This beautiful story is related to a puja (worship) that was performed in our village after a long wait of 30 years. My village, Ranchula is in the Pauri district, Uttarakhand, a very beautiful state in northern India housing a portion of the foothills of the Himalayas. This time the elders of our village, gave us youngsters the charge of the complete ceremony and told us to not only participate but also lead and perform worship Athwad puja.
In this puja, the Kuldevi – goddess of the entire family/community – is who we pray to and worship seeking blessings. This puja is also done for the happiness, peace, good health, progress, and protection of the villagers. The last time this puja was done was approximately 30 years ago, this time it became more important to perform because all the people living here in our village were facing a lot of problems. As if someone was falling ill, someone had an accident, there was trouble in the house and there were incidents and deaths happening in our village, other things that made people uncomfortable and worried. Our family goddess is also called Rakshak Devi – the ultimate protector goddess – known to give peace and protection when needed.
The sarpanch (leader) of the village suggested the puja to all the villagers and people living outside the village. He shared information with everyone about the puja and that it needs to be done in the month of June as the stars are in the perfect position. All the people agreed and all the families were asked to deposit a minimum of ₹ 3000 and while there was no limit to the donation. Then Pandit Ji (the priest) fixed the date from 8th June to 10th June, a three days puja. The three days of Puja were going to look different each day.
My whole family went to this puja, our ancestral house in the village was in bad shape and we recently built a new house. I was very excited about this puja because this gives me an opportunity to know about our deities, customs, and many more things. Here comes the BEST part in this story, in this puja, an animal sacrifice is to be made, BUT this time the village and the people decided that instead of a real living animal, coconuts and vegetables would be used in its place. Sacrifice is generally banned in India and there is a provision of punishment for sacrificing.
On the first morning of worship, Pandit ji worshiped the Mother Goddess and then Mandaan is done during the day. At night Jagri plays the drum and sings the songs of the Goddess. Then all the people of the village men, women, and children dance in a circle to celebrate the blessings. On the second day, Pandit ji continued the puja and then told all the villagers that at 5:00 pm the village would be circumambulated, walk or go about or around, especially ceremoniously. Pandit ji walks in front chanting mantras and the villagers walk behind and the whole village is circumambulated. This ceremony finished at 10:30, after that Pandit Ji told us that no one will go outside the village and will be able to go tomorrow only after Bhandara, the big feast. On the 3rd day, then in the last comes the turn of sacrifice, so the coconut was broken at that place. Then Pandit ji broke the coconut and finished the worship, all the villagers ate Bhandara together.
I enjoyed this puja very well. I also came to know about our customs which we do not get in the cities. The most important thing was that this was accomplished by being kind to animals and starting a new tradition, we took a step towards changing the world this time and hope to continue the tradition.