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CHOODI PUJA
By Mohan Shenoy

COME SHRAAVANA,
GOWDA SAARASWATH BRAAHMAN WOMEN PERFORM CHOODI PUJA

A set of rituals that is performed by married women belonging to the Gowda Saaraswath Brahman (GSB) community is known as the Choodi Puja. Choodi Puja is performed in worship of the Tulasi plant and in worship of the main entrance of the home.

Tulasi plant gained importance after the Puraana(s) were written. In the Puraana(s) the Tulasi plant is considered to be a sacred plant and gives strength and courage to the people who worship it. It was well known that Tulasi plant had medicinal values. But the information that the Tulasi plant has power to resolve problems in the house and the family was new.

It was not clear how the Tulasi plant resolved the problems but people believed that it did. Surely the Tulasi plant was an evergreen plant and its leaves had a pleasant smell. The leaves had a light bitter taste. The plant looks beautiful when it sways in the wind. The sapling is planted in a raised monument built with bricks and cement, in the front yard of the house facing the main entrance door of the house. The monument has a little deep well, in the middle which opens on the top. In this well fresh earth is placed and a Tulasi sapling is planted in it. Water is fed to the sapling every day. The sapling grows into a plant within a couple of months.

In the month of Shraavana (July and August), GSB women perform Choodi Puja every Friday and every Sunday till the end of the month. The previous day the women make preparations for the Puja. To construct the choodi(s), women collect the specified flowers and darba grass (sacred grass plants), which are bound, into a tiny bouquet. This bouquet is called the It is about 3 inches in length and about one half inch in diameter at its tie. The specified flowers are those, which grow only in Shraavana month following rains in the previous Aashaada month of the rainy season. The darba grass also sprouts in the ground at this time. Darbankur (sprout of darba grass) is one of the essential requisites to tie the choodi(s) for Puja. About 10 choodi(s) are constructed. In large families more choodi(s) are needed for distribution among the women members.

The married woman performs the Puja at her home all by herself. There are no invitees; only the members who live in the house could attend the Puja. All the choodi(s) are placed in a tray in front of the idol or portrait of Goddess Lakshmi. An oil lamp is lighted. The Hindus are the only people in the world who use these special lamps. They are designed and manufactured in kilns of brass metal works. They have a round base, a shaft and a top round shallow bowl with five beaks.
There are oil lamps of many sizes. The ones used at home for small functions such as the Choodi Puja are about 8 inches in height and their top oil bowls are about 4 inches in diameter. Each beak in the oil bowl can accommodate a cotton wick. These wicks are soaked in cooking oil such as peanut, coconut, cottonseed, palm, mustard or olive oil. The tips of the wicks are lighted using a matchstick. They glow well and look beautiful giving extra grandeur to the scene. Then both Goddess Lakshmi and the choodi(s) are worshipped by performing the Puja to them, first by applying Kumkum and Haldi powder and then waving an aarathi. The choodi(s) and the oil lamp are then taken to the Tulasi monument located outside, in the front yard of the house, where flowers are mounted on the branches of the plant. Haldi and Kumkum are applied to the monument. The plant is watered and one choodi is placed on a branch and another on the monument. Now an aarathi is waved to the plant as well as the monument. This concludes the Tulasi Puja.

Now the woman returns to the entrance of the house and sits in front of the door. The door remains open. She places a choodi on each side of the ledge or sill of the door. Then she waves an aarathi to the choodi(s) and the door. This concludes Choodi Puja for the day. The choodi(s) have to be distributed to the female relatives and female friends. Those who live nearby and within the same town as the woman, get the choodi in person. Those who live elsewhere get the choodi by post.

In some homes the Vara-mahalakshmi Vritha is performed on Tuesdays in the month of Shraavana.The goddess Varamahalakshmi is another name for Lakshmi, the wife of lord Vishnu. Gowri is the wife of lord Shiva. The Puraana(s) are full of descriptions of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and of goddess Gowri. Women are comfortable to worship these female goddesses because worshipping a male god like Vishnu or Shiva embarrasses married women who have a god of their own in the form of their husbands. Hindu women treat the husbands like god, not literally but emotionally. Goddess Lakshmi depicts the ordinary married woman in the Puraana(s) and the latter identifies herself with Lakshmi in terms of wedded life.

An idol or a portrait of Vara-mahalakshmi/Gowri is kept in the god-room and aarathi is waved in her face. Naivedya (offerings) in the form of different dishes, like daalithoye, chanaghashi, alsande upkari, Seeth (cooked rice), saaru (spicy thin soup for mixing with seeth), curds and paayasa (sweet gruel) are offered to the goddess, symbolically and served to the guests. All those attend the function eat at the same time.

The common prayer recited at the beginning of the Puja in this festival is a Sanskrit verse, which reads as follows:Sarva Mangala Mangalye Shive Sarvathra Sadhike,Sharanye Thraimbake Devi Naraayanee Namosthuthe.
Meaning, O Naaraayanee, (wife of Naaraayana), O Shive (wife of Shiva), O Thraimbake Devi (wife of Thraimbakeshwara) I salute you for protecting my and everyone's Mangalya (married status).
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