Kalasha is a jar which is used variously in a variety of rituals. In Indian tradition a Kalasha is installed during all religious, auspicious and important ceremonies which is known as Kalashasthapana. Normally installing Kalasha is considered as an option for all complicated religious practices. Hence it is a common practice among all sections of society.  

When is it performed

For an auspicious occasion special consecration of a jar is enjoined. A kalasha is placed with due rituals on all important occasions like the traditional house warming (grhapravesa), wedding, daily worship, etc. It is placed near the entrance as a sign of welcome. It is also used in a traditional manner while receiving holy personages.

Punyahavachana is the ritual which is observed before all auspicious ceremonies. During Punyahavachana, Varuna deity is worshipped by installing Kalasha. Mainly two kalashas are installed. Those are mainly filled with five jewels namely gold, silver, pearl, emerald, coral; one type of grass namely durva. Such Kalasha is decorated by panchapallava, five types of leaves with Coconut over it. As per the vidhana (assertion) the number of Kalasha varies from one to one hundred and eight. After vidhana (assertion) water from Kalasha is sprinkled on everybody by Yajamana.

What is Kalasha

A brass, mud or copper pot is filled with water; mango leaves are placed in the mouth of the pot and a coconut is placed over it. A red or white thread is tied around the neck of the pot or sometimes all around it in an intricate diamond-shaped pattern. The pot may be decorated with designs. Such a pot is known as a Kalasha.

When the pot is filled with water or rice, it is known as purnakumbha representing the inert body which when filled with the divine life force gains the power to do all the wonderful things that makes life what it is.

Measurement of the Kalasha according to scriptures

Technically Kalasha is a utensil which is tall and round in shape. In Kalika Purana the measurement and ratio of the Kalasha is given as,

पञ्चाशदङ्गुलव्याम् उत्सेधः षोडशाङ्गुलः ।                                                            

कलशानां प्रमाणं तु मुखमष्टाङ्गुलं स्मृतम् ॥

Panchanshadashangulavyam utsedhah shodashangulah                                                                  

Kalashanam pramanam tu mukhamashtangulam smrutam

Fifty figures total circumference, sixteen figures height and eight figures circumference of mouth, is considered as the ideal measurement of the Kalasha.

Types of Kalasha

Mainly Kalashas made of clay or pumpkin, are referred to in the Vedic literature. We also get the names of Kalasha as Dronakalasha, Putabhrut, Adhavaniya types in Vedic literature. Dronakalasha is the broad mouthed Kalasha on the other hand, Putabhrut, Adhavaniya are the big clay Kalasha made for the storage of soma.

Traditionally nine types of Kalasha are considered. Those are, Kshitindrakalasha, Jalasambhavakalasha, Pavanakalasha, Agnikalasha, Yajamanakalasha, Koshasambhavakalasha, Somakalasha, Adityakalasha, Vijayakalasha. These types of Kalasha are made on the basis of installation at various directions.

Among the types, Vijayakalasha should be installed at the center of Pitha or place. Rest all should be installed accordingly in the east, west, northwest, southeast, southwest, northeast, north, south. Same information is presented in chart below,

Origin of Kalasha according to scriptures

A legend says that, gods and demons were churning the Great Ocean. Vishvakarma created Kalasha for holding Amruta which arose from the Great Ocean. Same etymology is given by Hemadri in his Vratakhanda as,

कलं कलं गृहीत्वा च देवानां विश्वकर्मणा ।                                                          

निर्मितो यः सुरैर्यस्मात् कलशस्तेन उच्यते ॥

Kalam kalam gruhitva cha devanam vishvakarmana                                            

Nirmito yah surairyasmat kalashastena uchyate

(Vishvakarma has collected the qualities of all gods by which Kalasha is created.)  

As Kalasha is created by Vishvakarma for holding Amruta by collecting the qualities of all the gods, it is considered as holy and pure. 

Kalasha as the abode of gods

As Kalasha is created from the qualities of all the gods, it is considered as holy. It a belief that gods reside in the Kalash. 

कलशानां मुखे ब्रह्मा ग्रीवायां शङ्करः स्थितः ।                                                                 

 मूले तु संस्थितो विष्णुर्मध्ये मातृगणाः स्थितः ॥

Kalashanam mukhe brahma grivayam shankarah sthitah                             

Mule tu sansthito vishnurmadhye matruganah sthitah

दिक्पाला देवताः सर्वे वेष्टयन्ति दिशो दश ।                                                          

 कुक्षौ तु सागराः सप्तदीपाश्च संस्थिताः ॥ 

Dikpala devatah sarve veshtayanti disho dasha                                          

Kukshau tu sagarah saptadipashcha sansthitah

नक्षत्राणि ग्रहाः सर्वे तथैव कुलपर्वताः ।                                                          

 गङ्गाद्याः सरितः सर्वा वेदाश्चत्वार एव च ॥

Nakshatrani grahah sarve tathaiva kalaparvatah                                   

Gangadyah saritah sarva vedashtvara eva cha

कलशे संस्थिताः सर्वे तेषु तानि विचिन्तयेत्

Kalashe sansthitah sarve tevu tani vichintayet

(Brahma at the mouth of Kalasha, Shnkara at the neck, Vishnu at the base Matrugana at the middle; directional deities at all directions of the Kalasha; ocean, seven mountains, all constellations and planets, all rives, Vedas at the flank; all these gods are there in the Kalasha.)

Kalasha of Temple

In the study of temple architecture we always come across the term Kalash. It is top most part of temple, above the shikhara which exactly looks like Kalasha.  It is a belief among the people that the construction of the temple is very auspicious and it is completed only after the construction of the Kalasha at the end on the top of it.

Kalasha in Buddhism

Kalasha is one of the ancient symbols of Buddhism specially Mahayana Buddhism as the symbol of Lord Buddha. In daily life, Kalasha is used to store water due to its utility and in philosophy to store Jivanamruta, core of life. Kalasha is the icon of Avalokiteshwara.

As the Icon of Gods

In the study of Iconography, Kalasha is marked as the icon of various gods.  Vasudhara and Dhanvantari are always depicted as kalashadhari, holding Kalasha. As Dhanvantari is deity of medicines, Kalasha is the symbol of medicines in the form of Amruta. Kubera is always depicted as resting his right leg on the upturned Kalasha in sculptures.

What it symbolizes

Kalasha is a symbol of holiness and purity. The water in the Kalasha symbolizes the primordial water from which the entire creation emerged. It is the giver of life to all and has the potential of creating innumerable names and forms, the inert objects and the sentient beings and all that is auspicious in the world from the energy behind the universe. The leaves and coconut represent creation. The thread represents the love that ‘binds’ all in creation. The five jewels in the Kalasha are the symbols of Panchabhutas, five great elements, Panchendriyas and also of Panchavishayas.

Philosophically also it is a very important symbol of life. Kalasha is considered as human body and water in it is Jivanatattva, the core of life that is Pranatattva.

In Buddhism also Kalasha is one of the ancient icons of Buddha. It is also an icon of Avalokiteshwara, Maitreya and Bodhisattva.

Why worshipping Kalasha is common

Installing Kalasha is a very simple religious act which can be performed by all as an option for all tedious religious practices. On the other hand it is symbol of all gods, knowledge and wisdom, creation. Hence Kalasha is holy and pure.