Stone is the most widely used material for making the main deity (moolavar) in temples.
Most olden temples of Tamilnadu have stone vigrahas only. In Silappadhikaram, we find the Cheran King Senkuttuvan going to the Himalayas to fetch the stone for making the image of Kannaki.
The garbha gruha itself is made of granite stone. We will see those details given by Varahamihira in the next post.
In this post we will see why stone was preferred for consecration of God or the Supreme soul. The methods of consecration are there and are in vogue even today. Once consecrated, it means that the Deity or the Power of the deity or the Energy of the deity has entered the vigraha
( before that it was only a stone). Most people see this as a ‘Belief’ that God resides in the vigraha. My question is that if it is only a belief, any stone could have been worshipped; why make elaborate rituals with Vedic hymns to consecrate the deity or energy in the stone?
When we search for more inputs in this regard, we do get lot of information on use of stones to trap the ‘soul’ in the death ceremonies.
The continuing practice in death ceremonies and the descriptions given in Sangam texts do indicate that stones could ‘trap’ the soul in unmanifest form. By ‘unmanifest’ I mean that the soul that has lost manifestation or a body to live. In other words, upon death of a person, the soul becomes unmanifest. Such a soul is guided by Vedic rituals to reach the abode meant for such departed souls. Until the soul reaches its abode, it is not ‘allowed’ to roam or drift. Instead it is given a place to settle down. That place is nothing but the stone – the granite stone available in nature. Man made stones like bricks are not used.
There is a ceremony called “the planting of stone” (kal oondruthal) soon after the dead is cremated. The naturally occurring granite stone is tied with a single blade of Darbha grass with some mantras by which the departed soul is said to be tied to that stone. This stone is then buried near water (or near the well) or under some specific trees. This is done within the compound of one's house also. But some water source must be nearby.
Starting from the first day (after death) to the 10 day, rice balls are offered to the soul settled in this stone. The departed soul which is still in a state of shock and attachment to life and relatives is said to be craving for food and water. The craving increases day after day and that is why the number of rice balls are increased from 1 to 10 with each day. On the 10th day, a ceremony called "perum bali" (Huge offering) is done in which huge amount of rice with sesame seeds spilled over it is offered to the stone.
There are accompanying mantras for all these rituals. By this huge offering, the soul which is trapped as a ghost in the stone gets attached to the sesame seeds by the mantras and from then onwards, the soul can be invited through sesame and be given sesame seeds only. On the 10th day, after the 'bali' (offering) is done, the stone and the offered rice will be thrown into rivers. The soul joins the departed ancestors of 3 levels (parents, great parents and great grand parents) by this ceremony. It has left the stone and entered the sesame and merged with the ancestors in water. That is the rationale. Then the 11th day and 12th day ceremonies continue that hasten the final departure of the soul from the worldly realm.
This ceremony has a close resemblance to the Bali peetam in temples.
The Bali peetam is just outside the reach of the energy of the deity that is consecrated in the temple.
As per temple rituals, any inauspicious energy or unsettled souls can not go further than the Bali peetam.
The temple houses the Supreme form of Positive or Sattwic Energy which we call as God.
Any other form of energy that is inauspicious or harmful is trapped in the Bali peetam.
The Bali peetam is also offered rice-food after the offerings are made to God and other subordinate deities of the temple.
This is done to satisfy such energy that are trapped in the Bali peetam so that they remain pacified in the stone.
This is similar to the above explained death ceremony of stone where the unmanifest soul is trapped and pacified.
It is therefore wrong to prostrate in front of the Bali peetam in the temple.
Prostration must be done in front of the Flag post (Dwajasthamba) wherein the auspicious energy of the presiding deity is consecrated.
Photo courtesy:- http://www.ahobilavalli.org/brahmotsavam_part1.pdf
It is shocking indeed that in olden and famous temples like Oppiliappan temple, some constructions have come up leaving no space for doing sashtaanga namaskara. ( full fledged prostration by falling on the ground) in front of the Flag post.
Loss of knowledge of temple customs and disregard for such customs has become accentuated once the Government has taken control of the temples.
In this scenario, it is imperative that people know the reasons for all these customs and follow them to reap maximum benefits from the temples.
Coming to the discussion on Bali peetam, it is not right to offer camphor and flowers to the bali peetam by the visiting devotees.
The Main deity followed by subordinate deities who spread all auspiciousness must be worshiped.
