Friday, April 25, 2014

Appeasing Sastha : Theory Text And Practice Of Sastha Preethi In South India

My Special article given for Journal of Indological Studies

Appeasing Sastha :
Theory Text And Practice Of Sastha Preethi In South India

Shri Maha Sasthru Priya Dasan
V. Aravind Subramanyam, (Sastha Aravind)
President, Shri Maha Sasthru Seva Sangam
Thejovathy, 94 B, Third Street, Tatabad, Coimbatore 641012
Ph:(0)99946 41801 Email:

Sabarimalai Yatra, Ayyappa Pooja and Sasthapreethi are the three, most well known events that please the Kaliyuga Varadha Swami Shree Dharma Sastha. For a Ayyappa devotee the chanting of the celebrated three words is everything - " Swamiye  Saranam Ayyappa" – Oh Lord Ayyappa, I come to Thee for refuge. The high and low meet on equal terms in the presence of the Lord who is known as Dharmasastha – one who teaches and upholds dharma. 

Sasthapreethi is a time tested mode of worshipping Lord Dharmasastha in a very religious way by various samoohams and organizations in and around Kerala, and now in all parts of the country and abroad.  The religious pooja is given more importance followed by Annadhanam.

One should not confuse Sastha Preethi with Ayyappa puja or Sabarimalai Yatra; Sastha Preethi in a unique and different form of worship which has its own methods and procedures.

Origin :

The spreading of Sastha Preethi as a cult (other than Kallidaikurichi) dates back to three centuries.

Over 300 years ago a handful of enterprising men, started from a village called Kallidaikurichi,(Tirunelveli district). Their aim was to establish some business and improve their material prospects.

The Karandhaiyar palayam Samooham (of Kallidaikurichi) situated on the banks of river Thamirabarani, was the origin of a concept called Sastha Preethi. Consisting of 18 Agraharams, Kallidaikurichi was in the western ghat region, it was the border of Chera and Pandya Kingdoms in yester years. Sastha was the beloved deity on both sides of hills. Kallidakuruchi had a temple for Sastha.

Lord ‘Manikandan’ (during his human incarnation) had come to this village and had called at the house of an old couple for some food. The Lord felt very happy with their hospitality and became "Kambankudi Daasan". People started celebrating the Lord and thus began the glorious Sastha Preethi through the Kambankudi family who hailed from Kallidakuruchi.

When the people of Karanthaiyar palaya samooham, moved out from Kallidaikurichi towards Kerala in search of a new life, Lord Sastha promised that He would accompany them.

Passing through hills and forests they underwent many hardships, but could overcome everything by the grace of Lord Dharma Sastha. They understood that the divine blessing of Lord Hariharaputra was following them. First they settled in a place between the present Mavelikkara and Kayamkulam. But they were not happy and were suffering with a sense of insecurity there… From there few groups settled at Kochi, Few at Paravoor and another pocket at Trivandrum.

Vanji paattu

Those days the geographical setup and main transport was water way. When the first Brahmin settlement went to Kochi, Vanchi Pattu (the boatmans song) was developed on the rivers and backwaters, sung by boatman on voyages to keep up their spirit. So selected few Sastha Preethis have Vanji Paattu as a part of their ritual. Singing on a typical folk tune, the glory of their Saviour  - Lord Sastha is praised.

From Kallidaikurichi, Kochi and Paravoor, the concept of Sastha Preethi got widespread among the Brahmins who settled in and around Kerala. Sastha is praised as “Paradesi Kavalan”  - one who protects a person of a foreign land  in short Helper to the helpless. This system further spread to Palakkad, Trichur , Ernakulam districts of Kerala and Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Nagarcoil districts of Tamilnadu.

The meaning of the name Sastha Preethi is ‘appeasing Lord Dharma Sastha’ by pooja, songs and mainly by offering sumptuous feast to His devotees.

Though there is no standard written text for the procedure and methods, it is a customary practice that is being followed in all the places.

There may be slight variations on the pooja and procedures followed at various places of Sastha Preethi by different persons, but the underlying principle is same.

Generally the pooja on Sasthapreethi day comprises of Mahaganapathi Homam, Mahanyasa Japam, Rudrabhishekam, Rudra Kramaarchana, Sastha Avahanam,  Pooja, Sastha Sahasranamarchana, Deeparadhana, Chaturvedaparayanam and singing of traditional  Sastha Paattu songs.

Choosing the Day and Pooja practices:

Generally traditional samoohams have a fixed date for their Sastha Preethi. A convenient day is always chosen well in advance. It is a traditional practice that it’s always a Saturday. But the other aspects of the day are scrutinized so that it doesn’t hinder the feast and oil bath. (For example days like Ekadasi, Amavasai are excluded). The persons who are invited as representatives of the Lord - should compulsorily take an oil bath on the day of the event.

Regarding the pooja methods - Vaidheeka or Thanthreeka or Mishra pooja is used for Sastha Preethi according to the location. The priest invokes Lord Ganapathi, Ambal and Dharma Sastha and His attendants (Parivara Devathas) on tall brass lamps decorated tastefully.

The positioning of the Lamps varies from place to place. Sastha lamp always occupies the centre. All other lamps have fixed places with respect to the main lamp.

Kallidaikurichi and Paroor have Guru and Ganapathy on either Side of Sastha; Whereas Kochi has Ganapathi and Chellapillai on the either side. In few places all other Parivarams like Karuppan, Kaduthan etc are placed on the left side of the Lord and Yakshi or Devi swaroopams are seated on the right side. But a separate South facing lamp is compulsorily placed for Boothanatha Swami who controls all the parivaras.

