Manjal is the Tamil name for yellow colour and also for turmeric. It is a rhizome belonging to the ginger family endowed with curative properties.
Turmeric goes by the names Haridhra, Kalyani, Bhadra, Kanchini, Pavithra, Lakshmi and 40 other names.A woman’s bath is complete only when turmeric is applied .It is a herb which is particularly good for a woman’s well-being. It is used in Indian cooking not only to add colour to the food and to make it more palatable but has medicinal properties which removes mouth odour and cures stomach ulcers. When we cut our finger accidently turmeric powder is pressed on it immediately it not only stops the blood flow but also prevents the wound from getting septic. Again when the throat gets sore and cold and cough troubles milk with turmeric helps soothe the throat and cure the cold.
Mahalakshmi resides permanently in turmeric.The name Harini indicates that She is yellow in colour .That is why turmeric is considerd auspicious and is given with tamboolam. In Tamil Nadu the day after Pongal is celebrated as Kanu pongal. On this day sisters pray for the welfare of their brothers by keeping yellow rice(turmeric mixed rice) as also other rice balls on fresh turmeric leaves.This ritual owes it origin to Jayanthan’s sister. Jayantha was Indra’s son who pecked on Seetha Devi’s breasts and became the object of Rama’s anger. He took a blade of grass and chanted the brahmastram mantram.The darbha chased him everywhere. It followed him as he went seeking asylum at everyone’s feet. Ultimately he came to Rama and Seetha taking pity on the tired crow turned his head so that it touched SriRama’s feet and the Ocean of Mercy let him live but since Brahmastram could not fail, one eye was destroyed.The reason behind this was the prayers offered by Jayanthan’s sister to Mahalakshmi. She offered turmeric rice on a turmeric leaf and Mahalakshmi saved his life. Such is the power of a sister’s prayer to Jaganmatha(The universal mother). Turmeric powder is an important offering during Tirumanjanam to Perumal and sumangalis take the prasadam and apply it on their Tirumangalyam doing dhyanam of Piratti ,praying for the long life of their husbands and for sarvamangalam. In Srirangam Thayar’s manjal kaapu is valued very much and as the name suggests it protects us in all ways.
The practice of wearing yellow sharadu is typical to Tamil Nadu and is very significant. Tying the three knots is one of the most important rituals during a marriage, This is the maangalya sootram which women treasured the most. Sadly it has been replaced by chains of gold which is a poor substitute for the sacred yellow thread which is kept clean by turmeric powder applications during daily baths. Some practices are timeless and traditions should be kept alive. According to Shilpa Sastra turmeric applied on golden vigrahas prevents any sort of spoilage from setting in. Vigrahas retain their mantra-shakthi when turmeric powder is used. Anything auspicious is done with turmeric. Akshathai which is showered as a blessing is made by taking whole rice grains(no broken rice should be there) and adding turmeric powder and a little cow’s ghee. When we go to have darshan of mahapurushas and acharyas we get akshatai which women take in the tallapu( pallu) of their saree by spreading it out. Coconuts are coloured yellow during auspicious occasions. Manja pongal or yellow coloured rice is offered to Mahalakshmi during auspicious occasions. When this herb which originated in South India has been classified as a wonder food should we not follow our elders and use turmeric in our daily bath? Because it stains women have stopped using it. A simple practice could reduce unwanted hair-growth , reduce arthritic inflammations , act as a skin tonic and even fight cancers.
Writeup & Photography : Smt Vyjayanthi Sundararajan