Glue of the Gods

The ceremonial installation of an idol on its pedestal is one of the most sacred traditions of temples. According to Temple Shastra, as mentioned in ‘Tantrasamuchayam’, after installing an idol, it should not be moved or moved as the chosen place has been declared as the most suitable based on various calculations and beliefs.
A unique compound, unnamed for lack of scientific evaluation, but called Ashtabandham in the scriptures, is used to bind the idol to its pedestal. Manufacturers call it a “medicine” because it is made up of eight natural things.

“According to ‘Tantrasamuchayam’, before placing the idol on the pedestal, a mixture of precious stones, metals and seeds – depending on the worshiping deity – are filled into the holes made for this purpose in the pedestal. When water, milk, ghee or curds are poured on the idol during Abhishekam, they seep into the pedestal.Ashtabandham is applied as a sealing to prevent it.This will bind the idol to the pedestal so firmly that no liquid will not be able to pass through it and dislodge it,” said Balakrishna Bhat, Director of Tantravidya Peetham, Aluva.

The idol should remain firmly fixed because its stability indicates the perfect balance between Purusha and Prakriti in which nature is the pedestal and the idol represents human life, he said.

Ashtabandham being prepared in a Koothambalam in the Guruvayur temple premises. Ingredients are struck repeatedly with a hammer so that the compound reaches the correct consistency

Over the years, while several changes have been made to the rituals according to the changing times, most of the temples in Kerala have remained faithful to the traditional method of making Ashtabandham. In almost all temples, including those run by devaswom councils, it is largely made by Sivadwijars, a temple community of Malayali Brahmins.

Kaduka (Terminalia Chebula), Amla (Dried Gooseberry), Chenchalyam (Shorea Robusta), Shankh (Conch) powder, Kolarakku (made from lake insect resin), fine sand from Periyar river, a unique type of mud clay that lands on the banks of Bharathappuzha after the water recedes after the monsoon, and cotton are the main ingredients that go into Ashtabandham.
The physical act of making Ashtabandham is a slow and laborious process requiring young and strong men. After mixing all the ingredients, except cotton, they beat it to consistency with hammers made of tamarind wood weighing 15-25 kg. They have to hit the mixture repeatedly – about 10,000 hits a day – for the compound to reach the right consistency.

“Any change in the blending percentages will affect the medicinal quality and consistency of the compound,” says KP Sarma of Vaikom, who has been involved in the manufacture of Ashtabandham for several years.

“To make a 1-1.5kg Koottu required for small idols, we need to hit at least one lakh times with the hammer. For the biggest idols, we would need at least 15 kg for a binder ride,” he said.
“The moment we stop hitting, it starts to harden. Its texture resembles something like melting tar,” he explains. Cotton is added last. “Once the cotton is added, it begins to solidify. Then it should be applied to the idol immediately and allowed to dry for 41 days,” Sarma said.

“We have also involved the youth so that the traditional knowledge will be passed on to future generations,” said Narayana Sarma, who recently led a team that made Ashtabandham for an idol of Lord Guruvayurappan.

The process started from July and ended in September, and they had to hit the complex four times to get the consistency right.
“As the idol was made of Anjana Kallu, a soft stone, the paste was applied not only to the pedestal but also to the idol to prevent it from breaking. This is unique to the Guruvayur temple and not to the other Krishna temples, as it is believed to have originated from Pathalam,” said Narayana Sarma.

Sarma, along with his cousins ​​and relatives, made Ashtabandham for many temples in the Malabar region. During these days they will stay in the temple premises and the work is usually done in the Koothambalam or similar space.

“It’s an expensive business because you have to bring people in. Most of them have various professions. So taking time off and coming to do this must be beneficial, even if done in faith,” Sarma said.
“In the big temples, there are sponsors and we are paid. In smaller temples we do this at cheaper rates. We must ensure that traditional knowledge is passed on to the next generation, just as I learned from my Valiyachan,” he added.

The effect of Ashtabandham is said to last for 12 years, but its makers admit that it depends on the quality of the materials, the right combination of ingredients, and the consistency of the compound.



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