Pushpaka Brahmins (Malayalam:പുഷ്പക ബ്രാഹ്മണര്) or simply Pushpakas (Malayalam:പുഷ്പകര്) are a class of Brahmins in Kerala. They carry out the various activities of the temple including priestly activities. Pushpakas lived on the income of the temple and were under its care. There are many subcastes within Pushpakas: Unni, Nambissan, Nambiar, Chakiyar, Pilappalli, Kurukkal, Karthavu, Nampidi, Adikal, Muthathu, Elayathu, Shanikal and similar Brahmin communities. They learn Sanskrit texts, shlokas, mantras etc. and work as teachers in Pathasalas associated with temples. They also do priestly duties and ceremonies for the lower castes on behalf of the Namboothiri priest. They are also performers of temple art forms such as Theeyaattam and Brahmanippaattu.
There are similar Brahmin communities found all over India: like Niyogi Brahmins of Andhra Pradesh, Chithpaavan Brahmins of Maharashtra, Bhumihars of Bihar, Mohyal of Punjab or Tyagis of West Uttar Pradesh.
Pushpaka brahmins use the surname Sharma in common. However, there are various subcastes and accordingly there are different surnames in use. The most common surnames are Unni, Nambeesan (also spelt as Nambissan or Nambisan). There exists surnames like Nambi and Nambidi also. The surname Nambeesan is used by the Pushpakas in the north and central Kerala. Surname Unni is used in central and southern Kerala.certain pushpaka of thrippokkudam, vaikom of kottayam are eminent in different type of poojas.
The contribution of Pushpakas of Kerala to the cultural heritage of India in the fields of art is substantial in everysense. They have through the centuries developed several art forms of a religious or quasi-religious character. The major art forms developed and maintained by Pushpakas are:
As per the famous Parasurama myth, the warrior sage Bhargava Rama (Parasurama) is said to have brought a group of Brahmins to Kerala of which 64 families were allowed to conduct the priestly duties in the temples. They became the Namboothiris. The remaining families of Brahmins became their assistants. Their work was socially very respectable.
Pushpaka brahmins wear Yajñopavītam and adhere to the 'Gayatri' mantra. The pushpaka brahmins belong to various Gotras and each gotara has associated pravaras. The gotras are Vasishta, Gautama, Atreya, Kashyapa, Bharadvaja, Viswamitra and Agastya. Each gotra has distinct pravaras.Marriages within the gotra ("swagotra vivaha") are banned under the rule of exogamy in the traditional matrimonial system. People within the gotra are regarded as kin and marrying such a person would be thought of as incest. Since it is believed that gotra membership passed from father to children, marriages were permitted between cross-cousins (children of brother and sister). Thus, a man is allowed to marry his maternal uncle's daughter or his paternal aunt's daughter but is not allowed to marry his father's brother's daughter, a parallel cousin, who is treated as a sister. This dubious explanation of gotra based marriages has long been a source of discontentment and criticism.
Most of the Pushpaka Brahmins used to follow complex rituals in connection with major events in their lives, such as pregnancy, childbirth, education, marriage, and death. The majaor Samskarams are illustrated below:
The term "Shodasakriyakal" refers to sixteen rites to be performed by all Pushpaka Brahmins
A rite to be performed just before the first sexual intercourse after marriage. The 4-day process of marriage ends with Sekom (symbolic insemination), just before and after the first sexual intercourse, in the first night, that is, the night of day-4. It is supported by Vedic chanting.
"Pumsavanom" rite has to be performed just after the sexual intercourse intending to give birth to a child. Since the result is unpredictable just after the intercourse, this rite is usually performed on an auspicious day during the third month of pregnancy. If this is not possible, it may be done in the 4th, 6th or 7th month. The husband, through a Manthram, asks his wife whether the "medicine" she "consumed" intends to conceive a girl or a boy. She answers that she is Pumsavanam which means she consumed it intending to give birth to a son. It is followed by a request by the husband to God, through another Manthram, to educe the concept of pregnancy, to pave way for it to the womb, to remain there for ten months and to give birth to a healthy and intelligent child. Manthrams are recited intended to develop female fertility, to advise the wife on the role of mother, for enabling breast-feeding (after delivery), to make children powerful, for the long-life of children and to remove several other hurdles during pregnancy. Vedic chanting (Manthrams) intended for purifying semen as well as the uterus is also done.
Seemantham is to be performed in the 4th month of pregnancy, but after "Pumsavanam". If this is not possible, it may be done in the 6th, or 7th month. Manthrams are intended to purify the foetus and to request Brahmavu, Agni, Ragadevi, Vishnu, Soman and Gangadevi to protect it, to make the delivery smooth and to make the son intelligent.
