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nompu

From: Vasudha Narayanan (vasu_at_religion.ufl.edu)
Date: Wed Mar 12 1997 - 08:40:44 PST

For the last few years, I have also been wondering about the significance of
the nompu that we will be celebrating this week.  While smarta and
Srivaishnava women celebrate this in south India, the purpose of the vrata
is similar to those seen in other parts of India, notably the Karva chauth
in Punjab- Delhi areas and Teej (Bihar, UP, Nepal etc).  The akshaya tritiya
is also important for Kannada women.  In similar Andhra /Karnataka
festivals, the krittika asterism seems important.  The main intention, as
explained to me when I was young, was prayers for the longevity of one's
husband and for an inseparable relationship with him, ritualizing the story
of Savitri.  However, some Srivaishnava elders have stated that this is
kamya karma (I remember similar words of caution uttered when family members
were getting ready to perform sumangali prarthanai) and nor recommended for
prapannas.  It is in this connection that I was reflecting upon the various
kinds of dharma discussed by Sriman M. K. Sudarshan a couple of months
back-- sadharana dharma, visesha dharma etc. and their connections with stri
dharma as well as the dharma of a prapanna.
My own feeling is that many elderly women in the family are very attached to
the proper performance of this ritual and cannot let go the sentiment of
doing it.  It is also quite in accordance with the dharma sastras and
nibandha texts where many similar vratas have been delineated at length.
For those who feel both that (a) they would like to perform it because of
custom and sentiment and (b) wonder if kamya karmas can be recommended for a
prapanna, I suggest that they perform the vrata, but have phala samarpanam
and a refocussing of one's intentions behind the ritual.  In other words, it
would befit us to think of our inseparable relationship with the Lord and
Piratti and think of the nompu as similar in intention to the one done by
Andal.  It was Andal who said "Erraikkum El El piravikkum..." and reinforced
the unbreakable nature of her relationship with the Lord.  Such performance
only affrims the atma's connection with the supreme being.
The timing of the ritual is generally quite critical.  The dharma sastras
say that the time of sankaranti is very exact.  Apart from Uttarayana and
Dakshinayana sankarantis (the major ones) the monthly sankarantis are also
recognized by dharma sastras  ( I can say more on this if necessary).  The
fasting and opportune feasting involved in these rasi sankarantis seem to be
followed in the Masi nompu by women.  Since this comes close to the vernal
equinox, I also tend to think of this as a reinforcement of growth and
auspiciousness.  However, I am not sure how the particular items we prepare
and consume that day came to be practiced.
To sum up: Parasara Bhattar in his bhashya on the Vishnu Sahasranama said
eloquently that there were two kinds of auspiciousness, one pertaining to
this life, and the other being the spiritual way leading to moksha.  I think
it is possible to interpret the nompu ritual in both ways, depending on our
desires, intentions, and adhikara.  It is possible to perform it for the
longevity of one's husband and/or continued, inseparable relationship with
the Lord.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the contributing members
for their excellent posts recently.  I have learned so much about Tiru alli
keni.  Thanking you, Vasudha