Belief is a tricky topic to discuss. Many people deny belief in any God, while others are reluctant to speak openly about their religious preferences. However, actress and dancer Urmila Unni stands apart by her boldness to explain her ardent belief in Lord Ganesha.
How she became a Ganesha devotee
Urmila says her admiration for Ganapathy began as she was person associated with the arts. “Distinct from Mahadeva and Krishna, Ganapathy has several ‘bhavas’ (states of being). There are 32 ‘dhyana slokas’ (stanzas helping devotees meditate on the God) for Ganapathy in Sanskrit and Hindi. It is believed that the God is present in all the 108 ‘karanams’ (actions). As a result, Ganapathy can be painted as a dancer and also as riding a lion. Never taking an angry form, he can be considered as our playmate. Building a house facing a temple is considered inauspicious. But this rule does not apply to temples dedicated to Ganapathy,” explains Urmila.
It was around the year 1992 that Urmila developed her deep devotion for Ganapathy. “Once, while travelling through Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, I saw several sculptures and idols of the God in various poses; sitting, lying down, reading a book and even dancing. Being an artist myself, I was instantly attracted to the sculptures. I was surprised to learn that Ganapathy could have so many states. Immediately, I bought ten Ganapathy idols from there. That was the beginning of my craze for Ganesha idols,” reveals Urmila.
A house full of Ganesha idols
Urmila feels that receiving a Ganesha idol as gift is something very lucky. “I consider it a blessing of the God whenever I receive it,” she says.
The actress never allows dust to gather on her idols. “I myself take time to keep the idols spic and span. But when their number multiplies, I donate them to Sooryakaladi mana, a Ganapathy temple in Kottayam. There, regular rituals are offered to the idols,” says Urmila.
Urmila reveals that she regularly chants mantras in praise of her favourite deity. “At present, I am learning Ganesha Sahasranamam. All members of our family, including my mother, elder sister and niece – retired actress Samyukta Varma - chant Vishnusahasra namam and Lalithasahasra namam. However, Ganesha Sahasranamam is tougher,” says Urmila.
Only by hearing it several times can it be learnt by heart, she adds.
Fortunate to visit many temples
Being a celebrity in the film field, Urmila gets regular invitations to take part in events related to temples. “Most often, it would be to light a lamp or inaugurate the cultural programmes organized as part of the temple festival,” she says.
This has helped Urmila to pray at all major temples in Kerala and also gives her the opportunity to visit several new shrines every year.
“Sometimes, I am invited to speak on Hindu traditions. My talk would be a general introduction to the prayers and chants which common people like to hear. I consider it a blessing to get a chance to impart the knowledge I possess in this regard,” says the veteran actress.
Everyone knows that Urmila is an ardent devotee of Ganapathy and new entrepreneurs often invite her to inaugurate their ventures. “They request me to pray for their ventures and enable the blessings of Ganesha to benefit their business too. This makes me wonder If I were a personal assistant of the God,” she says.
But such incidents make Urmila realize how reverentially people treat her. “Sometimes, I offer ‘pushpanjali’ (offering of flowers to the idol) at my home. I also never set out for a programme without lighting a lamp before Ganesha in my house,” she reveals.
The prayer room
Interestingly, Urmila’s house does not have a prayer room. “My house is full of idols of various gods and I cannot light a lamp before Ganesha alone. So, I light a lamp on a table placed at a convenient spot and pray. In addition, Ganapathy ‘homam’ is conducted at home every year. Ganapathy ‘pujas’ too are offered regularly,” she says.
A childhood belief
It was in a ‘pathinaru kettu’ (a palace with 16 sections) where Urmila was born. There was a room in the house where ‘Maha Sudarsanam’, a sacred object, was buried. “It served as a sort of labour room and the children born in the room were believed to earn fame and prosperity,” she discloses.
The secret of Urmila’s positivity
Every day, Urmila chants the ‘Maha Sudarsana mantra’. “It helps me overcome any obstacle in life and ignore all rumours and insults directed at me,” she says. “I prefer to approach everything with a positive attitude. These chants have supported me to maintain my poise during every crisis I faced,” she adds. “When the mantras are chanted earnestly, a positive aura surrounds you. We need to create this aura with a firm resolve of mind,” is Urmila’s advice.
A more devout daughter
Uthara Unni, Urmila’s daughter who is also a dancer and actress, is more devout than her mother. “Though she belongs to the new generation, she is a very religious person and has already created the positive aura around her,” says Urmila.
“I am amazed at the beautiful manner in which she recites the Vishnusahasra namam. She teaches all her dance students the chanting of ‘nama japam’. I usually chant short mantras but Uthara is adept at reciting long hymns,” says the proud mother.
Meanwhile, Urmila is engaged in writing a comprehensive book on Ganesha. She has already completed 18 chapters of the book, which would be the biggest work on the deity in Malayalam. “I consider it a blessing to be able create such a volume,” winds up the multi-talented actress.