It has to be performed on the child by the father (in his absence, a relative), preferably within 90 "Naazhikas" (36 hours. 1 Naazhika = 24 minutes) after birth or on an auspicious day. Manthrams are intended to request God to bring longlife, intelligence, memory power, and to make the infant studious, wealthy and powerful. Some of the Manthrams are chanted to formally welcome the child to the family. Through a Manthram, the father tells the child "You are born out of my semen, hence you are myself. You will be known as my child. You will live (as my son/ daughter) for 100 years". During Jaathakarmam, a mixture of ghee (melted butter) and honey is given to the infant as a base for its various foods in the future.
Naamakaranam is the process of giving a name to the infant, on the 11th or preferably 12th day after birth. If that day is otherwise not auspicious then perform it on the next auspicious day. After `Punyaaham', either the father or a close paternal relative of the child.
Nishkraamanam ceremony involves taking the child out of the house for the first time, on an auspicious day (in the fourth month after birth) or along with Choroonu. Father takes the child out, visits a holy tree and comes back.
Choroonu is the ritual of feeding the child with rice for the first time. Rice is the primary food of a Brahmin, which is why the first intake of purified rice is celebrated on an auspicious day. After Punyaaham, Manthrams are chanted to request Agni to purify the food. A mixture of melted ghee and honey, followed by boiled rice are served to the child. It is performed in the 6th month or after 7th month of birth. The 7th month is inauspicious for Choroonu.
It is a process of the child's first haircut by Seethikan (a subclass of Nair community) in the presence of family servants (Adiyaar) on an auspicious day. Girl's choulam ends here. Boy, for the first time in his life, chants Manthrams intended to integrate Bruhaspathy (Brahman, Priest of Devans) into himself to enable him to perform rituals in his life. Other Manthrams include several prayers to gods, knife and the barber. Kousheetakan Namboothiris do not chant Manthrams to knife and barber. Being the maiden performance, the boy begs pardon for his imperfect pronunciation while chanting Manthrams and mistakes while performing rituals. After Choulam, the concept of "Sudham" (the concept of being tidy and free from pollution) commences in his/her life. After Choulam, the rite of Kathukuthal (piercing the ear lobe) is performed, on another auspicious day, for both boys and girls. Choulam is performed during the 3rd, 5th, 7th year or later but before Upanayanam.
Upanayanam is the beginning of the process of confirming Namboothirihood on a Namboothiri boy. Since Upanayanam is considered as a re-birth of the boy, its "Muhurtham" (auspicious time) should be carefully selected so as to remove the unfavourable aspects in the boy's horoscope. It is performed usually during the 5th, 7th or preferably the 8th year.
Usually for the first son, the priest (Aachaaryan) in this ceremony is his father himself. But sometimes, for the second and later children, one of the boy's paternal uncles may come forward to act as Aachaaryan. It is important that the boy has to perform the last rites of his Upanayanam Aachaaryan. By becoming Aachaaryan in Upanayanam, his paternal uncle thus ensures that there will be somebody to do the last rites after death.
Aachaaryan who performs Upanayanam of the boy, as blessed by Sun, assumes charge of Aswi, Pooshavu and Prajapathi. He then confirms Brahmin hood on the boy and leads him to education. During the process, the Aachaaryan logically deposits a part of himself in the boy's soul. He teaches the boy to perform Kaalu kazhukal, Aachamanam and traditional bathing (all as part of keeping absolute cleanliness) and advises the boy to continue to perform these throughout the life. Also he advises not to sleep during daytime, and to study Vedam all by themselves. A teacher is very much necessary. The Aacharyan then blesses the boy and starts education. This process usually takes a day. The boy is then called Brahmachaari and the period till "Samaavarthanam" is called Braahmacharyam. During Braahmacharyam, the boy is supposed to study Vedam and received traditional advices.
