Sacred Ritualism - The True Path of Devotion

Its been a while since I took to serious worship, and when I say serious worship I mean a certain level of orthodoxy being practiced in my daily lifestyle. What started out as a need of the hour activity in my spiritual realm has now culminated into a deep, well nourished experience in sync with divinity. Have I felt the Gods yet, weirdly yes, but I can't explain it. 

I took to Tantra, to deep worship of the great Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati, who in my mind occupy more forms than one. I worship potent powers following rules of orthodoxy as prescribed during initiation. I have lived this way for a while and it has transformed me into a far better individual than I could have become, left to myself. 

I watched several friends follow their paths, we exchange notes but no one had the drive to go through with it in the purist way. There is a strong connect with materialism and a fear of the unknown that clouds their worship and I do not understand, why they would harbor such a fear. They are men, strong well placed, well initiated, luckier men who have had certain privileges that I have been denied, thanks to my gender and despite our education they seem to belong to an archaic world where women are forbidden to do most things. 

Yes I became a rebel, not just to defy these kind of men who believe they are the keepers of spiritual faith, but to find out just what about it prohibits me from doing what they do. I have had several people tell me I am not entitled to worship the Lord,  but here I am, a far more purposeful devotee more by denial. Somewhere along the way the focus moved away from rebellion to a deep rooted search, a thirst for the Lord and I find my kind of nature map towards one other person - Karakkal Ammaiyar. She is my guardian angel, she is my Guru, she is my Ammaiyar. 

I want to redefine Puja, in the method of Bhakti. Devotional love which I can churn up in plenty, has been carefully tuned to the service of the Gods. For me the Lord is real, not a figment of my imagination, he is for real. My day is not complete if I don't spend time with him, my hunger waits till he has been fed, my karmic duties pause till he blesses my day and my actions are but offerings for him. It has changed my outlook to life, well almost changed (I have a couple of thoughts to iron out and I will be good). People don't bother me, they are not the most important for their place has been taken by the Gods. 

For me, worship is not a wish fulfilling tree that grants me prosperity when ever I ask for it. For me, worship is a discipline, with a set of practices which enable me to focus more on the Lord. I am a ritualistic person by choice and I champion these practices in my own little way. I am not here to prove to anyone that it works, it works for me and that is enough. 

My world is best described by a few insightful thoughts that redefine worship in Karaikkal Ammaiyar's world:

Professor Elaine Craddock from the Department of Religion and Philosophy writes:

"Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s transformation from ideal wife to ideal demon devotee is particularly transgressive and serves to highlight the rupture between the domestic world of ordinary rituals and a life lived entirely as a ritual offering to Shiva. Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s renunciation of domestic life to live in the cremation ground praising Shiva is an example of "ritualization,” a term used by several theorists, and defined by Catherine Bell as ritual as lived practice, as a way of acting that uses diverse strategies to differentiate meaningful, powerful or sacred action from ordinary behavior."

The true definition of ritualism has been captured so beautifully. I can through my ordinary behavior, transform my own quality of existence by taking a little more trouble with a discipline that prescribes a method towards better effective living enhancing my spiritual growth. 

But the best is yet to come :-

"Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s poetry dismantles the paradigm of human order and duty rooted in the household not by focusing on gender roles, but by extolling devotion to Shiva in a community of devotees in which gender is irrelevant."

Karaikkal Ammaiyar's life is not just an example of exiting the social realm in order to seek pure love with the Lord, she signifies the departure of a woman from "household duties" thrust upon her by the social order of the time. Her transformation from a beautiful wife to a demon devotee shows just how much she defied society and chose to live in the silence of the cremation ground after sacrificing her youth. 

Her permanent home, is at the feet of Lord Shiva, where restrictions don't matter. When the heart is in the right place and the mind is in sync, there is nothing to stop it from achieving its goal. 

As the great Ammaiyar quotes in her poetry:

A female ghoul with withered breasts, bulging veins, hollow eyes,
white teeth and two fangs,
shriveled stomach, red hair, bony ankles, and elongated shins,
Stays in this cemetery, howling angrily.
This place where my Lord dances in the fire with a cool body,
his streaming hair flying in the eight directions,
is Tiruvalankatu. 

(Tiruvalankattu mutta tirupatikam 1.1)10


Tranquil said...

This is beautiful Kavitha, thank you.
When women step outside of socially ordained roles they are accused of hyper-individualism.
Their struggles are therefore immense.
I have not understood what you mean by ritual. The quote you have used seems to indicate something different from offering flowers, fruit, water, lighting lamps, incense, etc. Have I understood right?
Thank you.

Kavitha Kalyan said...


Thanks for posting your comment, there is a slight difference in the understanding. When I am a ritualistic worshiper there are 2 parts to my being. The one that "I am" and the one that "I do". The reference you have made here, is a deep symbolism through "offering flowers, fruit, water, lighting lamps, incense, etc", where Sandal wood signifies earth, flowers signify ether, incense signify wind/air, lighting lamps signifies fire and fruit signify divine ambrosia - prasadam. Water is the method of offering to fire. This worship symbolically represents your inner purpose to conquer the elements and it represented by the first 5 chakras in kundalini yoga - lam, ham, yam, ram, vam.

What I am talking about includes this, but this is a drop in a larger ocean. During worship, I take the path of ritual (as a doer, i do all the above mentioned) but as the seeker, I am much more. I adour the deity, I offer my mind, my consciousness to the deity and during worship i "try" to maintain my focus on the deity. The more the focus, the deeper the connect, the stronger the bond. The Gods start to look real, they are a part of my life, and they extend beyond the physical form, the idol/icon representation of them is now a vehicle that carries the power of my emotion to a different realm.

When we address ritual, it means this entire experience, not just the action of offering ritualistic items but the heart and consciousness should also be offered. When this happens, bhakti flows and ritual takes a different meaning, its no longer mechanical you see, its far more profound.

That is the true value of puja, it is the right path to expressing devotion and it is totally worth it.

Hope I was able to answer your question.


Srivilas Reddy said...

Brilliantly elucidated Kavitha!!
If I may add - the eternal Grace of Guru is available when we become receptive( when we are ready karmically)
Regards ,