CHITTIRAI POORNIMA FESTIVAL
(I-DISCXOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN, MAY 2012)
The full-moon day of ascendency of the Chitra Nakshatra (virginis) in the Tamil month of Chittirai is particularly sacred to worship Chitraguptas, the recording angels of Yama the God of Death in the Hindu pantheon. In mythological literature Yama is described as the God of Death and Dharmaraaja, the divine judge, who accords rewards and punishments to the souls of the dead brought to him. He keeps the record of Karmaphalas ably assisted by Chitragupta, the recorder. Yama means one who restrains, who curbs, who controls. You are quite familiar with the terminology Yama in Patanjali's Yoogasaastra. "Chitra Gupta" means hidden picture. A true picture of all our good and evil actions is preserved in the cosmic ledger of the account of Jiva's commission and omissions which in Vedantic terms we call as Karmaphalaa (fruits of our action)—Saanchita, Praarabhda and Aaagamee Karmas. These have been dealt in detail elsewhere. These are not in the direct knowledge of the individuals and are therefore called hidden or secret.
Chittirai Poornimai is dedicated to Chitra Guptas. It looks as though Tamils as well as Malayalees are deeply frightened of the higher power that maintains constant watch over every act of ours on this mother earth; otherwise why this day should be so special to only these! They are the only ones who are also worried about Sani Peyarchi, Guru Peyarchi etc. Are these the ones who are of God fearing nature and others are God loving? A special worship is conducted to these celestial representatives of the God of Death in some famous temples of Tamil Nadu and also at homes particularly, by the followers of Siva (Probably because they are the ones who chant daily Mrityunjaya Mantra--Trayambakam Yajaamahe constantly reminded of the fear of death). An offering of sesame/black gram spiced rice is prepared and later distributed as Prasad or blessed food to wash of sins to the extent possible. Of course this is made very delicious with added ingredients of cashew nut, coconut and fried papad. Mrityunjaya homa as well as special homas are also conducted at the close of ritualistic worship. By this act of the fearful devotees these angels of the other world are greatly pleased and may judge their devotees action with more sympathy!
There is also a mythological story behind this worship. Brihaspati is the Guru and adviser of Indra, the king of Gods like Sukrachatrya for Daityas (Rakshasas or demons). Being perturbed by the indifference of his student at one time Brihaspati relinquished his task of guiding him for a while about things he should do and should not do. During the temporary absence of his Guru Indra accumulated lot of sins indulging in evil deeds. The compassionate Guru resumed his duty again on his repentance and pleading. Indra was also worried about his accumulated sins and his shaky exalted position. Unlike us he had good knowledge of his account of Karma because of his divine origin. Indra sought his preceptor's advice as to what he should do to expiate the wrongs he had done in the Guru's absence. Brihaspati asked him to undertake a pilgrimage in Bhooloka (Earth) as it is the Karmabhoomi (place for action as well as result).
Teerthyaatraa is supposed to destroy one's sins, give religious merits and result in purity of mind. Even Rigveda refers to the holiness of the place where the white and the black rivers merge. A bath here enables one to wash of his sins and go to heaven. Puraanas abound in such ideas. Teerthayaatra or pilgrimage to holy places has been an integral part of a Hindu's religious life.
Indra followed the instructions of his Guru and went on a pilgrimage. Near Madurai in South India Indra suddenly felt the load of sins taken off his shoulders at a particular spot! He discovered a Sivalinga there. He immediately visualized that it was also due to this miraculous Linga and so constructed a shrine for Easwara with the help of Viswakarma. He did not want to upset Eaaswari and also raised a shrine for her too by the side. Now he wanted to worship Siva in the newly erected shrine. He went to a nearby pond to take a holy dip. To his surprise the Lord himself caused golden lotus to appear in the pond after a holy dip. Indra was extremely happy and expressed his gratitude to the merciful Lord. The day on which he performed his first worship with the lotus was the Full Moon Day of Chittirai. In Madurai Meenakshi Temple Chittirai Poornima Thiruvizha (holy festival) is celebrated on a grand scale. It is believed Lord Indra comes down to earth on this day to watch the details of the worship and also graces the occasion.
In Conjeevaram in Tamil Nadu there is a shrine dedicated to Chitra Gupta as well as Yama, the Lord of Death. Chitragupta icon holds on one hand cudjan leaf manuscript and a stylus on the other hand depicting his divine profession of keeping the account of good and bad deeds of all people on earth. There is a river called Chitra in Kutraalam in Thirunalveli district which is believed to have originated on the day Indra performed the worship. People take a holy dip in this river on that day. There is a description available in Tamil Nadu in one of the temple pillars stating that Rajasekharavarma, one of the famous Chola Kings 983-1013 A.D.) gifted lands to Vedic scholars during the nine days of celebration of Chittirai festival. He also gifted lands to feed 550 Sivayogis during Chittirai festival. As history tells chola Kings were staunch devotees of Siva and one of the Kings even plucked the eyes of the closest devotee of Ramanuja for not accepting the supremacy of Saiva Siddhanta. This festival is considered to be most auspicious if it falls on Thursdays, Saturdays or Sundays. Sun is supposed to shine in all his glory on Chittrai Poornima day and as a consequence Moon also who derives light from the Sun.
Hindu scripture prescribe elaborate worship of Chitra Gupta on this day. Chitragupta is invoked in Kalasa (pot containing holy water) and then the Kalasa is worshipped with the prescribed rituals and formalities of the worship generally offered to all deities. Mahaa Naaraayana Upanishad contains appropriate Mantras like Aghamarshani sookta, Trisuparna Mantra appropriate to propitiate Chitrgupta. It is also customary to chant the following verse:
Chitra guptam mahaa praajnam lekhaneepatra dhaarinam | Chitra-ratnaammbara-dharam madhyastam sarvadehinam ||
- Swami sivananda, Hindu Fasts and Festivals, the Divine Life Society, Uttaranchal, India.
- Swami Harshananda, Hindu Pilgrim Centers, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India.