I grew up in a household where every festival was and still is religiously celebrated with great bhakthi and bhukthi. I’ve been trying to recreate those traditions here at my home. Each festival has its own set of pooja procedures. I am writing what I remember here at Mahanandi. This pleasure of festival series is for me and for those of you who would like a reference point. The pooja traditions I follow are from my birthplace, Nandyala in India. You are most welcome to contribute what you know and follow.
The Pleasures of Festivals ~ Nagula Chavithi
Nagula Chavithi is a festival where serpents are worshipped with great devotion. Nagula Chavithi is celebrated during the months of “Sravanam”(August) and/or in “Karthikam” (November). “Nagu” means the snake and “Chavithi” is the fourth day after every newmoon day. On this day, devotees observe fast and worship Nagamayya, the supreme snake- the Seven hooded cobra. Fresh flowers, milk, vadapappu, chalimidi, nuvvula-mudda and fresh coconut are offered as neivedyam. Thoranam is also placed infront of Nagamayya. Devotees offer milk to Naga Vigraham beneath the bodhi tree in temples and some complete the pooja at home placing an idol of a snake just for that day.
Legend behind Nagula Chavithi is that during the churning of the ocean by gods and demons in search of “Amrutham” (the nectar of immortality), a snake was used as rope and in the process, a terrible poison (“garalam”) emerged. The poison would have engulfed the whole world, but for Bhagavan Shiva, who swallowed it and retained it in His throat. His throat turned blue – hence, Bhagavan Shiva is called “Neelakantha”. However, a few drops spilled and to ward off the evil effects, people worship the Cobra, the king of snakes, to pacify the brood and protect themselves from any ill effects.
The day before:
Clean the home. Clean the bhagavan mandir.
Shopping list: Yellow moong dal, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, jaggery, cardamom, ghee, fresh milk, dry coconut and fresh coconut for pooja, cotton thread for thoranam. Fresh flowers and fruits.
Ingredients preparation: Crush or grate the jaggery to fine. Grate the dry coconut. Crush the cardamom seeds and prepare cardamom powder. Store them in clean jars.
On Nagula Chavithi Day:
Purify with a head bath. Decorate the mandir with fresh flowers.
Prepare neivedyam: Vadapappu, chalimidi, sesame laddu.
Vadapappu: Soak half cup of yellow moong dal in two cups of water for about an hour. At pooja time, drain the water and add the rehydrated moong dal to neivedyam platter. For detailed vadapappu recipe and photo -click here.
Chalimidi: soak 3/4 cup of rice grains in water for about half an hour. Drain the water and spread the rice on a clean cloth to air-dry for about 15 minutes under the sun or fan. Take the semi-dried rice in a food processor or mortar. Grind or pound to fine powder. It comes about one cup of rice powder. You could also use readymade rice powder for chalimidi for convenience. The taste won’t be the same though.
To this rice powder, add quarter cup of dry coconut powder, one cup of finely crushed jaggery, a tablespoon of white poppy seeds and a teaspoon of cardamom powder. Blend the ingredients without adding any water until well combined. Take this sweet rice mix in a bowl. Take about three tablespoons of this mixture into your hand. Press gently into round shape and some into cylindrical shape. Usually the moisture from rice and jaggery is enough to shape the mixture into rounds. If necessary, sprinkle few drops of water or melted ghee for easy shaping. This is chalimidi. Place few chalimidi on neivedyam platter.
Nuvvula Mudda (Sesame Laddu): Crush or grate jaggery to superfine mix. Take a cup of sesame seeds in a food processor or stone mortar. Add a cup of jaggery, quarter cup of rice powder, quarter cup of dry coconut powder and a teaspoon of cardamom powder. Grind or pound the ingredients well without adding any water. Sesame seeds have to reach from powder to oily mix stage. When you see the oil from sesame seeds starts separating, remove the mix to a bowl. Mix in a tablespoon of poppy seeds. Take two to three tablespoons of mixture into your hand. Press gently into round shape and some into cylindrical shape. These are nuvvula mudda. Place few nuvvula mudda on neivedyam platter.
Now the neivedyam is ready. On to the pooja.
For Nagula Chavithi Pooja:
Prepare Nagamayya: I do not have Nagamayya statue at home, so I make Nagamayya with wheat flour. Take quarter cup of wheat flour in a bowl. Sprinkle few tablespoons of water, knead and make tight dough. Roll the dough into a long, round coil. Shape the coil into a snake form and press the coil end into snake head(padaga/ hood) form. Cover the snake in turmeric and kumkum mixture. This is Nagamayya and the deity of the day is ready now. Place the Nagamayya in bhagavan mandir. Decorate with fresh oleanders and other flowers. Place a small glass of fresh milk and a spoon on the side.
Prepare the thoranam: Take a cotton thread in three rows. Apply turmeric to the thread. This is thoranam. Place it in front of Nagamayya.
Place the neivedyam platter with Vadapappu, chalimidi and nuvvula mudda in front of Nagamayya. Place fresh fruits (bananas).
Light the deepam and agarbatti.
Offer milk to Nagamayya. Take a teaspoon of milk and gently pour onto Nagamayya head.
Recite Sri Subramanya Swamy Astothharam for Nagamayya. Meditate.
Break the coconut. Offer coconut water and then mangala arathi to Nagamayya.
Take the thoranam and tie it to your right wrist. Do the same for your family members. While tying the knot, make a wish.
The pooja is finished. Leave the home and spend few minutes in front or back door. This is a tradition so that the Nagamayya can have some privacy to enjoy the neivedyam.
After few minutes outside, come inside and have neivedyam prasadam with family and friends. Usually we fast on Nagula Chavithi and have only neivedyam, milk and fruits. The next day on Naga Panchami, we prepare the feast with payasam, pulihora and vada or bajji, along with rice, dal, curry and dahi. After offering the neivedyam to bhagavan on banana leaf, the festival feast is shared with family and friends.
Mothers gift their married daughters new clothes, bangles, sesame laddus and dry whole coconuts. Elder sisters also share the gifts with younger sisters.
After evening mangala arathi, sendoff Nagamayya into woods. Place the deity on a plant or tree and leave it there for the nature.
This completes the Nagula Chavithi celebrations.
I had the pleasure of celebrating the Nagula Chavithi and Panchami last Friday and on Saturday (August 13th and 14th). I wish I had taken some photos of neivedyam for this article. Even without photos, I hope the pooja procedure is clear and easy to follow. May Nagamayya bless us all.