Goddess Saraswathi begins new chapter in Auckland

Hindus will have a unique experience of witnessing the ‘installation’ of the Deity of Goddess Saraswathi at a series of events currently being held at Thiru Subramaniyar Aalayam located at 69 Tidal Road in Mangere, Auckland. It is understood that this would be the first time that the ‘Murthi’ or ‘Vigraha’ of the Goddess of Knowledge is being installed at Temple in New Zealand.

The ceremony which ‘energies’ the Deity, constitutes an important event in the history of a Temple and is always accompanied by a series of religious rituals, prayers, Aartis and Maha Prasad. A marriage like environment prevails in the place of worship, marked by piety, goodwill and community participation. A member of the Priests and Temple Committee of Thiru Subramaniyar Aalayam said that the preparation for the ‘Installation Ceremony,’ known as ‘Noothana Kumbhabishegam,’ began on August 14, 2016. “The ceremony commenced with ‘Jalathivasam,’ at which the Murthi was placed in a sleeping position under water for 11 days. On August 25, 2016, the Deity was made to sleep on a bed of rice during an observance called, ‘Dhanyathivasam.’ The Main Prayer will start on September 2, 2016,” he said. He said that devotees will be able to offer oil to the Goddess after 8 pm on September 3, participate in the Maha Kumbhabishegam between 11 am and 12 pm on September 4 and celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi on September 5, 2016.

“The highlight of the events would be the ‘Noothana Kumbhabishegam Ceremony’ on September 4 conducted by our Temple Priests Maharajan, aka Manikandan (or Mani) and Ganapathy Subramaniam Karthik. “We are actively seeking the participation of artistes to perform music or dance on this occasion, as ‘Upacharam,’ (Obeisance) to Goddess Saraswathi,” he said. Sponsorship for conducting various Poojas, Homam and ‘Mandalabhishegam’ is also available, he added.

‘Breathing Life’

Hinduism specifies special ceremonies in which sacred images are formally installed in Temples. These ceremonies are given two names: ‘Murthi Sthapanam’ and ‘Prana Pratishta.’ ‘Murthi’ denotes ‘Sacred Image,’ while ‘Sthapanam’ means ‘Installation.’

‘Prana Pratishta’ means ‘Breathe Life.’ In other words, it is bringing the Sacred Image to life. ‘Murthi Sthapanam’ is now common outside India because of the growing number of Hindus and the increasing involvement of young people in traditional ceremonies. Such ceremonies are elaborate in Temples involving priests from the community and include immersing the Sacred Image in water, rice, and flowers; bathing the Sacred Image in milk, yogurt, clarified butter (ghee) and other sacred substances. Havans and Homams are also becoming more significant. Murthi Sthapanam ceremony is not usually performed in private homes.

An Agreement

There are two ways to understand the Murthi Sthapanam ceremony.

The first is as a contract. An Agreement is established between the Deity and a Temple congregation. The Deity ‘agrees to descend’ into the Sacred Image and the congregation agrees to care for the Deity in the form of service (Seva). The ceremony denotes ‘Awakening of the Deity’ within the stone or metal.

The other view is more theological.

By definition, God is all-pervading and omnipresent and hence the idea of establishing the breath of the Deity within an image is impossible. “God is already there!” theologians say.

Awakening the mind

“The purpose of the ceremony is not to establish the Deity within the image, but to awaken the mind of the participants through the power of ritual, to the presence of Divinity within the Sacred image. At the beginning of the ceremony people see only stone or metal, but at the end they see God! The real installation takes place not in the stone or metal image, but in the minds and hearts of the participants.”

This is the power of ritual.

The culmination of such a ceremony is when the ‘eyes’ of the image are actually opened. In some instances, a sculptor will chip away at the eyes of the image and ‘open’ them up. In some Temples, a dignitary will be invited to remove a covering from the eyes of the image with a golden coin or similar object. The first thing the newly infused Deity will see is an image of Him or Herself as a mirror is held before the newly “awakened” image.