Karkitakam (July-August) used to be a month of shortages in Kerala, a state which mainly depended on farming in the past. The long spell of rain would have reduced the stock of grain and other food items to rock bottom. The next harvest would start from the following month, Chingam (August-September). There would be no work and very little to eat. Besides, it is a month of sickness caused by rain.
Because of this, the month was considered to be inauspicious. Hence, there was great emphasis on prayer and various religious activities. People spent the day reading religious books, especially Ramayanam. Temples, and those households which could afford, conducted special Ganapathy Homam and Bhagavalseva every day or at least part of the month.
There are seven days in a year, one being at the start of Karkitakam (Samkramam), when the temple has special Poojas for Irattayappan. There will be one additional Navakam for Ucchappooja that day followed by Sreebhoothabali. Sreebhoothabali is an elaborate ritual lasting over an hour when cooked rice will be offered by the Thanthri, called Bali, to all the guardian deities, also called the Parivaara, of the temple. They include the four who guard the two entrances into the sanctum sanctorum and the ten guardians of the ten directions (east, south east, etc.). Many of them, like the guardians of directions, are common to all temples. Others, at the entrance, depend upon the deity, like Siva, Vishnu, Durga and so on. All major temples have these guardians installed as Bali kkallu (Bali stones) inside the inner courtyard and outside. In most temples image of the deity, the movable Archana Bimbam, will be taken out at the time to witness the event, held in hand or mounted on an elephant. Irattayappan is never taken out after an incident which was said to have taken place some 1500 years ago (explained under Events and Pooram).
Ganapathy is a deity who removes all obstacles. So, it is a practice to start the day with offerings to the deity. The Fire God (Agni) represents all other gods and offerings meant to them are accepted by Agni and carried to the respective god. It is so for Ganapathy also. Coconut is his favorite food. So, essentially, pieces of coconut kernel are offered in fire at Ganapathy Homam. There are a few other auspicious items offered along with it, like grains of paddy, Thecchi(ixora coccinea) flower and Mukkutti (biophytum sensitivum). This is the standard Ganapathy Homam.
The one in Karkitakam is more elaborate. Eight items which are auspicious and dear to the god are prepared in a special way. They are: Coconut kernel, Jaggery (molasses), Roasted Sesame seeds (Til), Ghee, Honey, Roasted Rice powder, Rice Flakes and Sugar Cane. There are regional differences in the choice of the eight. But, the first seven are, more or less, standard.
Special Pooja is offered to Goddess Durga three times a day during the month. The Goddess is conceived in three different forms in the morning, afternoon and night.
Elaborated under Koothu under Events
The observance of the Ramayana Masam used to be through the medium of Koothu. The story is told by Chakiar elaborately, starting with the birth of Ravana and his kinsmen in ten days. Unfortunately, the tradition of Koothu has been broken and the efforts to re-start it is not fully successful yet.
Illam Nira and Putthari
Please check under Events
Oushadham means medicine. It is customary to consume a very small dose of the root of a plant called Kotuveli (Plumbago Indica) in the month of Karkitakam. The root is finely ground and added with a large quantity of ghee. This is offered to god first and consumed as Prasadam. It is supposed to keep all stomach ailments in check for one year by one single dose. The root is toxic except in minute dose and well diluted with ghee.
This is held on the 16th of Karkitakam (around the first of July) every year and is fully sponsored by the local Namboothiri Yogakshema Sabha.
Ekadasa means eleven and Rudram is the Yajurvedic hymn called Sreerudram which is explained under Laksharchana. On the day of Oushadha Seva the Namboothiri Yogakshema Sabha conducts Ekadasa Rudram, by performing Archana with Sree Rudram repeated eleven times by eleven Vedic scholars. It is done as in Laksharchana except that the Kalasam (pitcher) is filled with water in place of Panchagavyam.