Athirathram: – The Vedic Ritual of Hinduism.

Western Analysts had glorified Hinduism as a Culture, a Way of life, embodied with a set of rituals purportedly to protect Nature. Every ritual is believed to be Sacred. The ritual is a customary way of celebrating religion and its culture. Different religions have chosen different systemic ritual practices like meditation in Buddhism and Baptism in Christianity.     

Homams are part and parcel of every ritual belonging to the Vedic Culture of Hinduism. Athirathram is one among the Holy rituals. Athirathram is performed by Hindu priests who belong to the Upper-caste strata of the Chaturvarna system of Hinduism. The Priests invoke Agni, the God of fire and start performing the Homam eliciting  Blessing of Fire-God. It is believed that Yagna, the Homam of Athirathram accelerates seed germination and also enhances microbial presence in air, water and soil in and around the altar of the fire ritual.

 Athirathram is a twelve-day ritual. On the ground where the ritual is to be performed, a bird-shaped altar is built using 10800 bricks.  According to the ancient Vedic belief system, figure ten thousand eight hundred is derived from figure 108 which has special significance in terms of Vedic numerology!

The mystic ritual and its purported benevolences directed at protection of Nature were totally unknown to the outside world.   It was during the year 1975 that Athirathram drew attention of the people outside the confines of locals in India. It was due to the efforts of a European origin Philosopher Frits Staal who created global awareness through films and a book on Athirathram authored by him. 

 In April 2011, the 12-day ritual which began on April 4 and ended on April 15 was organized by a section of so-called Nature protectionists. It was held in a village called Panjal in Trissur District of North Kerala. The village is a sleepy hamlet where large number of Namboothiri Brahman families is settled. The program came to a grand, majestic finale followed by large-scale publicity in both the visual and print media

 For over many years Athirathram was almost discontinued in India mainly due to the rise of Jainism and Buddhism in the Country. Nevertheless, a few Namboothiri Brahman families in Kerala wanted to keep up the unbroken 5,000-year old tradition of the ritual. To keep the culture alive and to save the face of Athirathram, in the year 2011, they formed a Trust comprising of some traditionalistic, belief-centric scholars along with sake-savers of Hindu Culture. They included personals from Cusat, Cochi, M G College, Thiruvanathapuram, Government College, Pattambi, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore and from Andhra University.

The investigating team headed by the Trust, planted three types of seeds namely cow-pea, green gram and Bengal gram on the sides of the ritual venue at varying distances. On the completion of the ritual they informed the public that germination of the seed was quicker and growth of the germinated plants was better in the areas closer to the fire-altar compared to the seeds which were placed in the soil away from the altar. They went on to add further that the Bengal gram grew 2000 times faster than the other seeds.

According to the Namboothiri and the team of scholars, the vibration produced in the air surrounding the Yagnashala, that is the spot where the Homam was performed along with the chanting of scriptures, accelerated the process of germination of the seeds. They asserted that the findings would certainly help dispel wrong notions associated with Vedic rituals. They further explained that it is the need of the time that Athirathram be introduced in every part of the Country for protection of nature, environment and also for increasing farm products. 

The ‘Scholars’ also reported that they focused on counting bacterial colonies at three locations namely, within the yagnashala, 500 meters and 1.5 kilometers away from the yagnasala. The report added that microbial analysis made before, during and four days after the yagna had revealed that the air in the vicinity of the yagnashala was pure and had very low count of microbe colonies and that microbial activities in the soil and water around the yagnashala were remarkably less compared to the areas outside the perimeters of the yagnashala.

In order to find the truth about the reported benevolent impacts of Athirathram that was held at Panjal, Kerala Yukthivadi Sangham (Rationalist Association of Kerala) decided to conduct a detailed spot-study involving the whole episode of the ritual. The study-team included Dr. Shankaranarayanan, retired Scientist and Research Scholar of Bhaba Atomic Research Centre, Bombay, K P Sabari Girish, ex-Statistician from Department of Economics & Statistics, Dr. P K Narayanan, Science Litterateur and Analyst, U Kalanathan, Social Activist and a group of Rationalists. They visited the place just one week after the climax of the Athirathram Ritual.    

The team first visited two of the Namboothiri families and met elders and also youngsters who were studying in schools and colleges. Next they went around the Yagnashala and examined the plants and its present condition of growth which was followed by a close verification of the growth of the seeds planted near the yagnashala and also outside the perimeters of the Yagnashala.  The team then went to the nearby pond and also the paddy fields in the vicinity of the yagnashala and closely examined the condition of the water in the pond and the growth condition of the paddy. The finding of the spot-study revealed, –

  1. One of the elderly women living in the Namboothiri family was suffering from cold and breathing problems. During the ritual period her breathing problem increased beyond control and her cold turned into severe fever which forced the family to lift her to the nearby hospital for treatment. The doctor attending the patient opined that the smoke and the smell emitted out of the yagnashala might be the reason for her sudden sickness.    
  2. The youngsters whom the team questioned revealed that they were disturbed because of the day and night-long sound and fury, smoke and the crowd around the yagnashala and they lost sleep for more than a week and also could not concentrate on studies.
  3. As for the seeds planted inside yagnashala ground and the ones planted outside the periphery of the ritual-ground, there was no noticeable difference in its sprouting and growth even though the soil inside the yagnashala was wet and the soil outside the periphery was dry.
  4. The pond near the yagnashala was as dirty and mud-stridden as it was earlier. About a dozen ladies and men who were taking bath in the pond responded to the query of Study-team that the claim of the organizers of the Athirathram was absolutely false and that the water in the pond had no change in its condition before and after the completion of the ritual. Similarly the paddy fields stood dry and the paddy-plants had no impact of growth due to the ritual as claimed by the ‘Scholars’.
  5. Another visible impact of the ritual was that the leaves of the small plants in the vicinity of the yagnashala had started drying and falling down. It might be reasonable to conclude that the reason for drying the leaves was the heat waves emanated from the Homam that is the Fire.           

The above findings proved undoubtedly that the wide publicity and  announcements made by the so-called researchers and the investigators were false and cruel to the nascence of the people. Both the media and the researchers belonged to a clan that still wants to high-light the Hindu belief system and religious practices as omnacious and that these practices shall have to be made as global-glory of ancient Vedic culture of Hinduism. What else could it be!