Wings and Chirps

Wanderings of an Itchy Feet

Tag: cowrie

#MythicalMondays – Kowdi and the Panikkar

I hope you enjoyed reading about the Manjadikuru, the magical red seeds, and the folklore associated with it. Here’s the second part of this series on the various items kept in the brass uruli inside my pooja room.

Not sure if you have heard of Shiva Nadi. Nadi leaves (Olai Chuvadi/Ola) are plam leaves on which horoscopes were written in ancient times. I have myself seen quite a few of these as my parents’ horoscopes are written on these Nadi leaves. Nadi astrology originated in the southern part of India and was put into practice by many sages. Sage Agasthya was a great disciple of Lord Shiva and he was able to write the future of a person from just his thumb impression. Nadi scripts are written on palm leaves and is extensively used in Vaitheeswaran Kovil in Tamilnadu. It is believed that these scripts are passed over to them generations after generations.

In Siva Nadi, the predictions start with a dialogue between Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, who requests Lord Shiva to tell the predictions of her son/daughter. Lord Shiva then gives the predictions. The Maha Siva Sukshama Naadi is more exhaustive and accurate in predicting events as compared to Kousika and Agasthiya Naadi or other Naadi Jyotisham followed by others in the south.

Karthikeya (Subramanya, Muruga, Kumara, Velayudha or Skanda), the eldest son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, with his divine power memorized all the scriptures of Sanatana Dharma, a subject too vast to assimilate in the lifetime of a human being. It is said that even before his birth he had overheard the Shiva Naadi Jyotisham as Lord Shiva was explaining it to Goddess Parvati and he had memorized that as well. Once Lord Shiva approached Karthikeya and said, “As you have comprehensive knowledge of the scriptures and all the branches of Vedic science, you are also perfectly versed in the science of jyotisha (Vedic astrology). Please tell me what it says about my future. “

Karthikeya obediently prepared a birth chart of his father after reading the various bundles of Nadi leaves. Examining it for a moment, he looked up and said,

You will have two wives, no possessions to speak of, and you will spend your entire life as a homeless beggar with no place to call your own.”

Hearing Karthikeya’s predictions, Shiva said, “It is true that you can accurately predict the future, but you don’t know the correct way to share that information with others. Even when describing your own father’s life, you make it sound so shameful. How will you disclose the information to ordinary humans then? Instead of presenting your predictions in a positive light, you speak indiscriminately and wound others with your words. Henceforth, even if you and all those who study the science of jyotisha have all the correct information at your fingertips – time and place of birth, and the positions of the stars and constellations at that time – you’ll not be able to predict anything with complete accuracy.”

Saying this, Lord Shiva threw the bundles of the Nadi leaves into the ocean. Some of the leaves were ingested by the organisms in the ocean, like the shells, snails molluscs and the likes. Only a few could be saved by Karthikeya. This is why it is believed that these shells hold information about our future and can help in predictions. And thus it is believed that the cowrie shells help the Panikkar or the astrologer to predict the future with great accuracy. Cowrie shells are used in traditional astrology in South India to predict the future.

I have grown up in a traditional family where the first thing that was done as soon as a child was born, is to call the Panikkar, share details of the time and place of birth of the child and request him to prepare their birth chart. The Panikkar then chose a day to come and read the chart for everyone’s understanding. The cowrie shells are held locked inside the right palm of the astrologer. The astrologer then shakes the hand well and throws the cowrie shells on the ground. The astrologer then counts the number of shells that have turned upside down. I used to find it all a little too scary as a toddler. Later I was fascinated by the different types of cowry (kowdi) shells that he used to calculate and recalculate the places of the grahas and nakshatras in a person’s chart. All I could make out of the reading was Budhan, Shukran, Shani, Chovva, Rahu, Ketu, Suryan, Chandran and a million different houses and apaharams. 

The Kerala method of delineation of horoscopes using ‘cowries’ (sea shells) is highly valued for its accuracy, according to astrologers from India and abroad. These kowdi shells were also used in ancient times as currency. As kids we have also played various games using these kowdis including Ludo and Snakes and Ladders. These sea shells and cowries are believed to depict a form of wealth which creates a spiritual ambience. They are also believed to attract positive energy and financial prosperity.Hence they are kept in your home temple. These are used in the worship of Lord Maha Vishnu and Goddess Maha Lakshmi. It is said Yellow Kowdi or Cowry attracts the blessings of Lord Kubera, the God of wealth and Goddess Mahalakshmi who brings in more avenues and sources of income.

Similarly, Gomti Chakra is another type of shell that I have in my pooja room. This is also believed to be a favourite of Goddess Lakshmi.

And who doesn’t need money or wealth?

