When I was small, Ayutha Pooja was a festival which I looked forward to with great eagerness along with Diwali and Pongal. One of the reasons of course, was the holiday from school which we got. But besides that, the more appealing reason to me was that Ayutha Pooja was the one day when we could, thanks to tradition, with a very clear conscience, desist from studying :-D!
The festival of Navaratri (literally translated to "nine nights") preceded Ayutha Pooja. My family did not have the tradition of keeping "Golu", which is the most prominent feature of Navaratri in Tamilnadu. Nevertheless, it was fun to get invited to houses of various friends and neighbors who did keep golu. Back then, we mostly used to live in bank-provided apartment complexes where we knew a lot of our neighbors (all the houses had at least one person working in one of the various branches of the same bank as dad).
So almost every evening, invitation to one house or the other was guaranteed. Sometimes we were invited to visit multiple houses on the same evening. At each house, we got to see the beautiful golu setup of idols. We invariably got delicious sundal to eat. Additionaly, we got flowers, kumkum and an small item like a kutti mirror or kumkum container (traditional items - I don't know the reasoning behind giving these) to take away.
Most of the times, one or the other of the invited ladies (usually only the lady folks were present - I don't know if only women were invited or the guys just stayed away) would sing religious songs. Sis and me were also asked to chime in with the devotional songs. But in interest of the physical and mental well-being of the others, we used to politely decline!
The most interesting Navaratri celebrations happened when we lived in Calcutta. Durga Pooja, as navaratri is commonly referred to there, is a very big festival in West Bengal. You could see pandals housing statues of Durga and other Gods in every locality. Some of these pandals were so beautifully and artistically decorated. Each of the durga pooja evenings in Calcutta was spent outside the house, visiting the various pandals spread across the city. The whole city was lit up with the festivities and it was a joy to be among the happy crowds.
The last day of navaratri, Ayutha Pooja (ayutham = weapon in Tamil but in this context, it more implies "tools") was a full fledged celebration at home. The cleaning up of the house and the implements in it started earlier in anticipation of the festival. Sis and I used to pitch in - we split all the electronics between us (TV/VCR/Washing machine/refrigerator etc.) between us for cleaning. Mom would supervise the cleaning of the doors and windows of the house by the maid. Dad would supervise the watchman/driver in the cleaning of the car.
On Ayutha pooja day, we used to go around the house keeping dots of sandal paste and kumkum on all the doors as well as on the implements in the house.This was considered auspicious. A string of fresh mango leaves would be strung across the main entrance to the house. We also kept all our books, writing implements and other tools of trade before the pictures of God.
I remember, when I was in 12th standard (the all-important year of school life, thanks to board exams) I got completely carried away and transferred my whole book shelf of school-books to the pooja room. My mom had to gently remind me that just keeping the books in the pooja room would not ensure telepathic transfer of knowledge :-D!
Anyways, after all this set up, dad would conduct the pooja. Then we would all settle down to an elaborate and scrumptious lunch made by mom. *Yummy*! Since, as per the demands of tradition, we were not supposed to use any of our school-books (teachers at school also usually did not give us homework - we always made sure to plead "inability to do homework" beforehand :-D) , sis and I used to either play all day or watched TV till our eyes popped out :-D. !
The next day was Vijayadashami - the most auspicious day to study. I usually used to try to read at least some of my subjects - maybe a page from each book. With that, the navaratri festivities came to an end.
Last night, I was chatting with my parents. Dad told me that it was Ayutha Pooja for them as it was October 1st in India. He then added that he and mom were not too keen on celebrating it as both sis and me were not at home. But they were still going ahead with the pooja to maintain tradition. Oh, I miss celebrating Ayutha Pooja :-(! I wish I was back home :-(.
I started cribbing to mom about missing the Ayutha Pooja festivities. So she said that I should try celebrating it over here. She asked me to clean my house, my car and cook something nice today (October 1st and Ayutha Pooja according to US time). I said I would try.
Today was one of those cloudy yet beautiful days. I opened the blinds across both the patio doors and let the diffused sunlight flood into the house. Then I vacuumed the whole apartment, dusted everything and did laundry. Basically, full-fledged cleaning. Then, in the evening, I made sundal, lit my kutti oil-lamp and said a little prayer for everyone.
Oh, this is not a patch on celebrating Ayutha Pooja at home. But I feel a little happier now. Even though I know I did not clean the car :-D!
Happy Ayutha Pooja folks :-)!