Making ash - the fire is lit on Sivaratri

It is a painstaking ritual executed with bhakti, care and precision

Published - February 28, 2019 03:59 pm IST

The ash or vibhuti closely associated with Siva and His worshippers has a Sivaratri link. Pure vibhuti is made from cow dung and it is prepared at gosalas. An elaborate process, it takes a team of devoted volunteers to do it. Only the dung of native breed of cows is used to make vibhuti. The dung is made into flat circular cakes with holes at the centre and dried in the sun. The cakes ( viratti ), karukkai (paddy) and hay are laid in layers with meticulous precision to the accompaniment of the chanting of mantras, including Sri Rudram, Chamakam and so on. Viraja homam is performed and the pile, called Muttan, is lit with the fire from this agni in the morning on Sivaratri.

“We have arrived at a minimum-wastage procedure through experience spanning eight years,” says T.R. Radhakrishnan of Govindan Gosala of Madurantakam. “The method initiated by Brahmasri Gopalakrishna Sastri is followed but it has been fine-tuned to give optimum results,” he adds. “Care has to be taken right from collecting the dung. What the cow eats is important.” Quality of the dung decides the quality of the vibhuti ,” he says.

The place, where the dung is made into cakes has to be clean, devoid of sand or impurities. The gosala has a sheltered place to dry the cakes. It requires skill to set up the pile. About 5,000 cakes are used in one muttan . Karukkai is vital for this process because it holds high temperature. “The muttan should retain the heat in which the cakes should bake. The hay will conduct the fire to the karukkai. Otherwise what we get would be a black residue,” explains Radhakrishnan. The gosala has exclusive places to set up muttan , which has to be protected from gusty winds

The pile burns steadily and is closely monitored. “You can’t go near the muttan for at least four days. Then we inspect the status of the cakes and turn them over with a long-handled ladle. It takes 20 days for the cakes to bake and the muttan would resemble a Lingam,” says Radhakrishnan and clarifies: “The vibhuti can never be sparkling white. If the dung cakes are allowed to reach that colour, they will become so hard that they cannot be powdered.”

It is the dew at this time of the month which gives the ash its white colour. “It is fortunate that our gosala is located far from the city,” observes Radhakrishnan. The open space facilitates dew all round the year. “Our vibhuti is much sought after and we send packets across the country. The price is no match for the labour and bhakti invested in this process. Besides it is not easy to find volunteers willing to work with dung and we are talking about massive quantities here. We engage pundits to conduct the homam and they have to be compensated,” he says.

Love for cows and heritage is the motivating factor behind such endeavours. “Gomatha is goddess. Anything associated with her is sacred. We consider it a blessing to serve devotees and vaidikas by making vibhuti available,” signs off Radhakrishnan busy organising the muttan for Sivaratri. Radhakrishnan can be contacted at 9840041151.

Artist Maniam Selvan (Ma.Se) says:

“‘Meditating Siva’ (above) was drawn with night effect to reflect Sivaratri — one of my first drawings on the concept. Here Siva emerges from the Ash. The image on the cover was drawn when I was in Rishikesh. The Ganga made such an impact I perceived Siva as receiving her with both hands. It is more suggestive than direct.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.