A wrap-up of 8 November 2011: third day of the six-day ceremony.
The rituals today were extensive. Subrahmaṇyā was done twice more, at noon and at sunset, and pravargya was repeated this evening, after several lengthy pūjās in the afternoon.
See the metal screen at the upper right of the picture? It protects the roof from being ignited during pravargya.
It was an active day on the yajña grounds, too.
After the morning litany, the priests took a break, so I left the structure and saw a wonderful surprise outside.
Havana (or Havan, or Homa) is a post-Vedic fire sacrifice, and it’s simpler than the elabourate rituals that the Vedas prescribe. It still requires some supplies that are not so easy to get in the West, so I’ve only performed it twice on my own. But what a lovely complement to the yajña inside, to perform a simultaneous havana on the grounds outside. Anyone who wished to participate, was invited to sit and make a few offerings. I did so, and handed the spoon to the next worshipper, walked around for a little while, then suddenly heard my name.
When I turned around, I met a friendly face, and realised who he was at the same time that he told me: before I’d left Canada, my friend in Bangalore had “introduced” me, via e-mail, to a (former) student of hers who lived in Kathmandu. I appreciated it so much, but I didn’t know what sort of message to send to someone I didn’t know – and I didn’t want to trouble or inconvenience a complete stranger by suggesting that we meet. But he had decided to attend the yajña and also to locate me while there.
That afternoon, the rituals moved to the other side of the structure, centering around a single round altar that reached at least 6 feet deep into the earth. And I noticed something interesting; I’ve mentioned before that Haitian Vodou and Hinduism have some similarities, yes?
The first image is a Vodou vévé, a ritual “signature” made of cornmeal, which serves to call a particular spirit (loa or lwa) to the ceremony; usually a candle (or several candles) is set in the centre of it, while songs are sung to call the spirit. The other picture shows the perimeter of the Vedic fire-altar, adorned by ritual patterns traced in grain (rice flour in this case), where chants are sung to call the Devas.
During the afternoon, I sat with my two friends and observed the rites. Ujjwol, as a learner of Śukla (White) Yajur Veda, and with some knowledge of Sanskrit, was able to explain what was happening so that I didn’t have to guess, and even translated Nepali conversation when local folks wanted to converse with us. This he graciously did without even being requested; I was so grateful.
From him, I learned that this afternoon’s rituals were pūjās of Gaṇapati and Ardhanārīśvara, that these priests were chanting the Kṛṣṇa (Black) Yajur Veda – meaning that the chanting style was new to him, too – and that the priests would not be setting the structure on fire at the end. Ordinarily the structure is supposed to be incinerated as the final offering to the Devas, the Soma sacrifice ending perfectly with complete consumption, to make way for re-creation and renewal: the continuance of the cosmic order, upheld by right action. So this surprised me, but the yajña site adjoined a soccer field overlooking the village; every day there are children playing soccer near the ceremonies. I’m guessing that this proximity to Panauti town, and fire safety – especially with youngsters frequenting the area – are the reasons that the yajña-śālā will stay intact.
The chants continued past sundown, and I stayed as long as I might, before bidding my friends farewell and returning to my guesthouse before evening lock-up. Today was a beautiful day, ritual and worship at its heart, and now I write beneath the streaming rays of a bright, nearly full, silver-white moon. The mountains are pulling up their blankets of fog and slumbering quietly, and the people of the village are gradually following them to sleep.
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