Friday, September 25, 2015

The Science of Tiru-Tambittu Deepa (Sacred Rice-Mound Lamp)

[This is a translation of a Kannada article penned by Sri Sri Rangapriya Swami. It succinctly captures the endearing and engaging conversation on the above topic he had with Mahaaguru in Hedathale, sometime in the mid nineteen fifties. The Kannada article is not only a refined and edited version of the notes made by him at that time, but also includes additional descriptions by him that he could recall. In this article an abbreviated format of “Sri V” is used to denote Swamiji based on his earlier name Sri H.S. Varadadesikacharya. He begins by giving an introduction to the tradition of Tiru-Tambittu Deepa.]
English Rendering by Padmashree Mohan

Tiru-Tambittu Deepa (‘Purattaasi Maavu Vilakku’ in Tamil) is a special vrata (a religious practice) observed on Saturdays in the months of Shraavana or Bhaadrapada (August-September as per the English calendar). 
Tiru-Tambittu Deepa

On these days, young boys after completing their prescribed daily rituals of bath and Sandhya-vandana, proceed from one home to another home of sages and elders singing out aloud "Sri Venkateshaaya Mangalam," or "Sri Nrsimhaaya Mangalam," or "Malai Kuninju Ninra Perumal to seek bhiksha (alms) of rice. (The latter expression refers to Lord Srinivasa who stands, gently bent forward with compassion, atop the Tirumala hills to receive eagerly his tired devotees.) This alms-seeking is a spiritual practice and very different from begging for food.  This bhiksha is called upaadaana and it refers to collecting offerings to God given devoutly by the masters of the household. 
The hallowed alms thus collected is made into an edible offering to be offered to the Lord during worship and then to be given to Bhaagavatas (the devotees of God.)  Normally it is made into cooked rice, offered to God and then distributed among devotees. On the above-mentioned Saturdays, there is another recommended method for the use of this bhiksha. The rice is soaked in water and the wet rice grains are pounded to a fine powder in a mortar. Coconut and jaggery are also pounded to a paste and mixed with the moist rice flour.  The mixture is then pounded again to be made into dough.  (Alternatively, the rice collected from alms may be ground into dry flour and then mixed with coconut and jaggery to form dough.  However, the first method is considered superior.)  The moist dough is then placed in a plate, and shaped into two balls with deep hollows in the center.  Ghee is then poured into these hollows.  The plate is then placed before God.  Two cotton wicks are placed in the ghee contained in the mound exclusively on the right side, and the lamp is lit as part of worship.  This Rice-Mound Lamp (Tiru-Tambittu Deepa) is left undisturbed till the light consumes all the clarified butter. When the light gently dies out, they devoutly utter (in Tamil) "Perumaal Malai Eerinaan," which means the Lord has ascended the top of the hill. After this, the wicks are discarded and the rice dough (soaked with the percolated clarified butter) from both the mounds are combined and kneaded together and then rolled into many smaller balls to be distributed among all as Prasaada (the offering to God to be partaken by the devotees) and the remaining is consumed by the one observing the Vrata.  This particular Prasaada is called "Tambittu" or more appropriately (in Tamil) "Tiru-Vilakku Maavu" - the wet rice-flour-based dough of the divine lamp. Even if one has not ventured out to collect upaadaana (alms) they may prepare the Tambittu out of rice from their own homes and offer it to God and then distribute it among all as Prasaadam.  Some make a vow to perform the Tambittu Vrata towards the fulfillment of specific wishes. Others do so without being desirous of any particular material end in mind.

{Similarly on one Saturday in the month of Bhaadrapada Sri V after having performed the Vrata proceeded with Tiru-Vilakku Maavu Prasaadam to offer it to Mahaaguru (His Spiritual Master and Elder Relative) at about 3-30pm in the afternoon. Most elders would have accepted the offering routinely as part of the practice of the vrata without any deliberations.  But Mahaaguru did not do so. He usually used such occasions to educate and enlighten his disciples and others regarding the inner and external scientific basis of traditions instituted by jnaanis (enlightened ones) and rishis thereby removing the veil of ignorance in their minds.  In this instance too, Sriranga Mahaaguru blessed Sri V with several educative insights. For this he himself initiated the conversation first by asking questions and using them as a means for further explanations}.

