Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Griha Pravesh": a Tamil housewarming ceremony


Recently, we got a chance to attend husband-ji's cousin-brother's Griha Pravesh, which was a traditional Tamil housewarming celebration & pooja. This celebration was a bit different, as it was held abroad in the USA, but nevertheless the family was resourceful in sticking to traditional Tamil rituals as much as possible.

Buying your own home is said to be the second most important event for a Hindu couple after marriage. It is like a big deal. It indicates financial stability for the family and it is a very proud moment - most of all for the parents of the young couple. After a couple buys their own home, the parents feel that they can finally relax and stop worrying about them.

Much like a wedding, the housewarming pooja needs to be held at an incovenient auspicious time, usually at sunrise. Luckily, it was still Winter so we didn't have to get up too early! The auspicious time is also scheduled considering both of the couple's star positions - exactly like a wedding (I think it was something like 7:37am).

Buying your own home is an extremely auspicious event, so Tamilians always have a special housewarming ceremony to bless the house with prosperity and to ward off evil spirits or "entities"

Vaastu Shastra is a belief that the home itself is a living being, which ghosts or spirits can inhabit and take shelter inside during vacancy - even if the home is brand new. The housewarming pooja is about respectfully acknowledging these entities and purifying the space. It is about cleansing the home so that the young couple can have a new beginning, with peaceful and positive energy.

In India, one would not even step into the house, prior to the Griha Pravesh. But here abroad, with home tours and inspections, it is simply not possible. To bend the rules a bit, the priest will tell you that it's okay to enter the house, however one should not cook/consume any food in the house (ie. "live" in it before the pooja is done). One should also not sleep in the house before the pooja is performed.


On the day of the Griha Pravesh, at sunrise, the husband and wife must stand together in front of the house, holding the idols of Vishnu, Mahalakshmi, Ramana, and Ganesh. The husband must wear a vashti, and the wife must wear a 9 yard silk saree. Both of the spouses should be freshly bathed. One of the spouses should carry a silver bowl full of holy water (if we were in India, it would be water from the Ganges river, or any water that is blessed by the priest will do). The priest had blessed the water and invited the holy spirit of the Ganges into the water in the bowl. 

Husband-ji's aunt put turmeric and kum kum on the front door step to increase the auspiciousness. Then cousin-brother broke a coconut on the front door step. The breaking of the coconut symbolizes the removal of obstacles.


After that, the husband & wife walk hand-in-hand and step into the house together with their right foot first. This is to signify their equality and partnership as a marital team. They step over the turmeric/kum kum mixture.

Everyone can enter the house at this point, while the family and the priest set up the pooja. By this point, the children were starving, so the priest bent the rules a little bit and I fed them in separate room in the house. 


The pooja was set up in an east-facing direction as to honor the sunrise. The gods were set up on an elevated table-like structure while offerings signifying prosperity (like fruits) were laid out below them.

There was also a fire pit which was set up below the gods, called the "vaastu homam". The fire blesses the home with prosperity, good health and wealth. 

Before the pooja starts, the young couple takes the blessing from the parents and elders. The first pooja that was performed was a Ganapathi (Ganesh) pooja, which removed obstacles and signified new beginnings. After that, the Vaastu homam (fire) pooja was performed. The smoke of the fire is said to cleanse the house of these entities. In India, the fire would be done with wood, but since we are abroad, they did it by burning dried coconut instead.


Another auspicious ritual is the boiling over of milk during the mantras. The wife puts a pot with milk on the stove and lets it boil over, signifying an abundance of wealth. Once the milk spills, everyone cheers and claps.

During the pooja, friends and family would be coming and going and giving their congratulations and blessings. After washing their feet, the guests can approach the pooja, where they will offer flowers to the gods. In return, the young couple will give them fruits. 


In India, a cow will be brought in by a priest to bless the house by peeing in it or releasing it's dung (I kid you not!) However, abroad it is not possible since we don't really have any cows that are roaming about. In India, the cows will be trained to even walk up 5 flights of stairs to bless an apartment - they are that obedient!

The end of the pooja is signified with a celebratory song called a "Mangalam". Two women of the family will take a small plate of water with kumkum and rice, and sing a devotional song to the goddess Mahalakshmi. Then, they take the water and pour it into a tree outside.

After the pooja is over, everyone has a big vegetarian feast to celebrate!

After the ceremony, the young couple must reside in the house from then onwards, since it is inauspicious to leave the space vacant after purifying the space. 


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18 comments

  1. It is wonderful that you make such good attempt to understand the meaning of the complex rituals. and describe so vividly.
    The holy events are performed more of less in the same manner by all Hindus at their Vastu Shanti or any other Sanskaras, but some may not adhere to all the steps esp. in big cities or outside India. Many priests also allow for tweaking of the rules, e.g. children and pregnant women can eat in a tent pitched in the garden or in the garage.
    I wish that Vedic emphasis on the equality of the wife and husband is followed in real life too. Even in the Saptapaadi (Seven steps) in a Hindu marriage either they both go around the fire together or the bride leads 4 times and the groom 3 times while making specific vows to remain united in love and friendship.

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    1. Yes, we did that at our marriage....I quite liked leading my hubby around the fire. The meaning of being equal partners in the household was something I really admired about this ritual.

