The ‘Karkidaka Vavu’ (the new moon in the Malayalam month of Karkidakam) falls on Monday. It is a day to remember the ancestors.
But, this year, it will not be possible to visit holy places to perform the rites known as ‘bali tharpanam’ to propitiate the dead souls, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To the question where the ritual can be performed, our ancestors have said, ‘Illam, Vallam, Nelli’ or ‘home, Thiruvallam, Thirunelli’.
In Kerala, besides Thiruvallam in Thiruvananthapuram district and Thirunelli in Wayanad, thousands of people also throng holy places such as Varkala, Aluva Manappuram and Thirunavaya in Malappuram, to offer prayers to their ancestors every year. This year, however, even priests have advised that the ‘bali tharpanam’ be done at home.
'Balitharpanam' involves making offering in memory of one’s dead ancestors. Sesame and water are the most essential ingredients for the offering.
The ritual may have slight region-wise variations.
Things you will need for the offering
It will good if you have sesame seeds, water, raw rice, cherula flowers (mountain knot grass), sandal, darbha grass, plantain/banana leaves with the rounded edge intact (nakila in Malayalam), traditional oil lamp (nilavilakku), lamp oil, wick, kindi (a traditional vessel to pour water) or any clean vessel, and pavithrakettu (a ring made of darbha grass).
A day before the 'balitharpanam', you have to observe ‘orikkal’ (having a meal of rice only once in the day).
Fasting on Sunday night is ideal. But now the practice is to have a light snack not necessarily made of rice at night.
Fish and meat should be completely avoided on the karikadaku vavu day and the previous day.
The rites are to be performed early in the morning. On the south side of the courtyard, sit facing south and make the offering.
At a place near the balitharpanam spot, make a hearth to cook rice for ‘balichor’ (kavyam, or riceballs). Cook enough raw rice for 5-6 balls of ‘balichor’.
Cook the rice till all the water evaporates, don’t drain away the water. Rice cooked this way is used for balipindam.
Before 'balitharpanam', prepare ‘theertham’ (holy water) by taking water in the kindi.
Then recite this mantra:
“Ganga chayamune chaiva
Narmade Sindhu Kaveri
Jalesmin Sannidhim Kuru ”
This is to invoke all the holy rivers. After this, take the flowers in both hands and put them in the water in the kindi.
It is with this ‘theertham' that the subsequent 'tharpanan' rituals should be performed. It is better to wear 'pavithram' (darbha grass ring) on the ring finger of the right hand while performing the 'tharpanam'. Light the traditional lamp and place the plantain leaves before it. Place the darbha grass on the leaves. Imagine you are invoking your forefathers to this grass. Meditate on all the teachers, patriarchs and family deities. Then think of all your ancestors and offer sesame seeds, water, sandalwood and flowers on the darbha grass.
‘Swaha’ is said while doing ordinary poojas, but during the rituals for forefathers, what is said is ‘swadha'.
Place the rice balls one by one on the darbha grass and offer sesame seeds, water, sandal and flowers. Then prostrate yourself, imagining all your ancestors.
(In some places, the practice is to use raw rice instead of cooked rice)
Then imagine that you are sending your forefathers back to their respective places and pray.
After offering the ‘balipindam’, wet your hands and clap them. Listening to the claps, if a crow comes and feeds on the ‘balipindam’, it is believed that the ancestors have eaten it.
Then, take the leaves, along with the darbha grass, flowers and sesame seeds used for 'balitharpanam' and offer them in a water body. There is a way to make the offering. Turn towards the east and throw everything with the leaves to the back over the head.
Then once you have a bath after this, the ‘balitharpanam’ will be over.