Initially, Sri V entered the house of Sriranga Mahaaguru with the Tambittu offering in a plate.  He placed the plate on a raised platform near a pillar and prostrated to Mahaaguru.  He bent and did abhivadanam (an introductory Sanskrit verse elucidating one’s lineage and line of vedic study), picked up the plate again and held it before the Mahaaguru.  Instead of simply taking the offering, he started asking some questions.

Sri Guru: What is that?

Sri V: Tiru-Vilakku Maavu, Maama. (In Tamil, Maama is a respectful appellation for elders). 

Sri Guru:  Why should I take this?

Sri V: I do not know.  But you must accept this and bless me.

Sri Guru: If you will tell me why I should accept this, I will take it from you.

Sri V did not know the answer to the Mahaaguru’s question.  He only remembered someone saying that the tambittu prasadam had to be distributed among all because it is the prasaada of jnaana. However he knew that it was an incomplete explanation.  He was desirous of knowing the correct answer to the question from the Master exponent Mahaaguru. So he said what he had heard and awaited further elucidation from the Master himself.

Sri V: Besides being sweet, this is jnaana-prasaada.  Hence I have heard that it must be shared with all.

Sri Guru: How does this become jnaana-prasaada?  Jnaana is realized within oneself. Have you not heard that Bhagavad Geetha expounds that jnaana is to be realized by one within oneself at an appropriate stage and time of Yoga saadhana (the practice of yoga)?

Sri V: I have heard that.

Sri Guru:  How can this external sweet preparation become that jnaana experienced within?  Moreover, is jnaana-prasaada something present inside?  When the mind is calm - without turbulence– that state is called manah-prasaada. How can this externally constituted and material-based offering which you make become such a prasaada?

Sri V:  I do not know, Mama…In just the same way that the offering to God of sugar, coconut, flowers and fruits in a temple become prasaada, I suppose. 

Sri Guru: The question that I asked earlier applies to these too.

Sri V: I do not know the answer.  You only should tell. 

Sri Guru: (Goes into dhyaana for a little while and with a tranquil mind, answers in the following words). Jnaana-prasaada is certainly an inner experience.  It is the transcendent consciousness which confers internal bliss and is beyond the senses, mind and intellect. However, the mind, the eyes and the hands of a jnaani or a mahaatma who has experienced that jnaana-prasaada are also charged and energized by the rays of that transcendent light. Now if such an embodied being of Supreme consciousness touches or sees any external object, then the same Jnaana-Prasaada is transmitted into it and that object also becomes Prasaada. Partaking such a sanctified substance with love and devotion helps re-kindle the same jnaana-prasaada inside that person too.  That is why the intermediate substance is also called Prasaada.  This is the origin, background and intent behind this tradition.

(As Sri V was listening to these soothing and refreshing words of the Mahaaguru he is filled with an inexplicable sense of mental bliss, akin to the manah-prasaada mentioned above. But he persists with asking more questions to get other insightful answers on a rare topic such as this.)

Sri V: Why should only this specialized and deliciously sweet mix of rice flour, finely shredded coconut, pounded jaggery and ghee befit being called jnaana-prasaada?

Sri Guru: That mix of rice flour, ghee from cow's milk, coconut and jaggery (Brown Cane Sugar), when blended in right proportions to prepare this delectably sweet tambittu and taken as prasaada greatly helps in putting the Dhaatus (seven vital inner elements) and senses into a state of balance that is favorable to perform dhyaana (meditation). "mumukshoh maadhuryam." "saatvikaah madhura priyaah."  Madhura-Rasa, which may be understood as sweetness, is particularly dear and beneficial to those desirous of moksha (release from the cycle of birth and death) and to saatvikas (the virtuous). Many substances may produce an experience of sweetness.  But the sweetness of the Tambittu stimulates a special kind of Prasannataa (bliss) and does it quickly too.

