Ashtabandam – bonding of idol to the pedestal – is a many centuries old temple ritual practiced in Kerala.
Ashta in Sanskrit means eight and bandam means bond. Eight types of materials are mixed together. Proper mixing with oil turns the product a clay-like adhesive.
If the idol falls off from the pedestal, it is considered as inauspicious. To prevent such an eventuality, usually once in every 12 years new Ashtabandam is applied and the bonding ceremony is known as Ashtabandakalasham. The life of the bonding is considered as 12 years. The bonding does not last longer because in many cases there used to be gaps between the pedestal and the idol and through which milk, water, curd or honey used as abhishekam (anointing the deity) get leaked resulting in the setting in of corrosion
The preparation of the adhesive mixture takes a long period of 41 days. The eight ingredients which go into the product are conch, gall-nut, sealing wax, dried gooseberry, resin of pinus dammar, two varieties of gravel from Bharatapuzha and cotton. All the items barring cotton get fine powdered. The cotton is mixed only on final day. The powder is mixed into a lump. As all the ingredients have latent sticky consistency, it becomes paste when little oil is added.
After becoming lump, it is hammered by four or five men alternatively. During this process one turns it with an iron spatula. For hammering, only wooden hammers made of tamarind wood are used. The weight of the hammer would be 8 to 10 kilos. The lump is very soft and malleable. It becomes hot during the hammering and becomes hard like stone when the hammering is stopped. An estimated 0.1 million hits of hammering are needed for a kilogram of adhesive. The paucity of manpower nowadays, however, compromise with the hits.
Every approach to the preparation must be very cautious lest the lump may become soggy.
The incorporation of the cotton is when the bonding material has become a hard lump. The cotton added material becomes soft and takes more time to harden. It is immediately after adding the cotton the material is used for bonding the idol.
The bonding job as also the preparation of the bonding adhesive is done by people from Brahmin community who are well-accustomed with temple rituals.