How Veni Dhanam is not only an interesting, but also amusing, ritual!
The performance of Veni Dhanam at the Triveni Sangamam is a vital part of the Kasi pilgrimage
The hair offering ritual at the Triveni Sangamam
In my previous article I had described the events and rituals that took place on the first day of our Kasi yatra culminating in the Veni Dhana Anumathi puja, which is the performance of the pada (feet) puja by my wife to me as her husband as a symbolic permission for her to commence the Veni Dhanam. Being an important part of the ritual process, I have taken the liberty of taking you through this interesting, if not amusing, tradition in some detail.
Veni Dhanam is an interesting ritual performed at the Triveni Sangamam whereby women offer a part of their hair to the river praying for the long life of their husbands. It is performed by the husband combing and plaiting the wife‟s hair and after decorating it with flowers and putting vermillion on her forehead, cuts off the tip of the plait, then after it is wrapped with the turmeric by the panda, it is placed on the prayer plate. Some men even shave off their hair/beard and offer it to the rivers. Performing the ritual of combing and plaiting the wife‟s hair I decided to shave off a bit of my hair symbolically while my brother-in-law went for the works. This procedure was performed on the boat as the photo shows.
Wading into the Sangamam and performing more rituals
We then waded into the Sangamam and offered our wife's plaited hair along with flowers, other mangala items like haldi kumkum, betel leaves and nuts, bangles, comb and mirror etc at the confluence. What is interesting here is that hair being light normally floats on water, but at the Sangamam the hair immediately sinks straight to the bottom of the river bed. Though hundreds of people offer their hair every day, not a single strand of hair can be seen floating on the river! Of course there could be a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, but whatever it is, it gives us proof that nature is a wonderful thing….. Call it God or simply nature, it is indeed awe-inspiring! Then tying the wife‟s sari-end to the husband‟s angavasthiram (upper dhoti-end), both of them hold hands, walk towards the Sangamam and then dip thrice into it. We did as we were told. The current was so strong that it pulled us towards it. Luckily there were stakes planted into the water and tied to each other with ropes and we held on to them so that we were not swept away (see photo).
What was surprising here is that the Ganges and Yamuna showed distinctive colours as far as the eyes could see. We then filled our plastic cans with the holy Ganga jalam (Ganges water) from the Sangamam, after which we returned to the priest's residence for the performance of more rituals. It must be mentioned here that enough money must be available when going on the boat to the Sangamam, because from time to time during this event the boatman, priest, barber etc have to be paid. By the way after returning to the priest's residence the Ganga jalam that we had collected was sent to a nearby shop to be filled in brass pots of varying sizes and sealed. This would enable us to take them back home and distribute to our relatives and close friends as well as take them to Rameswaram for abishekam. At the priest's residence tharpanam was performed, and some cooked rice was given to our accompanying wives to prepare 17 pindams (rice balls). The pindams were offered to our ancestors accompanied by the relevant rituals. These pindas were then immersed in the Ganges.
All these procedures were completed by about 4pm, after which we lunched and left for Varanasi. Reaching Ganapadigal‟s residence, the priest explained the next day's events. Before we slept there that night we visited and prayed at Kasi Viswanath, Visalakshi, Annapurneswari and Kala Bhairavar temples.
My next article will focus on the rituals that we performed on Day Two.
Incidentally I appreciate that this article and similar ones on pilgrimage travel may not appeal to everyone. However there are, I am sure, many Wikinuts who would welcome this sort of literature for its educational, informative, spiritual, motivational, inspirational and even entertainment value. As a social anthropologist specialising in peoples, cultures and traditions I have therefore taken the liberty of dealing with the traditions and customs of pilgrimage travel at some length.