During Braahmacharyam the boy performs daily rites like "Ookkal" (offering "Arghyam") as part of Sandhyaa vandanam. It starts by around 5 a m (in Braahma muhurtham). After sunrise, the boy proceeds to "Samidhaadaanam" [or Chamathayidal or Chamatha (flame of the forest - Butea) in short], which is a Homam, (or ritual using fire). Sandhyaavandanam and Samidhaadaanam are repeated at dusk, too. After morning Samidhaadaanam, Japam and Namaskaaram commence. The Japam (or chanting of hymns) is repeated 1000 times. The whole process of Ookkal, Sandhyaavandanam, Samidhaadaanam, Japam and Namaskaaram are together called "Thevaaram". Food is taken only after Thevaaram. Thevaaram goes on to till about 10 a m. During Braahmacharyam, Muthira (flat gram), Kayam (asafoetida), Onion, Uluva (fenugreek seeds), outside-made coconut oil and pappadam, etc. are not allowed, with food. The style of Namaskaaram changes, once the boy starts the lessons in Vedams, to Suryanamaskaaram, a slightly more difficult exercise as an offering to Sun, by chanting specific Vedamanthrams. Each step in suryanamaskaaram has several body positions and this exercise is usually repeated 108 to 150 times, which, later enhances to 120 to 200 times. During Thevaaram and while taking food, the boy is supposed to speak only in Sanskrit. After Thevaaram and food, the daily classes of Vedam start. The objectives of these daily classes and subsequent homework are meant to learn the entire Vedam by heart. Average and less intelligent boys take a long time (say 8 to 10 years) to complete this formal education while intelligent boys complete it in around 6 to 7 years. Classes and homework are continued strictly till evening rituals, which are mostly the same as Thevaaram, described above. Six holidays, consisting of two Ashtami days and Pradosham to Prathipadam (4 days), are allowed per month. Before Samaavarthanam, various steps to be performed are the processes of advising Upanishads, Braahmanams and Aaranyakams to the boy in the following three steps. If a boy wants to change from Kausheetakan to Badhoolakan recension, Upanayanam is the stage. Once a boy starts with the Manthrams of Kausheetakan recension, he has to remain as Kausheetakan till his death. This is applicable to all the five Braahmanan recensions. It is to be noted that a girl changes her recension during her marriage. After marriage, she automatically becomes the recension of her husband.
This is an year-long process for studying Vedams by chanting it under strict guidance. In olden days, the boy was supposed to study the complete text (Samhitha) of all the three Vedams namely Rigvedam, Yajurvedam and Saamavedam, irrespective of the Vedic tradition of his family. Since it takes several years the studies were restricted to his family's Vedam. Muthalmura, the training to the boy to achieve perfection in Vedic chanting, is part of it.
It is a 12-day long rite as part of studying Braahmanam and Aaranyakam by chanting it under strict guidance. Braahmanam contains the Vedic text for the rites to be performed in Yaagams. Aaranyakam contains the Vedic text which helps the boy for information and knowledge base creation.
It is also a 12-day ceremony for studying Upanishads. Earlier, the boy had to study Braahmanam, Aaranyakam and Upanishads completely, but later it was restricted to a 12-day rite.
This is a ceremonial thanks-giving to the Aacharyan (priest or teacher). Godaanam means Go-midhunam-daanam which means donating a cow and an ox couple to the Aacharyan, and supported by Manthrams.
Samaavarthanam marks the boy's return to normal life after Vedic education. Samaavarthanam is usually conducted after the boy completes 14 years.
Samaavarthanam starts with "Gurudakshina" and accepting the blessing from the teacher. Through Manthrams, prayers are made to various gods to protect his eyes, ears and legs and to make him known in the public, smart, acceptable, enlightened, long-lived, etc. Some Manthrams are intended to request the "dandu" (holy stick, which he carries always) to protect him from animals. The concept of Hiranyam (the enriched form of Agni) plays an important part here. Manthrams are chanted to take several pledges by the boy to perform various tasks, and not to be engaged in unwanted and unethical activities, all as advices by the teacher. After Samaavarthanam he proceeds to advanced education, by selecting various fields like Mathematics, Astronomy, Vyaakaranam, Tharkam, Nyayam, Dharmam, Meemamsa, etc.
Marriage is "Veli" for bridegroom's party and "Penkoda" (sending off a girl to another family, as wife), for bride's family. The bride is called "Kudi".
"Ayaniyoonu" precedes marriage. Ayaniyoonu" is a process of having traditional bathing and lunch, at an auspicious time. Since most marriages are performed in the bride's residence, the groom starts from his residence, after Ayaniyoonu. Marriage is a four-day ceremony. Marriage starts with a four-hour long ritual on the first day. The whole process of marriage is full of Manthrams. Some are intended to pray to the different gods individually to bless the couple. Gods like Devi, Pooshavu, Indran, Varunan (god of rain), Vayu (god of wind), Soman (protector of the earth), Bruhaspathy (protector of Manthrams), Agni (fire-god), Panthadevi (God of ariel paths) are separately addressed to. Several pledges by the couples for being generous, kind, non-violent, knowledgeable, punctual in rituals, etc. are also taken through Manthrams. Brahmins believe that the bride has been under protection of Soman, Gandharvan and Agni during infancy, childhood and as a youth, respectively, and that Viswavasa protects her virginity. Hence the bridegroom has to please these gods through Manthrams and rituals, thank them for protecting her till marriage, and marry her in the presence of Agni. Groom does several rituals along with the bride.
