Nagarathars – Pillayar Nonbu

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Pillayar Nonbu - Part 1
Pillayar Nonbu is a very unique and important festival for the people of Chettinadu i.e. Naattukottai Nagarathars. On this day Lord

Vinayagar/Ganpati is worshiped by observing a fast. It is celebrated once in a year in December, on the 21st day after Thiru Karthikai or Periya Karthikai as the way we call it. The Nonbu / fasting which is for 21 days begins on the Thiru Karthigai day. On these days, only one meal (palagaram) a day is taken.

I hope to write about this function elaborately and in parts, since it is a very important function as far as Nagarathars are concerned and the upcoming children don't seem to have the exact direction of how and why the function

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is to be done. Hope these posts will be helpful to everyone. So today, in this post I am starting with the Organizing of the function.

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Organizing Pillayar Nonbu.

The 21st day, the last day of the nonbu, is the day when Sashti converges with Sathaya Nakshatram. It is a day of total fasting and the regular meal recommences after the final prayer has been offered to Pillayar. During the 21 days a thread from a new Veshti/Dhothi is drawn and kept before the God. On the 21st day all these 21 threads are collected and twisted together to make the wicks needed for the function.

On the day of the Nonbu a special pillayar is placed on the Nadu Veetu Kolam (a special kolam which is put only for auspicious occasions) in the pooja room together with a bunch of auspicious flowers (avvarampoo), tied around a small stick. The pillayar is beautifully decorated with flowers and garlands. The prasadams are placed before the God.

The very important prasadam on this day is Karupatti Paniyaram, which is a paniyaram made using rice, jaggery and karupatti. This dough is also used make small pyramid shaped pillayars with a small wick, consisting of
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21 threads, dipped in ghee is kept in centre of the pyramid. This is called Elai. Then comes Vellai Paniyaram made using raw rice, Ulundu vadai, Thirattupaal made using milk. The other offerings are puffed gingerly seeds, puffed rice, puffed maize, puffed millet, Kadalai(peanuts) urundai, Ellu Urundai, fruits, beetle nut leaves, paaku, etc.

Then the eldest couple make a house using strands of threads dipped in kolamaavu, on the walls of the swami room or where the pillayar is placed. This is called "Thumbu Pidithal".

After all the preparations for the function is over, the ceremony/function is started with the blowing of the sacred conch shell/sangu. The eldest person in the function lights the Elai Lamp i.e. the small pyramid shaped maavu with the wick in the centre. The first one he takes in the name of the God. Then the next one he takes for himself. And then gives one Elai for each those present in the function. It is the custom of the recipients to worship Pillayar, then receive the Elai and swallow it whole which symbolises that the Holy Spirit will become part of the devotee. An expectant mother
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receives two Elais. The number of Elai should be in odd numbers. Supposing you are 4 members in the family, then the no.of Elai should be 5. If you are 2 or 3 still the number of Elai should be 5.

After the Elai distribution is over, the prasadam distribution is done to the people present in the function. That is the food items which had been placed before the Pillayar during the Poojai.

So this is the way Pillayar Nonbu is celebrated by the Nagarathars of Chettinadu. To summarise the function. 1) Preparation of the prasadam, mainly Karupatti Paniyaram and Elai Maavu. 2) Nadu Veetu Kolam 3) Thumbu Pidithal 4) Distribution of Elai by the eldest male member in the group.

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Pillayar Nonbu - Part 2 - The Origin Of Pillayar Nonbu
The Origin Of Pillayar Nonbu

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Traditionally we Nagarathars belong to the Saivite branch of Hinduism. Our clan temples are all Saiva temples.

Fifteen centuries ago our Nagarathars lived in Kaviri Poom Pattinam and worshipped a Maragatha Vinayagar (Emerald Vinayagar). That particular Maragatha Vinayagar is not with us anymore and it is believed that it is with a branch of Nagarathars who left the main stream Nagarathars and settled down in the Nagercoil area.

A Nagarathar gentleman of Kaviri Poom Pattinam took a second wife after the death of his first wife who left him a with a daughter. In due course of time the second wife was blessed with a son and daughter of her own and then she started ill-treating her step-daughter.