Sri V: In that case, would it not be enough simply to consume such a preparation?  Why should we go through the tantra (a religious performance) of placing it before God, lighting a lamp in it and so on?

Sri Guru: That is not a mere tantra, a mere bodily motion.  The Deepa is lit with a divine motive to reach God.  The light that is lit represents the Light of the Paramaatman Himself.

Sri V: Why should we use only ghee to light that lamp?  And what is the need to add so much ghee into it?  Is it because ghee can make everything that much tastier to eat?

Sri Guru: That cannot be explained with such levity.  In this instance, ghee is not added just to enhance the taste experienced by the tongue.  Ghee, no doubt, promotes health, longevity and vitality. Ghee made from cow's milk not only nourishes the body, but also provides sustenance for the Atman (the soul). Further, it is important to use a wick of appropriate size in the Tambittu vessel filled with ghee and then light the Lamp. Then, if one gazes intently for a while at the soft and gentle flames of such a Deepa the very sight and aroma from this divine flame will induce the Dhaatus and mind into a state of tranquility. Subsequently rasa (mood) induced by consuming this prasaada leads one to the Paramaatma-Rasa.

Sri V: Why are two circular hollow cavities made in those two mounds?

Sri Guru: Those two mounds represent the two halves of the brain.  The right side of the brain is Purusha (the male principle), and the left side of the brain is Prakrti (the female principle).  The lamp is lit only on the right side which symbolizes Purusha.

Sri V: What is the reason behind shaping the mounds to represent the brain and then to light the lamp?

Sri Guru: When a person with proper samskaara (subtle impressions and predilections accumulated in mind due to past experiences) gazes on the gentle and steady flame contained in a receptacle resembling the shape of the brain, then the mind can reconnect to the original Paramaatma-jyoti (the light of Paramaatman) glowing in the brain.  With the aid of this lamp, if a person is able to obtain that spiritual experience, there is no doubt that one’s deepest longing gets fulfilled.  Because the lamp represents Paramaatman, its darshana (sight) will leave favorable samskaaras in the minds of other people too. 

Sri V: My grandmother says that the use of moist rice powder is superior to dry rice flour in the preparation of this Tambittu. How is this? Is not the end product the same whatever the method?  Why go through the more laborious and tiresome process of pounding the soaked rice?

Sri Guru: Physical strain is not the consideration here. When the tambittu is made, with the right proportion of wet rice, shredded coconut and jaggery bits, and pounded and blended together it acquires a special hue. It is important that right amount of jaggery is added. Then, the resulting color which emerges will resemble the color of the human brain. Tambittu made from dry rice flour does not yield such a color. Hence the darshana of the tambittu made of pounded ingredients has a greater impact.

Sri V: Why is this Vrata only observed on Saturdays of the months of Shraavana or Bhaadrapada?        

Sri Guru: This vrata is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Just like the month of Kaartika and the Mondays of that month are special for the worship of Lord Shiva, Saturdays in general, and particularly those in the months of Shraavana and Bhaadrapada are favorable for the worship of Lord Vishnu.  Hence these days, and these months are propitious for worship of Lord Vishnu. 

[Sri Mahaaguru’s illuminating exposition, transcendental presence, and radiant eyes   filled Sri V with unspeakable contentment and bliss. He looked at the Mahaguru steadily filled with a deep sense of gratitude. Gladdened by the intent and mood in Sri V’s looks Mahaaguru uttered: "Now give me the Tiru-Vilakku Maavu you have brought.  It is now imbued with a special Rasa." Sriranga Mahaaguru accepted the tambittu, and Sri V prostrated to him again and returned home.]