A day dedicated to Lord Vishnu – Ananta Chaturdashi

Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues
Ananta Chaturdashi, or the day proceeding the full moon day of Bhadrapad, ten days after Ganesh Chaturthi, brings an end to one phase of the Chaturmaas festive season. In Goa many families have grand celebrations on this day, with special pujas performed and selective food being served to the devotees.
On this auspicious day the Hindu community worships and meditates upon the form of Vishnu sleeping on the bed of Anant (the Serpent Shesh), in the milky ocean, while his consort Laxmi massages his feet. This day, Bhadrapad Shukl Chaturdashi, is an auspicious day, when people take their minds off worldly actions and devote themselves to God, listen to legends of Vishnu, and recite hymns from the Vedas. Devotees fast on this day and offer fruits, sweets, flowers to Vishnu in worship. A raw thread covered in turmeric paste, with 14 knots is also tied on the devotee’s upper right arm while meditating upon Shesh-shayya Vishnu. The thread worn as an armlet or around the neck, on this day, awards infinite prosperity and happiness and protects against evil.
In Goa, some families observe this day with pujas performed in honour of Anant. On this occasion, a puja is held in the afternoon, when the Anant Chaturdas thread, which is red in colour, is installed and a puja performed. After the puja, naivedhya is presented to God. It consists of payasam, a sweet made of rice and milk. Fourteen ‘oddes’ made of wheat and cucumbers are also presented to God. Out of this, seven along with the old thread are given to the bhat who performs the puja. The remaining seven are for the family members. The thread is then tied to the right arm of the male who performs the puja. If the puja is performed by a couple, the wife also ties the thread on her hand, in which case, two threads are used for puja. The armlet is to be removed before sitting down for lunch. It is placed in a metal container and kept in the prayer room, and daily ritual puja is then performed.
In Panaji the celebrations at the Mhamai Kamat ancestral house is well known and one finds people thronging in hundreds to pay obeisance to Vishnu. The origins of the celebrations are quite obscure; however, oral tradition records the deaths of the newly born male members in the house as the reason behind the beginning of the annual ritual in a bid to placate the Gods.
Tradition also tells us that some slaves in bondage to this family consigned a snake to flames. Hence, in order to appease Anant Vir Vithal – ‘Shesha’ the snake, the mythological resting place of Lord Vishnu, the Mhamai family started celebrating Anant Vrata. Childless couples seek blessings of Lord Vishnu on this day and if their wish is granted, on the following Ananat Chaturdashi they bring the infant and raise him or her to the overhead mattolli, giving thanks to God.
Large numbers people, across creeds, attend the festivity. On this day, the rare right sided conch decorated with pearls, gems and gold is exhibited for public veneration. Hence this celebration is also called ‘Kongyachem Fest’. Legends regarding the conch in the household of the Mhamais are also interesting: the trading family traded with foreigners for various merchandise. On a visit to a merchant ship, an ancestor of the family saw this right-sided conch shell which was used by the captain of ship as a paperweight. He had recognized it was the rare one and requested the captain to give it to him as it had religious significance and the captain obliged him. Another story doing the rounds is that the conch was found in the early years of the nineteenth century, lying on sand that was being unloaded from a country craft.
The festivity on the day of Anant Chaturdashi starts with placing of the silver image of Lord Vishnu, sitting atop a horse in the prayer room. At the feet of the statue the right-sided conch shell is kept on a platter. Rice is offered to the deity and the community dinner commences. Normally the Mhamais offers rice to God at lunchtime, but on this day no lunch is served in the community kitchen. It is interesting to note that hundreds of people, belonging to all walks of life partake from this dinner. This is served in the traditional style on a banana leaf, which are laid in rows on the floor of the house. After dinner, bhajans are sung and a vigil is kept during the night, till the uttarpooja is performed the next morning.
Like the Mhamais in Panaji, the Kapdis in Ponda also host grand celebrations. The family has formed a trust called ‘Kapdi Shaligram Devashtan Trust’ to look after the celebrations of Ananta Chaturti puja, as well as the daily puja. A shaligram is installed in the ancestral house, where a brahmin couple lives.
The Kapdis are also uncertain as to when the shaligram came into their existence, but the story told is that one of their ancestors was given a polished black stone, found at sea. As it appeared to be a shaligram, they approached the bhat to find out more. They were told that it was a shaligram and that the family would have to install it in the house and perform daily pujas and the annual Ananta Chaturdas puja.[NT]