The Bali peetam is not meant for worshipping.
From another angle, we can say that the bali peetam attracts like magnet all our negative thoughts and negative emotions. Our positive thoughts, vibrations and aspirations are reinforced by the Main deity whereas our negative thoughts, vibrations and aspirations are ‘sucked’ by the Bali peetam.
Then for what else they had established the Bali peetam which stands for trapping inauspicious energy?
This also satisfactorily explains why we feel refreshed after a visit to the temple.
Before closing this post, let me put on record some more inputs from Sangam texts on this stone culture.
* The stone culture had been found archeologically in 'nadukal' stones (planting of stones) in Tamilnadu. By this we should not immediately jump to a conclusion that this is different from Vedic culture. Vedic culture supports both cremation and burial but with a specification. The difference exists between cremation and burial. In the case of normal deaths, cremation is done. It is followed by a 12 day ceremony (explained as above) by planting a stone to which the ceremonies are done. Burial is done in the case of unnatural deaths.
* In normal deaths, the soul joins the departed ancestors after this ceremony. In unnatural deaths, the merger does not happen. The soul is directly made to merge with Narayanam param devam through a ceremony called Narayana Bali.
In unnatural deaths, no cremation takes place. The body is buried and a stone is fixed on the site. As in the case of natural death ceremony, the rationale is that the soul gets fixed in this stone. But once the Narayana Bali ceremony is over, the stone (in which the soul was tied) is left in the waters. From the commentary for Pura nanuru verses 263 and 264, we come to know that Nadukal that we see in many places is not the original stone that was used to trap the departed soul for guiding it to leave for the other realm. That stone is left in running water after the ceremony. Later a location is chosen with a bed of small stones on the ground – over which a stone with the engraving of the image of the departed person and his name is installed. Red flowers and peacock feathers are decorated to this stone and regular poojas are done with incense and food.
In verse 260 also we find a clear mention that the soul has left for Higher worlds. The stone that is installed where the person died is used as a memorial. The Yajur Vedic mantras do describe the stone culture whereby the soul is trapped and left in the waters by which the transfer to the other realm is made. (1)
*A curious information is that this ceremony of the Nadukal is restricted to Mullai lands of Tamil nadu (forest tracts). In his commentary on sutra 5 of Tholkaapiyam Puraththinai, Nachinaarkiniyar says that it is the custom of people of Mullai tracts to leave the stone in the waters, followed by planting a stone (as a memorial). (கல் நாட்டுதல் பெரும் படைக்குப் பின்னாக கூறிற்றார் ஏன் எனில் நீர்ப் படுத்தப் பின்னர், கல் படுத்து , பெயர் பொறித்து, நாட்டுதல் காட்டு நாட்டோர் முறைமை ). This is written by him for explaining the Tholkaapiya sutra 5 Puratththinai - காட்சி கால்கோ ணீர்ப்படை நடுகல்.
We also find a specialty with reference to the nadukal of katchi, kaalkol…. etc in that when the departed person is ‘seen’ by others after his death, it is deemed that the departed person is godly. In such instances the Nadukal with the engraving or picture of that person is made and consecrated in the place where he was ‘seen’. While commenting of Sutra 5 of Puratthinai iyal of Tholkaapiyam, Nachinaarrkiniyar quotes the verse 263 to show that when some unusual vision is seen about a departed person, the nadukal stone is implanted for worship.
We find a description like this in Silappadhikaram. Some hunters saw the departure of Kannaki in the hills. She was seen to be joining her dead husband and taken in some celestial chariot. This is kaatchi or vision.
This was reported to the Chearn king who came to those hills for holidaying. Upon hearing this and the story of Kannagi, he decided to go to the
There are verses in Purananuru on Burial urns also. A comparison of the death-related practices found in Puranauru reveals that when a person dies of unnatural causes, the regular ceremony of burial with a stone planted on that place was done. After the ‘perum bali’ or perum padai’ also called as ‘perum padayal’ (all these mean offering food in huge quantities), the stone is left in waters.
In the case of a dead person who was seen by others after his death or who was seen to have done miracles after death, the Nadukal was made and it was worshiped as God.
In natural deaths, the bones are collected after cremation and kept in urns and buried along with other possessions of the dead person. This is also as per Vedic system. The details can be read in an another article on Sembian kandiyur and Adichanallur
* Coming to the planting of Nadukal, the curious feature is that Tholkaapiyam says that this custom is prevalent in Mullai of Maayon. Similar stones are found in Saraswathy Basin (Harappan) also. I have always theorized that the saraswathy civilization is post Krishna civilization of the people who left Dwaraka in the wake of the deluge.