As for my view on astrology, I do believe in it as a science of calculations. Just like I believe in Quantum Physics or the Theory of Relativity. But I do not go to any astrologer or follow any astrological predictions as my belief in that Supreme Power that controls us is far more than any or all astrologers and sciences combined. Whatever has to happen, will happen. We can’t stop it. It’s a myth. All we can do is strengthen ourselves mentally and physically to endure and overcome it.

DISCLAIMER – This story is purely based on an article I read as a teeneager and there is no factual evidence to prove the authenticity of this content. No intent to hurt any religious or regional sentiments.  And most importantly, I am not an astrologer.

#MythicalMondays – Manjadikuru

Most of you now know that I hail from Palakkad District in Kerala. To be precise, a small village between Ottapalam and Shoranur, the two nearest railway stations. The infinite train journeys to Kerala on-board the Kerala Express or the Mangala Express remain a significant part of my childhood memories. We made a lot of friends. Even though most of those friendships lasted only for those 48-50 hours of journey, many a teenage love stories bloomed and died during this short period of time. Some of these had me as the supporting cast while a few others had me as one of the lead characters. But each one of these died within few minutes of getting off the train while a few others breathed their last only when we found a new crush.

There is another incident, a regular practice during our temple visits, especially Guruvayoor, which I hold very close to my heart. Stirring the manjadikuru at the Shree Guruvayoor Kshetram. The magical little red seeds. It is believed that the seed contains 12 tiny white elephants, considered lucky for a dozen wishes. At Guruvayoor temple, a large ‘ottu uruli‘, a heavy-bottomed vessel, is placed near the entrance to the sanctum of the temple and it is filled with bright red “manjadikuru” seeds. It is believed that the devotee who places his hands in the ‘uruli’ and ploughs or stirs through the seeds three times is cured of all diseases and attains prosperity.

Here’s a story that I read online. A Tale to Tell From Guruvayur
by Anjali MenonThe exact story that was narrated to me by my maternal aunt, Girija Mema.

The origin of this practice lies in folklore of the temple of Guruvayur. According to the story, a peasant woman who lived in the northern province of Kerala was an ardent devotee of Krishna and aspired to someday visit Guruvayur temple. It was customary to bring offerings to the temple, but she was too poor to afford any gifts. She knew of an old tree that shed beautiful shiny red seeds, so she gathered a handful of them. Leaving the safety of her home and loved ones, she set out on her quest to reach Guruvayur. It was a long, perilous journey on foot during which she had to traverse rivers and deep forests.

Four days later she arrived in Guruvayur. Apparently it was the first day of the month, and the local ruler or Naaduvazhi would visit the temple on the first of every month. To display his devotion, he would donate an elephant every month as an offering to Krishna. Officers of the Naaduvazhi cleared people away from the path to make room for the ruler and his elephant. During the procession the women was knocked to the ground, spilling her precious pouch of red seeds on the ground. Immediately the elephant went berserk and began to run wild. People ran for their lives as the mad elephant began to destroy everything in its path. Unable to control the elephant, the Naaduvazhi prayed to Krishna for a solution to this dangerous dilemma. Suddenly a voice was heard from within the temple: “Where is my Manjadikuru? Where is my devotee, who you have insulted and hurt? Where is my gift that she lovingly put together?”

As the story goes, the people apologized to the woman and gathered up her seeds that were scattered on the ground. With her pouch full of seeds she was escorted into the sanctum of the temple. After submission of her offering, the elephant returned to normal. In memory of her offering, even to this day, a large urn of shiny red seeds is kept within the temple.

These are called manjati in Tamil and Gulgangi in Kannada.

We used to have this tree at my paternal grandmother’s (Achamma’s) house and it was customary for us to spend our days at her house picking up Manjadikuru. Whoever managed to pick up the most was considered the richest. In fact, Achan who was always an angry young man too joined us in picking up these seeds, much to the annoyance of Achamma as she had to keep waiting for him to finish playing with me.

While most people land in Kerala to buy latest design gold jewellery or kasavu sarees or enjoy the famous delicacies like puttu kadala, kappa with meen curry, or a sumptuous sadya, I bought two packets of manjadikuru at rupees forty each from Guruvayoor temple on my last visit, about two years ago.

What do you think is on my list for purchasing on my next visit? It is an uruli. Uruli is a traditional cookware extensively used in Southern states of India. It is commonly made of clay, copper and bronze. Amma has inherited a huge Ottu Uruli from her mother and brought it to our house in Delhi. I want an ‘Ottu Uruli’. A bronze one to be kept inside my Pooja room with my collection of manjadikuru, kunnikkuru, kowdi and gomti chakra stones.

Do you know that astrologers across India and probably the world use kowdis for their calculations? Why?

More on this in my next #MythicalMondays post next week, Kowdi and the Panikkar

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