Is done by father. Smruthi suggests two types of thaalikkettu. Either the bride's father or alternatively, the bridegroom, may do it. The former enables the wife to perform the Bali, and Sraadham of her own father mother and husband and also to perform "Nedikkal" (simple oblations performed at home), unlike in the latter case. Tamil Brahman women, for example, need their husbands to perform rites and rituals. Out of the eight different marriage styles for Indian Brahmanans, the only style which needs the bride's father to do Thaalikettu was opted by Namboothiris. It is called Kantthasoothram. All the other four are called Mangalyasoothram which need husband to do Thaalikettu. For ladies, Kantthasoothram is better as it enables them to perform the above said rites and rituals of her own parents, without help from her husband.
After this rite, the girl becomes a member of husband's family.
The first instance of viewing the face of the bride by the groom by slightly moving the veil.
The bridegroom holds the hand of the bride supported by Manthram-chanting. Style of holding of hands is different for different Vedic recensions. Among Kousheethakans both bride and groom stand for Paanigrahanam. The groom holds the hands of the bride, before which the bride has to close her fingers like a bud. Saamavedi Namboothiris do not include "Paambu viral" (middle finger) in this bud. For Aaswalaayanan and Saamavedi Namboothiris, the bride need not stand for Paanigrahanam. After Udakapoorvam and before Paanigrahanam, the bride belongs to both the families. It gains importance if "Pula" (pollution) suddenly appears in between Udakapoorvam and Paanigrahanam. She has to observe 10-day pula in case of a death or birth either in her own or in the groom's family. If a birth or death occures in her own family after Paanigrahanam, she needs to observe only 3-day Pula. Also it gains importance in case of the unfortunate death of the groom during the marriage ceremony. If it happens before Udakapoorvam, the marriage is treated null and void and the girl is allowed to return to her family, but if it is after Udakapoorvam, the bride becomes a widow, with the Pula restriction applicable as narrated above.
"Malar" (popped rice, like pop-corn) is ceremoniously served into fire for pleasing and then praying to the bride's family deity to detach her from her father's "Gothram", and to attach her to groom's "Gothram", but not to detach her from her deity. At the end of Malarhomam the bridegroom performs a process called "Ammichavittikkal". It is for advising the bride, after helping her to step on the Ammi, to be strong like Ammi (grinding granite slab used in kitchen). Ammi symbolises strength, firmness, physical fitness and integrity. These two processes are repeated. When Malarhomam begins, "Veli Othu" also begins.
Several Brahmins chant Veli Othu in chorus, for enlightening the bride and to mentally prepare her to face the challenges as a wife and then, a mother. "Veli othu" is a fairly long part of Rigveda that narrates the feelings of a bride on the pre-marriage and post-marriage period and also the duties of a wife and a mother. It is a story-telling by Soorya, the daughter of God Sun, about her own feelings and experiences during her marriage with Soma (Moon). Soorya's narration turns out to be advices and vital information on marriage, to the bride. "Veli Othu" ends with advices of the bride's father and prayers to several gods.
It is the bride's first entry to the groom's residence. It is probably the first chance for women to take over the control of the marriage ceremony. Women welcome both bride and groom inside the house, lead them to 'Nadumittam' (central quadrangle of the house). The eldest female married woman in the groom's family performs Nedikkal of "Appam", a sweet, while children (only boys) try their level best to hijack Appam before Nedikkal. Namboothiri women perform "Kaikottikkali", a dance form, in the Nadumittam. Immediate relatives of the groom serve milk and plantain to the bride and groom.
Just after Kudiveppu and a small Homam by name "Randaam Homam", the Oupaasanam Homam begins. It is a Homam to be performed daily in Vadukkini by both husband and wife till death. The fire from the marriage fire-pit is used to light the fire-pit for their first Oupaasanam. It is their duty to keep this fire going till their death. The "Sruvam" (long wooden spoon made of Plaasu) used for their first Oupaasanam has to be kept for later use, during the husband's cremation. In the evening of day-1, the husband performs a Homam (Vedic ritual) in the Vadukkini. It is repeated twice a day, till day-4. On all these 4 days, the wife sits on a woollen carpet laid on a design drawn using rice powder. During Homam, she is symbolically connected ("Thutarnnirikkal") to the husband using "Darbha" (a type of grass). She bathes only in the morning of day-4, while the husband takes regular bathing and performs daily rituals.
This 4-day long marriage process has recently been shortened to 3 or 4 hours by symbolically performing all the above processes.
Agniadhaanam is basically an Aadhaanam, an initial ceremony of his Sroutha performances in the future. It is a rite performed as an extension of Oupaasanam and an introduction to Sroutha rites to be performed in his further Vedic life. After successfully completing all the previous 15 rites in series, if he could complete Agniadhaanam rite perfectly, Aadhaanam is the last of the Shodasakriyas.