Read my earlier post ( Excavations at Sanganakallu and Kupgal – were they migrants from Dwaraka?)
* One group went along the river upto the Himalayas while another group left for Tamil lands under the guidance of sage Agasthya. We have written proof for this in Nachinaarkiniyar’s commentary for the Paayiram of Tholkaapiyam. He says that the forest tracts were cleared to settle the people whom he brought from Dwaraka. That tract is the Mullai land. It was the time of global deluge – the Yuga-pralaya.
The Pandyan lands of Kumari were also submerged at that time and the remaining population from Kuamri shifted to mainland of what is now Tamilnadu. Agasthya’s disciple Tholkaapiyar formulated new rules for the people who were settled in the 5 tracts called ainthinai. These 5 tracts were formed only then. Before that Tamilnadu had 7 divisions of 7 sub divisions each that covered the Kumari lands too. They are given in my post on Vishnu in Sangam texts :- Madurai.
Photo courtesy :- Dept of Archeology http://images.google.co.in/imgres?imgurl=http://www.tnarch.gov.in/images/epi-
Memorial for a hero who lost his life in a cattle ride, 6th Century CE Tiruvannamalai Dist
* The people of Dwaraka whose main livelihood is raising cattle and milk procurement were identified as those who worshiped Vishnu or Krishna. It must be noted that in all those verses in Pura Nauru describing the nadukal (stones as memorials), the cause of death is the same – of being killed in protecting the cattle from invaders (aanirai kaatthal). It will be interesting if similar situation is identified in Sarawathy excavations too. It must be remembered that stealing cattle and recovering them are found is Mahabharatha also.
* In the case of death in wars in Tamil lands, the body was buried then and there and a nadukal was planted where the ceremonies were also done. The belief was that if the person dies of war wounds he would reach the realms of heaven meant for valiant ones. We have some verses in Puranauru which show this.
If a king died of natural cause, his body would be cut with a sword and buried in the belief that he would reach the realm of valiant warriors. A stone was planted on that place to which poojas were done. The dead person is supposed to live there and not reach the Final resting place. In such cases also 'Narayana Bali' was done within 6 months or 1 year by which the soul was said to attain the Final resting place. But the nadukal will be thrown into waters as a mark of release of the soul and in the place of nadukal, memorials were raised.
(1) Dear friends! A river filled with stones is flowing, try to cross it, stand up and strive to go beyond. Renounce all that which is painful and accept all, that which gives happiness.
This world is alike a river and the human being has to cross it to reach the paraloka(heaven) if the human being strives with preservance and grit he can easily cross the river of material life. (http://www.aryabhatt.com/vedas/yajurveda5.htm) YV 35/10.
ashmanvatI rIyate saM rabhadhvam uttiShThata pra taratA sakhAyaH |
atrA jahAma ye asann ashevAH shivAn vayam ut taremAbhi vAjAn || RV 10.53.8 ashmanvatI flows by. Hold tight together, keep your self erect and cross [the river], friends. There let us leave that which is not good, and we cross over to that which is auspicious. [This is the single most important element of the sauchIka agni hymns in terms of a date. It clearly mentions crossing of the river ashmanvatI to the other side where the auspicious lies. http://manasataramgini.wordpress.com/2006/11/26/the-crossing-of-ashmanvati
ashmanvatI rIyate saM rabhadhvamut tiSThata pra taratAsakhAyaH |\\
atrA jahAma ye asannashevAH shivAn vayamuttaremAbhi vAjAn
A river full of stones is flowing very fast. O friends! Get up with a zeal and cross this river well.But there is a condition. Whatever pains or restricts you, leave that here. We should cross this river to attain a position of welfare and well-being.
10.53 (varga 14) verse 8a
ashmanvatI rIyate saM rabhadhvamut tiSThata pra taratAsakhAyaH |\\
10.53 (varga 14) verse 8c
atrA jahAma ye asannashevAH shivAn vayamuttaremAbhi vAjAn ||\\
See Aashvalaayana Grhya Mantra Vyaakhya, Chapter 4, p. 248.
(Source: Ram Gopal, 1983, The history and principles of vedic interpretation, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi, p.26)