Veneration of vehicles as part of Ayudha Puja
|Also called||Ayudha Puja also observed as Saraswati Puja|
|Celebrations||Ayudha Puja and Saraswati Pooja|
|Observances||Veneration of implements, machines, weapons, books and musical instruments|
|Begins||Ayudha Puja on Navami (ninth) day in Navaratri|
|Related to||Dasara or Navaratri or Golu|
Ayudha Puja is an integral part of the Navratri festival (festival of triumph), a Hindu festival which is traditionally celebrated in India. It is also called "Astra Puja", the synonym for Ayudha Puja. In simple terms, it means “Worship of Implements”. It is celebrated in Karnataka (in erstwhile Mysore State) as “Ayudha Puje” (Kannada: ಆಯುಧ ಪುಜೆ),in Andhra Pradesh as Aayudha Pooja (Telugu: ఆయుధ పూజ), in Kerala as Ayudha Puja (Malayalam: ആയുധ പൂജ), and in Tamil Nadu as Ayuda Pujai (Tamil: ஆயுத பூஜை) and . The festival falls on the ninth day or Navami of the bright half of Moon's cycle of 15 days (as per Almanac) in the month of September/October, and is popularly a part of the Dasara or Navaratri or Durga Puja or Golu festival. On the ninth day of the Dasara festival, weapons and tools are worshipped. In Karnataka, the celebration is for killing of the demon king Mahishasura by goddess Chamundeshwari. After slaying of the demon king, the weapons were kept out for worship. While Navaratri festival is observed all over the country but in South Indian states, where it is widely celebrated as Ayudha Puja, there are slight variations of worship procedure.
The principal Shakti goddesses worshipped during the Ayudha puja are Saraswati (the Goddess of wisdom, arts and literature), Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) and Parvati (the divine mother), apart from various types of equipment; it is on this occasion when weapons are worshipped by soldiers and tools are revered by artisans. The Puja is considered a meaningful custom, which focuses specific attention to one’s profession and its related tools and connotes that a divine force is working behind it to perform well and for getting the proper reward.
In the cross cultural development that has revolutionized the society, with modern science making a lasting impact on the scientific knowledge and industrial base in India, the ethos of the old religious order is retained by worship of computers and typewriters also during the Ayudha Puja, in the same manner as practised in the past for weapons of warfare.
Two historical legends relate to this festival.
The popular legend, which was also practiced symbolically by the Maharajas of Mysore, alludes to a historical legend. It is said that on Vijayadashami day Arjuna, third of the five Pandava brothers, retrieved his weapons of war from the hole in the Shami tree where he had hidden it before proceeding on the forced exile. After completing his exile period of 13 years including one year of Agyatavas (living incognito) before embarking on the war path against the Kauravas he retrieved his weapons. In the Kurukshetra war that ensued, Arjuna was victorious. Pandavas returned on Vijayadashami day and since then it is believed that this day is auspicious to begin any new venture.But in Karnataka Ayudh Puja is celebrated by general public one day before of original festival day Vijayadashami(the Ayudh Puja Day).
Another legend is of a pre-battle ritual involving human sacrifice as part of the Ayudh Puja (considered a sub-rite of Dussehara festival that starts after the rainy season and is propitiated before launching military campaigns). This practice is no more prevalent. Now, instead of a human sacrifice, buffalo or sheep sacrifice is in vogue, in some Hindu communities. The past practice is narrated in the Tamil version of Mahabharata epic. In this ritual, prevalent then in Tamil Nadu, ‘Kalapalli’ was a “sacrifice to the battlefield”, which involved human sacrifice before and after battles. Duryodhana, the Kaurava chief was advised by astrologer (Sahadeva) that the propitious time for performing Kalapalli was on amavasya day (New Moon day), one day before the start of Kurukshetra war and Iravan (son of Arjuna), also spelt Aravan, had agreed to be the victim for the sacrifice. But Krishna, the benefactor of Pandavas smelt trouble and he devised a plan to persuade Iravan to be the representative of the Pandavas and also of the Kauravas. Krishna had suggested to Yudhishtira-the eldest of the Pandavas, to sacrifice Aravan to goddess Kali as a part of Ayudh Puja. After this sacrifice, Kali had blessed Pandavas for victory in the Kurukshetra war. Similar cult practices (considered as Draupadi cult practices) were prevalent in North Karnataka also but the ritual of human sacrifice was done one day after the Dasara on a stone altar outside a Kali temple.
