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The Ashtamangalyam Thatte

by Padmaja Menon
(Bangalore, India)

We were going through a bad phase in life. Children were not settled; husband was having health issues so we decided to go to a jyotish or astrologer in Pallakkad during one of our annual visits to Kerala. In Mangalam, in my husband’s house an astrologer would arrive in style whenever people living outside Kerala visited. It was like a ritual and he would be treated royally. The silk asana or Payi (reed mat) would be laid out like a red carpet and he would be given breakfast, lunch and also the vettila tatte(betel leaf) would be put out for him. Most of the Panikkar’s would be found in Padur district for foretelling the future. You feel apprehensive when they roll out the dice or shells(kavadi) to do prasanam. You are worried the shell will fall in a negative place and your future is doomed! What attracted me was the word Ashtamangalyam or Ashtamangala puja. Which is what the Panniker asked us to do. It was quite an elaborate puja and it involved the use of eight auspicious items in the puja. It brought to my mind the Ashtamangalyam thattu or tray that finds pride of place in every Mallu’s house. We also had it in gleaming brass. It was usually made up of;

A para – (Kerala rice measure) to hold paddy

A lamp (Nila vilakku) – signifying fire

A Kindi – vessel with spout for water

A mirror replica …

A camphor/vermillion holder – Cheppu

A bell – new artifact for effect?

An Urli – vessel to hold rice

A changalavatta lamp.

The tray can be in bronze or brass and even gold. In fact my daughters had got one each for their wedding too as gifts. What was its significance, I wondered. Since it was common in Kerala Nair houses for many years and still remains a popular item, adorning many a living room and forming part of the antique display, there must have been some deeper significance, right? I decided to dig deeper into the topic to get to the details. The eight objects on a tray are meant to be auspicious, propitious, fortunate for owners and is kept at a prominent place to bring good luck. The items of Ashtamangalyam have varied over time.
The eight items specified in the ancient book Suddhi Thatvam are Brahmin,cow,fire,gold ghee, sun ,yoghurt, honey and the ruler but now mostly you find puja items. Thank God just imagine having to carry the ruler on a tray!! The Ashta mangalyam has always been historically connected with marriage and in a slightly more elaborate way during Tiruvatira. The Vishu kani also has this tray taking pride of place to see (Kani) in the morning.

And why the number 8? Each number has many associations in Hinduism and many stories attached to it. The earliest Vedas mentioned eight Adityas (solar gods) and eight Rudras. Then again Goddess Lakshmi had eight forms, Lord Vishnu had eight Shaktis, Indras vasus (attendants) are eight in number, and of course space itself is divided into eight ruled by the Vedic gods Indra, Varuna, Kubera, Yama, Agni, Niruthi, Isana and Vayu. Coming to personal salutations, you did it in eight ways or did a sashtanga namaskaram with 8 limbs of the body. Yoga or ashtanga yoga itself has eight sections yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharna, dhyana and Samadhi. Eight further manifests itself in many ways, in the eight forms of sexual enjoyment aka Kamasutra, - Darshan, Sparshan, Keli, Kirtan, Guhya Bhashan., Sankalpa, Adhyavasaya and Kriyanavritti (Looking, touching, flirting, praising her qualities, speaking to her alone, wishing to acquire her, being near her and physical intercourse are the eight types of sexual enjoyment types defined in ancient scripts). The significance of eight continues on with eight brahminical qualities, eight visions, eight ears of Brahma, eight auspicious visions, eight methods of worship, eight types of misfortunes, eight forms or Ganesa and Siva (ashta murthi), ashta bhogam, ashta abishekam and so on….in summary eight is a very important number.

In fact the eight forms of worship are apparently with water, sandal paste, flowers, incense, light, grains, sweet and fruit. So, we have a Kindi for the water, a tail lamp and a mirror for the light, a tray for the flowers or fruits, a small vessel or a bronze urli for the sweet (perhaps kalkandam or jaggery), a para for the rice offering, a cheppu for the vermillion/sandal paste. But while this was the concept, it evolved over time to include agar bathi stand, triple lamp, camphor stand, hand bell etc to make it more like a puja set.

In Palakkad weddings, girls carrying lamps and Ashtamangalyam receive the bridegroom at the bride’s place. From Lalithambika’s writings we come to note that widows are not allowed to touch the Ashtamangalyam, which signify that it is related to auspicious beginnings and luck. Woe to widows, we should do away with all these outdated norms. Women are a powerful lot widows or not and as we all know. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.


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