Other than the traditional samoohams and in neo-Sastha Preethis, there is a common placement of Ganapathi and Devi on either side of Sastha.

It is also a practice that Sastha Lamp is lit with ghee and all others are lit with sesame oil.

Proper, procedural, detailed pujas are done to the Lord according to the Kalpam. Upacharas, Avarana Puja and other poojas are done which is followed by Kramarchana or by Sahasranama Archana. ( Pancha / Ashta / Nava Avarana puja is done to Sastha as per the school of thought. Texts like “Dharma Sasthru Pooja Kalpam” of Bala Dhandayudhapani Swamigal, “Maha Sasthru Pooja Kalpadhrumam” – attributed to Adhishankara, Dhakshinamnaya Pooja etc are used. We follow a method of Navavarana puja to Sastha which is in line with Srividya Navavaranam)

Shanka pooja plays an important role in Sastha Preethi. The people who get into trance are invoked with the Lord’s grace through this Shanka theertham.

The specific neivedhyams like Chathachayam Payasam, Ellurundai, Neiyappam are compulsory for a Sastha Preethi. And in general the entire Payasam in which vessel it’s made - is brought in front of the Lord.

Varavu Paattu

After the detailed puja, neivedyam and deeparadhana followed by mantrapushpam a detailed Veda Parayanam is made. After appeasing the Lord with Vedha gosham, the traditional Sastha paattu (Varavu Paattu – inviting Songs) songs are sung.

All these Varavu songs are written by a poet named Manidasa who lived around some 150-200 years ago.Tamil poet-saint Arunagirinathar is considered as the Gurunathar of all devotees of Lord Muruga. Likewise Manidasar, a descendant of the Kallidaikurichi (Kambangudi) family lineage, is considered as the universal Gurunather of all devotees of Lord Sastha. Manidasar has sung several hundred songs in praise of Lord Hariharaputra – which are sung during the Sastha Preethi.

For each and every event of the pooja he has rendered songs and poems called Viruttams.

He has also sung five group songs, each group consisting of five vrittams. These are known as “Kulaththur Panchagam, Aryankavu Panchagam, Achchanaar Panchagam, Muththayyan Panchagam and Sabari Panchagam.

Several songs of Manidasar register the glories and history of Lord Sastha. His songs are rich with emotive beauty with meaningful words and with a perfect symphony.

There are very few well versed singers in Kerala and in Tamilnadu. These singing follow a tradition and starts from Ganapathi. Manidasar’s songs are there in Chaste Tamil in praise of Lord Dharma Sastha inviting Him. Songs invoking Ganapathi, Shastha, Chellapillai, Yakshi, Sangili Bhoothathan and other Parivara Devathas are sung. 

(Though not compiled into a perfect text format, hundreds of songs of Manidasar are sung in various parts of South India during the occasion of Sastha Preethi. We on behalf of Shri Maha Sasthru Seva Sangam, have tried to compile few songs of Manidasar and have released a book titled “Sampradhaya Sastham Paattu in the year 2009)

Sthanikas and their Trance:

While singing, the traditional upasakas or Sthanakaras of the respective deities gets into a trance and gets the supreme power invoked within them. In General Sastha, Chellapillai, Yakshi and Boothathan are the deities who are invited. Very rarely a place is given to Karuppan or Maadan.

Before the singing starts, eleven or more plantain leaves (Nuni elai)  are bundled and decorated with sandal paste, kumkum and flowers and kept in the sannidhanam of the Lord during the pooja . All the ayudhams of Lord Sastha and the Parivaras are also placed near the main lamp.

A wooden plank is decorated with Kolam and placed before the Lord. In few places the peeta puja of the respective deities is done to the wooden plank. These Sthanikas (or Komarams as addressed by local people) who get into trance sit on this wooden plank.

It’s a customary practice that the moolamantram of Sastha is enchanted on Punugu (Civet) and handed over to the Sthanikar of Sastha. Once he gets into trance, he in turn hands over similar enchanted Vibhuti to Chellapillai and Boothathan, Kunkumam to Yakshi and Manjal (Turmeric) to Karuppan. Similarly the person with the trance of Lord Sastha accepts all the ayudhams from the priest and gives the respective ayudhams to the respective deities (in trance).

These Sthanikas are offered respect by the devotees and upacharas are done to them. They are seated on the wooden plank and abhishekam is done to them. They are decorated with garland, sandal paste and kumkum.

They bless the devotees with prasadam and convey the deity's satisfaction in the conduct of the Sasthapreethi.

The plantain leaves are handed over by the representative of Lord Sastha along with vibhuthi prasadam to the person organizing the pooja.   Only after this ritual, prasadam, the food is served to the public. 

The Lord conveys his message for the days and confirms his satisfaction about the Sastha Preethi conducted. People prostrate before him, get blessed and receive Vibhoothi as prasadam.

Once the sthanikas come out of their trance, they offer back the respective ayudhams to the priest and prostrate before the Lord and accept the shanka theertham.

The Lord accepts any form of worship with devotion and dedication and to those who cast their ego and with absolute surrender and purity prayerfully calls out to Him. He is always there, ever ready to take them under His benign shelter and bestow upon them health, wealth, happiness and prosperity. This is very well seen during the Sastha Preethi festival. This is an occasion where one directly gets the grace of the Lord.

1 comment:

  1. excellent "thamizhilum irumdhal innum nangu purindhu kolla mudiyum" even though excellent