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  2. Alexandra, the way you have explained this ceremony is wonderful. I've never been to a grihapravesh ceremony here in the States, but I have been to many in India. When we moved in to our home here in the States, we didn't do any ceremony as such but I did walk around with some incense sticks, blowing smoke in to every room, and silently asking for our home to be a happy and healthy one. I tell myself I don't believe in these things but doing this small little "ceremony" brought me some comfort.

    Raina.

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    1. Awwwwww that is nice! We will be moving to a new place in upcoming years....I have been pondering as to whether we should do one too...

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  3. Alexandra, this is pretty much the same what all hindus observe with a slight variation here and there. I see a photo of a guru placed below with one hand over a cow. I guess he must the be spiritual or family guru. All these articles, fruit and flower seems random but in hindu pooja each of them have a significance. There are things that represent the five elements of nature. Everything from which article should be placed where and in which direction the deity should be placed is pre defined. The way the priest moves around the things while chanting mantras is interesting. Hands work like clock work throwing flowers, cutting sacred thread etc. These days they are so busy that they have to take phone calls during pooja. Sign of changing times perhaps. I think Hindu rituals are so elaborate that you need specialized help to make some sense. These days there is ofcourse a thriving industry of articles which are needed for religious ceremonies. You don't have to look out for things. Ordinary people have not become veterans as far as poojas are concerned. For eg., people more or less know what is required for Satrynarayan pooja as it is the most sacred and common poojas. They know the process and ingredients but require a priest for the pooja.

    I have heard that abroad Indians have to modify their rituals and there are strict rules about fire safety they generally avoid fire ceremonies. My maternal uncle lives in Canada and there they celebrate bengali Durga Pooja on weekdays when they get the time and not exactly on the day when the festivals fall due lack of time/holidays. As when they get the opportunity they modify the rituals as per the requirements of the country. I guess the hindu festivals abroad are more close to the spirit of the festival as the NRIs treat them as their connection to the mother country and not the commercial extravagances that they have become in India. However, the feeling of celebrating a festival in India is something else. You have not celebrated any major festival in India have you??

    BRW, talking about rituals you were planning to write a post on Hindu funeral rituals. I wonder if you are still thinking about it. I would be quiet fascinating.

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    1. I still am! So many details, still one year later I am working on it! OMG. The thing that is taking so long is that I am trying to make sure all the details are correct and explained properly.
      The one festival I would love to celebrate in India is Diwali, but my hubby is very busy at work during the month of October, we can never find the time to go! :( And now we are on a school schedule so I doubt we will go soon.

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  4. Although I've never witnessed the housewarming ceremony before, I've been to a few of my clients house where they did the ritual of boiling milk and will share with me what they were doing.

    The part where you shared about how a cow will be brought in by a priest to bless the house reminds me of a similar ceremony that took place here in Singapore for a unit in a high-rise building! http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/moo-ving-house-blessing-condo

    I just felt that I need to share it here :)

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    1. Hahaha that is hilarious! People in that apartment complex must have wondered what was going on!

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    2. I'm from Singapore and I just moved to Chicago 6 months ago and so glad to see this made it article made it here! A few friends back in Singapore sent me the link and asked what on earth was happening. Even I was stumped - I’ve been to a few hindu housewarming ceremonies when I was younger (only remember being too sleepy to stay awake as we had to be there at 5am), but I don’t remember seeing a cow!

      That said…we just moved into a new apartment here 2 weeks ago and for a non-religious hindu as I am…I’m toying with the idea of getting a priest to perform a simple ceremony – just to bless the home. My husband is open to the idea although he’s an atheist – so I’m glad he isn’t scoffing at my idea ;D

      Unfortunately, I just found out that one isn’t allowed to cook before the housewarming! But it would’ve been impossible to not cook for 2 weeks and it seems I've broken a few rules of thumb
      :( I’m hoping that confessing to the priest beforehand will help avert type of calamity.

      Loved the blog entry!

      Jai

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  5. Hi Alexandra,

    I am Indian and I learnt a lot from your post. I really commend the effort you make in understanding these rituals and their significance. Sometimes these rituals can be every time consuming and cumbersome.And since they only involve the people performing it.. It can get a little monotonous for other people attending the ceremony especially if there are kids around.

    Love your blog!!!

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    1. Thank you so much! I really loved all the meaning behind it...I hope to learn myself and then share these rituals. It is beautiful that every single thing has a meaning...

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  6. Wow that was so informative! I love the part about the milk boiling over! How cool! I have not been to a sikh housewarming yet but it involves prayers as well.

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    1. I would love to read it if you do a write up about it! I love the meaning behind rituals...it would be interesting to compare and contrast Hindu and Sikh ceremonies...

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  7. @Alexandra

    Happy navratras to you and family. May goddess durga bless you with strength and prosperity.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9YuKvqBhl8

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    1. Happy belated Navratras.....same to you and your family :) xo

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  8. Hi I am from Argentina South America and here we do not have any hindu priest to perform the ceremony.
    What can i do?. The Griha Pravesh Ceremony can do it a single person, because i am not married and i buy my house by my own?. Also a lot of things we do not have here like some vegetables, fruit and spicies. Thank you very much. Patricia

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  9. I am feeling excited when i see the clips. Very nice photos. @ Argentina, You can buy all the products needed for Griha pravesh online. That will be the best option. Visit www.rssonline.in and check for your needs.

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  10. Wonderful description. Very helpful too. Can you please send me a link of the song 'Mangalam'? I would really appreciate it. Thanks.

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