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Aavani Avittam and Varalakshmi Viratham

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Aavani Avittam and Varalakshmi Viratham

The stars were aligned on August 19th, 2005. Aavani Avittam and Nombu fell
on the same day back to back. I don't remember this happening
but it was a double whammy this year. Aavani Avittam was long due
for me this year, I had been eagerly awaiting it so that I could
change my old poonool. The old one was beginning to smell and give
me body odor. I was too lazy to change it with the requisite mantras
ahead of time.

Friday being a working day, I had to take a little time off from
work to do the rituals. In Madras, we used to go to the nearby
temple or have a priest over to our house and do it in full grandeur
with Agni rising high, pouring ghee into it. Here in the US, the
fire department and home insurance company I am sure do not approve
of such practices. I had to skip certain sections from my reference
mantra book while doing the pooja.

That brings me to how poojas are done these days with no priests
around. There are sloka books and there are audio cassettes but the
problem with them is that they are static, they were valid for a
particular point in time at a particular place. For example, the
sloka goes "Bhaarata Varusha Bhartha kande Thatshineh
baarise" which
with my limited knowledge of Sanskrit I think means, the year of
Bharata in Bharat the country. Well, sitting here in the US on the
east coast and reciting these mantras, I don't know if they have
same effect. Are they benefiting me or some other Venkatesh at the
location specified in the sloka. I know some enterprising priests in
California changed the sloka to "California kande" or
"bay area
kande". I personally think that we should start saying the
county and city name and maybe include the zipcode as well so that
the benefits are addressed to the right person.

During the poonool changing ceremony, you rearrange the poonool
configuration on your body a few times. Normally you wear it over
your left shoulder, then you wear it as a garland over your neck
while praying to Rishis and then over your right shoulder while
praying for "Pitrs" or departed souls. I remember, during
these mass
poonool changing ceremonies, there will be commotion and confusion
during these configuration changes. With ABCDs in the crowd not
knowing either Tamil or Sanskrit the confusion is even more. The
priest issues commands, now over the left, now over the neck, now
over the right. After a while you skip this over the right command
because you do not want say prayers for someone who is not dead yet.

At the end of the ceremony the voice on the cassette says, please
discard the old poonool in a place where you do not step on it. How
to get rid of the old poonool with respect poses one of the biggest
dilemmas. Can't throw it along with the rest of the garbage,
keep it in a corner in the house. How do you throw it out? Or do we
keep it lying around somewhere and let somebody else throw it?
Haven't found the best way to discard it yet.

Now, for the Nombu aka Varalakshmi viratham. Just like the men refer
to tutorial books and resort to cassettes, women also resort to
similar means. As the cassette player boomed with the slokas, I was
listening to their slokas as I was checking my email on the
computer. Some of the initial slokas seemed to be common with the
ones I recited a few hours earlier. Then came the section, that
really cracked me up. It went something like "Umm, Hmm, Brr, Drr,
Grr, Nng". What these sounds meant I have no idea but then I
understand a lot of the other valid sounding words as well. Someday
I will probably learn.

I had been waiting to go to work after the ceremonies, but then all
the food items that were on display put my plans to go to work on
hold. There was kozukottai, appam, vadai, sundal etc. too much to
walk away from and eat burrito for lunch. I ended up not going to

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