When the second wife's son came of age they decided to conduct a Karthigai Puthumai ceremony for him. A Karthigai Pudumai ceremony is like an initiation ceremony for boys in the month of Karthigai. A similar function for girls called Thiruvathirai is conducted in the month of Markazhi.
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On the morning of the Karthigai Pudhumai celebrations the second wife was busy making arrangements for the ceremony. When she was working with her hands, she felt it would be better to remove the costly diamond ring that she was wearing on one of the fingers. She removed and left it nearby. But when she finished and looked for the ring it was missing. At once she concluded that her step-daughter must be the culprit and started accusing the poor girl in front of all the relatives and guests. Despite the repeated denials by the girl, everyone taking part in the function started accusing the poor girl. Even her father did not do anything to defend her.

Unable to stand the insults and accusations, the poor girl went without telling anyone to the Margatha Vinayagar Temple in the centre of the town and prostrated before the Maragada Vinayagar and pleaded thus with all her heart and soul - "Oh Margatha Vinayagar, I neither saw nor touched the Diamond ring belonging to my step-mother. But she refuses to believe my words. No one including my own father has raised a finger to defend me. You know I am innocent. If you are truly the supreme deity which our Nagarathars worship with such devotion, prove my innocence to all".
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Nagarathars – Pillayar Nonbu

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The chief priest of the temple was very moved by the devotion and faith of the distressed girl and assured her that Maragatha Vinayagar will certainly prove her innocence. He also tried to persuade her to go back home. But she said in reply "I will not leave this temple until I am proved not guilty. I will neither eat nor sleep until my innocence is established". Thus saying she began a long period of penance and fasting in the temple, putting all her faith in the Lord Maragatha Vinayagar. On the first night of her fasting Lord Maragatha Vinayagar appeared in her dreams and bade her thus - "I am very much moved by your devotion and faith. Commencing from today you must observe a period of fasting and meditation for a period of 21 days. During this period you must eat but only one meal a day and pray to me wholeheartedly. On the 21st day your innocence will be established".

The girl started her prayer and fasting at once but did not reveal to anyone about Maragatha Vinayagar appearing in her dream. Each day of her fasting she took out a thread from her sari, made it into a thread and planted it into dough made with rice flour, jaggery and ghee (maavilakku in
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Tamil) and then lighted the thread in front of Lord Maragatha Vinayagar and offered her prayers with great devotion. Twenty days passed but there was no sign of the lost ring being found. On the morning of the 21st day she made a vow to Lord Maragatha Vinayagar thus "If by the end of this 21st day the lost ring is not discovered I will surely end my life rather than lead a life of disgrace".

Nagarathars who came to the evening prayer noticed with astonishment a long line of ants emanating from the 21 lighted doughs (maavilakku) used as offerings by the girl to Lord Maragatha Vinayagar. Everyone became curious and followed the long line of ents starting from the 21 maavilakku to see where it ended. The long line passed through the temple and streets and finally ended in an ant hole in the girl's house. When they looked into the ant hole they noticed something bright inside. When they dug into the hole they were surprised to find the lost diamond ring. Only then the girl's step-mother remembered that she removed the Diamond ring from her hand and placed it on a stone step near the ant hole to prevent it from being soiled. It was not so difficult to guess what had happened after that.
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The ring had slipped from the stone and had fallen into the ant hole. The girl's stepmother and father felt very sorry for unjustly accusing the girl.

When the ring was found everyone was overjoyed. All the Nagarathars assembled in the Maragatha Vinayagar Temple and offered a prayer of thanks to the Lord Maragatha Vinayagar for establishing the innocence of the girl. They praised Lord Maragatha Vinayagar as the redeemer of lost things. To commemorate the above touching episode in the Nagarathar Community they decided to celebrate it every year and appropriately named it "Pillayar Nonbu".

Note : The above is a brief history of how Pillayar Nonbu originated. There is no written record about this festival. The story has been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth.

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Chettinadu Kolam For Pongal & Marriages
Here I am putting up some Kolams, which are used in some special occasions in Chettinadu. These kolams are called Nadu Veetu Kolams. We put it for Pongal, Pillayar Nonbu, Marriages, House Warming Ceremonies etc. These kolams carry a special importance in all our functions. It brings out the artistic creations in each girl. The kolams here in the photos have been put up by my sister, Kanthi Akka, in Madurai. And the photos have been taken by my Niece.

Pongal Kolam

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Nagarathars – Pillayar Nonbu

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Nadu Veetu Kolam

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Nagarathars – Pillayar Nonbu

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Pongal Kolam

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Pongal Kolam

Here are some kolam by my maami Mrs. Mani Megalai.

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Nagarathars – Pillayar Nonbu

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Nadu Veetu Kolam

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Nagarathars – Pillayar Nonbu

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Pongal Kolam

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