MAHA ABHISHEKA: An Introduction
Abhishekha is a religious ceremony where an icon or idol is bathed in special liquids, to the accompanient of religious hymns. This can be done with water, or milk or any combination. When performed with Milk, Curds (Yogurt), Ghee, Honey, Sugar , it acquires a special name and is called Panchaamruta abhisheka (panch – five, amruta – nectar).
Traditionally, the abhisheka of Moola Rama is performed only on two days in the calendar. The first is Chaitra Shuddha Navami (the ninth day in the bright half of the Hindu Lunar month of Chaitra), the day the Lord incarnated as Rama, and the second is BalipAdya or Deepavali, which is celebrated on Kartika Shuddha Pratipath (the first day in the bright half of the Hindu lunar month of Kartika). These abhishekas are called as Rama Navami and Deepavali abhishekas respectively. Another simple abhisheka is done the day after Deepavali. This is called Mari (young) or Maru (repeat) abhisheka.
It would be very difficult to enumerate in full detail all the traditions and religious festivals associated with Rayara Matha. However, keeping in mind the fact that it is Deepavali season it seems appropriate to provide some details about the above abhishekas. In the Matha, the sixteen-fold worship (Shodashopachara pooja) of the Lord is performed every day. This includes abhisheka for the shaligramas, Sri vyAsa muShTi and icons of Sri Hayagreeva and Sri Santaanagopalakrishna. As mentioned above, abhisheka for Moola Rama is performed only twice a year. Since this happens only once in six months, it is natural for a a lot of pomp and glory to be associated with this event. However, this glory is something that needs to be experienced and cannot be explained by mere words.
CHAITRA SHUDHA NAVAMI MAHA ABHISHEKA (Sri Rama Navami)
This is the auspicious day on which the Lord incarnated as Ramachandra. People also lovingly call Him as Maryada Purushottam, the epitome of all great qualities associated with a noble person. There is an additional reason for reverence towards this day. The Aradhane of Sri Kavindra teertha, one of the greatest pontiffs to adorn this Matha, also falls on Rama Navami. His Brindavana is located on the island of Navavrundavana, near the town of Anegundi in Karnataka. As a preparation to the abhisheka, various fruits from all over India are collected in advance. Thousands of people from all over the country congregate in NavavrundAvana to witness the abhisheka. It is an inspiring sight to see such a large assemblage of people, soaked in devotion, braving the blazing sun and ignoring all hardships, just to witness the ceremony. Even more inspiring is the devotion with which the swamijis perform the abhisheka and the grace and friendliness with which they distribute fruits and mantrAkshate and bless all the devotees.
KARTIKA SHUDHA PRATIPAT MAHA ABHISHEKA (Deepavali)
This is more popularly known as BalipAdya or Deepavali. This is the holy day on which the Vamana incarnation of the Lord blessed the great devotee Bali. There are many activities in the Matha to prepare for this abhisheka. Since this event falls within the ChAturmAsya period (the four month period in the Hindu calendar when it is forbidden to partake certains of food or to offer them to the Lord), only certain types of fruits can be used in the abhisheka, unlike the Ramanavami abhisheka, when there was no restriction. Hence only Bananas and other simple ingredients used during the Panchamruta are used in this abhisheka.
On the chosen day, after performing his prescribed morning activities (chants and other religious chores that every ascetic must perform everyday), the swamiji starts the proceedings by taking a samkalpa (a symbolic oath to perform a task) to perform the abhisheka. By then his assistants would have completed all the necessary arrangements and would be waiting for him. The swamiji starts the proceedings by removing the ornaments adorning the Moola Rama icon. He then performs abhisheka using Milk, Curds (Yogurt), Ghee, Honey, Sugar and fruits in turn. He then performs a MangalArathi. After this, the remnants of the abhisheka are removed and once again abhisheka is performed with water, to cleanse the deity. This is called UdvArchana. After this the icons are anointed with sandalwood paste. While all this is happening, it is customary for scholars of the Matha to recite literary works by Sri Raghavendra swami, like the Sri RamachAritrya manjari, Upanishad khandartha and so on. After everything is completed, the icon is safely stored in the appointed container. This is called Bhujangana. At this point it may be said that the Maha abhisheka has reached a logical stage. After this, the swamiji performs the traditional puja that is performed daily.
On the next day, the swamiji finishes his mandatory activities and performs the abhisheka again. This is called Mari or Maru abhisheka. After this, the icon is adorned with traditional ornaments and daily puja is performed. With this, the Maha abhisheka has fully concluded.
Normally, the Rama Navami abhisheka is performed in Nava Vrundavana or Anegundi since it coincides with the Aradhane of Sri Kaveendra teertha. The Deepavali abhisheka is performed in Mantralaya or some other convenient location.