Mode of worship
The tools and all implements of vocation are first cleaned. All the tools, machines, vehicles and other devices are then painted or well polished after which they are smeared with turmeric paste, sandalwood paste (in the form of a tilak (insignia or mark) and Kumkum (vermillion). Then, in the evening, previous to the puja day, they are placed on an earmarked platform and decorated with flowers. In the case of weapons of war, they are also cleaned, bedecked with flowers and tilak and placed in a line, adjacent to a wall. On the morning of the puja that is on the navami day, they are all worshipped along with the images of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. Books and musical instruments are also placed on the pedestal for worship. On the day of the puja, these are not to be disturbed. The day is spent in worship and contemplation.
Practices in southern states
In Karnataka, the erstwhile Mysore state of the Maharajas of Mysore, the ancient Dussehara festival started as a family tradition within the precincts of the palace. The royal family perform the Ayudh Pooja as a part of the Dussehara, inside the palace grounds. The rituals observed are first to worship the weapons on the Mahanavami day (9th day), followed by “Kusumananda” – the tradition of breaking a pumpkin in the palace grounds. After this, weapons are carried in a golden palanquin to the Bhuvaneshwari temple for worship. The tradition of the festival is traced to the Vijayanagara Empire (1336 A.D. to 1565 A.D.), when it became a Naada Habba (or people's festival). Raja Wodeyar I (1578–1617) who was viceroy to the Vijayanagar ruler, with his seat of power in Mysore, reintroduced the Vijayanagar practice of celebrating the Dasara festival, in 1610 A.D. He set rules on how to celebrate the Navaratri with devotion and grandeur. After a gala nine days of durbar, the Maharaja performs a pooja in a temple in the palace precincts, which is followed by a grand procession through the main thoroufares of the Mysore city to the Bannimantap on a caparisoned elephant. The Bannimantap is the place where the Maharaja worships the traditional Shami or Banni Tree (Prosopis spicigera); the legend of this tree is traced to the Mahabharat legend of Arjuna (where he had hidden his weapons of war). The significance of the Shami tree worship is to seek blessings of the tree (where Lord Rama is also said to have worshipped) for success in the desired avocations (including war campaigns). This festival is also celebrated with lot of fanfare throughout the state, in all villages. In the rural areas, every village and community observe this festival with fervour but there have been conflicts on several occasions as to which community has the first right to perform the Pujas. Generally, the Ayudh puja in villages begins with sacrifice of sheep and smearing the bullock carts with sheep blood.
In Kerala, the festival is called Ayudha Puja or Saraswati Puja as part of the ten day puja ceremonies, also named as the festival of autumnal equinox that is observed three weeks from the date of the equinox. The practice followed in the worship on two days involves the opening day, which is called Pujaveppu (meaning: keeping implements for worship). The closing day festival is called Pujayeduppu (meaning: taking implements back from worship). On the Pujaveppu day, all tools, machines and instruments, including vehicles, musical instruments, stationery and all implements that help one earn livelihood, are worshipped. On the closing day, these are taken back for re-use. In villages in Kerala, the Ayudha puja is observed with great reverence and several martial art forms and folk dances are also performed on that day.
- Tamil Nadu
In Tamil Nadu, Golu is the festival celebrated during the Navaratri period. On this occasion dolls, predominantly that of the Gods and Goddesses from Hindu Tradition are artistically arranged on a seven stepped wooden platform. Traditionally, 'marapachi' wooden dolls representing Perumal and Thayaar are also displayed together at a dominant location on the top step of the platform erected specially for the occasion. On the 9th day (Navami day), Saraswati puja is performed when special prayers are offered to goddess Saraswati - the divine source of wisdom and enlightenment. Books and musical instruments are placed in the puja pedestal and worshipped. Also, tools are placed for the Ayudh puja. Even vehicles are washed and decorated, and puja performed for them on this occasion. As part of the Golu festival, Saraswati puja is performed as Ayudh puja. This is followed by the Vijayadashami celebrations at the culmination of the ten day festivities. Apart from the golu pooja, Ayudah Puja has become very popular when business houses celebrate it ardently.
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