Every Hindu ritual ranging from an aarti to a marriage contains an element we often forget to appreciate. Today, we discuss about Akshata, the ceremonious rice grains so central to our faith and the value they add to customs.

Only whole uncut grains are used to make Akshata; the very name translates as unbroken (A-kshata, kshata meaning broken or cut). The exclusive usage of whole grains finds its origins in the trigunas; if the rice grain is broken, it may direct tamasik energies and the intact grain represents the satvik qualities. The preparation begins by rinsing (not soaking) raw whole rice grains (uncooked) and drying it in shadow. After that sprinkling turmeric or vermillion (Kunkum) over the dried rice and few drops of water, mixing it with gently and drying it again. They are stored in a sanitary place, such as the poojaghar, or altar.

The colour of the Akshata also defines the value with which it is offered to the deity, and what blessing one seeks. White Akshata are presented to Lord Vishnu (in his Satyanarayan form) and to Lord Shiva. The pure white hue represents nirgun or formless nature of these two deities and their tarak (salvaging) powers. The red, or vermillion Akshata possess a marak (annihilating) power that is represented by Lord Ganesh (in his Vignaharta form) and Goddess Durga.

You may have observed, if during a puja we lack a particular item, such as a different leaves or ornaments, the Pandit asks us to substitute them with Akshata. Such sacred value is given to the Akshata because of their ability to absorb and exude the chaitanya (positive consciousness) of rituals. It is the reason both Akshata and flowers are held in hands when chanting a pushpanjali or making a sankalp – it is similar to opening up our energy channels and imbibing the positivity in the divine environment.
In weddings, the virtues symbolized by the sacred rice grains are fertility and prosperity. The couple offers rice to Agnidev as a gift, as he is the first witness to their lifelong bond. When we shower them with colourful Akshata during the Fere / Saptapadi ceremony, we actually bless them for wealth and abundance. Earlier, weddings used to have only red, yellow and white rice but today we can see variations of colours that add to the vibrancy of celebration.

The bride is seen as an embodiment of the goddess Laxmi. In some traditions, she walks while throwing fistfuls of white Akshata behind her. It is symbolic of Laxmi taking their leave with a gift of continued prosperity, and bringing further riches to her new home by knocking over a kalash of Akshata.
May Laxmi bring you the purity and riches of the Akshata, and may we continue to share blissful energy throughout our homes with Akshata.


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