on a banana leaf
  • Sadhus eating Agnilingam - 18  I  am sitting with the Sadhus  while they eat
  • Sadhus Eating  Sadhus Eating
  • Sadhus leaving Agnilingam - 03  Sadhus leaving. After offering a closing prayer, the Sadhus file out
  • Sadhus leaving Agnilingam - 05  Washing up outside with water
  • Sadhus Washing up After Eating  Washing up
  • Sadhus leaving Agnilingam - 06  Washing up
  • Remains of the Vastu  Yagya  The remains of the sacrifice after the Vastu pooja- the Puja to the Gods of the Directions. It is always a part of the Griha Pravesh. The Vastu pooja for the Gods of Vastu  is performed  before the actual entry into the house. A copper pot is filled with water, navadhanya (nine kinds of grains) and a one rupee coin. A coconut is then placed on the top of the pot. The coconut is adorned with the red cloth and tied with the red thread called moli. After this the priest performs the pooja, and then Vera and his  wife take the copper pot into the house together and place it near the havan (ceremonial fire). It is a form of Prasad. One of the meanings of 'Prasad' is the excess of God. . . what God does not need and therefore leaves over for the devotee. This  is the principle of all the  offerings that are made to  the many Gods of Hinduism