Monday, 11 of December of 2017

Category » Arunachaleswara temple

The Karthigai Maha Deepam

aru-deepam2The culmination of the glorious festival of Karthigai Deepam took place on Friday 5th December. On this day the sacred flame or the holy beacon is lit on the summit of  Arunachala hill. The prelude to the Lighting of the Great Flame started inside the big temple at 2 o clock in the morning. At this time, a Yagna or sacred fire Homa is kindled in the Mahamantapam while the Abhishekam to Lord Arunachaleswara is performed in the inner sanctum.

After the puja, Arathi is done by the priests by lighting a huge chunk of camphor on a golden plate and waving it around the Lord. The temple bells start clanging and the musicians beat on their drums. Amidst all these sounds, the temple walls resound with loud cries of devotion. The Arathi is brought outside and shown to the five lamps lit on earthen plates for which the Yagna has been going on. This is Bharani Deepam, the prelude to Karthigai Deepam. Its significance is that the universal Lord manifests as the five elements during the day and in the evening He again becomes the One Absolute Being and shines as Tejolinga when the Deepam is lit on the Hill. (Bharani is one of the 27 stellar constellations through which the moon is believed to pass through successively each day and according to the hindu almanac, Bharani precedes Krithika which is the constellation of Karthigai Deepam).

The earthenware lamps of Bharani Deepam are taken in procession around the temple. A fire torch is lit from the fire of these lamps and taken to the Hill top. Here on the summit there is a huge copper cauldron filled with ghee (poured in by devotees) and a wick made from many metres of cotton cloth rubbed with camphor after being steeped in the ghee. Millions of people have already arrived since morning and start walking giripradakshina around the Hill. The roads are packed with an ocean of people still increasing as the day goes by.

Around sunset, at 6 p.m. to be exact, the deity of Lord Ardhanaareeswara is brought out ceremoniously andDeepam 2014 installed in the DeepaMantapam in the big temple, facing the Hill. After Arathi is shown to the Lord, a thundering blast of fire crackers gives the signal to the men on the summit of the Hill to light the Flame. It is a Full Moon night and as the sun sets in the western sky and the beautiful full moon rises in the east, the flames of the Maha Karthigai Deepam spring forth into the sky on top of Arunachala, creating a wave of ecstatic devotion among the people. A tremendous roar of “Annaamalaiyurukku Haro Haraa” is heard from all directions. The Deepam burns brightly and fills our hearts with the powerful and vibrant presence of the Lord. Everyone stands awe-stricken in front of this splendid sight and thousands fall down on their hands and knees doing Pranaam to the Great Lord. And thus the great festival of Deepam is completed.

However, True Completion happens when it is not only outside with the Lighting of the Flame on the Hill but also inside when the Flame of Jnana is lit correspondingly in the Heart of each being.

The Mahakumbaabhishekam of Adi Annamalai temple

The Mahakumbaabhishekam ceremony was performed for the Adi Annamalai temple after 16 years. The last one was in 1996. The events leading upto the grand ceremony were begun on Tuesday, 10th July and the actual pouring of the holy waters on the gopurams took place on Sunday, 15th July. On Thursday, the splendidly decorated yaga salas were inaugurated and 108 sacrificial fires or yagnas were kindled in a spectacular manner during which the waters in thousands of pots or kumbhas were consecrated in preparation for the grand abhishekam.

It was indeed an awesome spectacle to witness the crescendo of the vedic chants, the exotic rituals surrounding the fires and the divine energy which seemed to pervade and rise with the passage of each day. More than 300 venerable brahmin priests hailing from the four vedic traditions of  Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana took part with great devotion and expertise in all the ceremonies and devotees were treated to a sumptuous feast of religious extravaganza during all the 6 days.

The word Mahakumbaabhishekam literally means ritualistic pouring of sacred water from the great vessel. This type of ritualistic pouring of water dates back to hundreds of years to post-vedic times when temple rituals were formalized. During the vedic period, deities were invoked and propitiated in great rituals of fire sacrifices such as yagnas and homas, which were performed in the open. After this period, when temples were built for different deities, the divine energy/spirit was invoked by appropriate homas and transferred into kumbhas — brass or mud vessels containing the water of the holy rivers of Bharatavarsha — by chanting mantras derived from the Vedas and Samhitas. These mantras consisted of prayers to different deities for the well-being of mankind, guidance in performing religious duties properly, and instruction in following the four-fold duties of  Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. After the vigrahas of the deities were installed, the energy in the water in the kumbhas was transferred to the vigraha in the temple by pouring the water on the gopuram (top of the temple tower) and on the vigraha of the deity. This pouring from the Kumbhas was accompanied by the chanting of appropriate mantras derived from the Vedas, considered to be of divine origin.

According to the tenets of Vedanta , the living being is a part of the supreme consciousness which embodies the origin, sustenance and annihilation of the universe as we know it. It is beyond our human ability to comprehend this ultimate reality. The enlightened ones sometimes glimpse the Ultimate through meditation. The ordinary human offers obeisance and worship to the best of his ability to the personification of this supreme being in the form of the deity in the temples. He consecrates the Vigraha sculpted by the best artisan, and installs it in the temple built in the best architectural tradition. Divine energy is endowed on the vigraha by single-minded performance of worship in the best ritualistic tradition. Through the continued performance of worship by numerous people over generations, the divine energy in each vigraha builds up, and the temple as a whole grows in spiritual status.

And thus,on Sunday morning, July 15th, millions of devotees thronged the area around the Adi annamalai temple from 4 am. The previous night there had been an utter deluge of rain and people had to wade through oceans of water even inside the temple. The lucky few were admitted to the roof tops of the temple where they waited eagerly for the Kumbhas of holy water to be brought up. And sure enough around 9 am the pots arrived borne on the heads of brahmin priests to the loud chanting of the Rudrams. And then they were carried up by the stately Sivacharyas and finally, the waters were poured slowly over the spires of each gopuram hailed by cries of devotional fervour from the crowds below “Annamalaiyarukku haroharaa” !

The Tirumanjanam of Aani

Mid June to mid July is the tamil month of Aani. During this month there takes place the first of the two important festivals dedicated to Lord Nataraja, the Aani Thirumanjanam festival. Nataraja, the Lord of Dancers is the cosmic form of Lord Shiva  (In Sanskrit, Nata means dance and raja means Lord). The ring of fire and light, which circumscribes the entire figure, identifies the field of the Lord’s cosmic dance encompassing the whole universe. The lotus pedestal on which the Lord rests, locates the universe in the heart or consciousness of each person.

In the temple of Lord Arunachaleswara, the celebration of the Aani Thirumanjanam festival takes place with the following ceremonies: The deities of Lord Nataraja and his consort Goddess Shivakami are worshipped and brought outside of their altar in the main shrine, they are then borne in procession around the first courtyard and then installed amidst great fanfare in another temporary altar inside the thousand-pillared of the temple. Here the deities are venerated, over the course of the week, with a series of elaborate abhishekams or sacred ablutions followed by karpoora aarathi (waving of camphor flames) and deepaaradhana (waving of lighted lamps).

Simultaneously, there takes place another ritual which is called the Arakattu Utsavam. During this ceremony, the three great tamil Saivaite saints namely Appar, Sundarar and Manickavasagar, are worshipped in their altar which is the one directly opposite the altar of Lord Nataraja in the main shrine. Devotees crane their necks back and forth in order to get darshan of both the ceremonies as they take place at the same time and the priests rush from one altar to the other to do the honours correctly to all the deities. It is quite a sight ! The end of the festival is celebrated at night with a grand Abhishekam and Aarathi to the deities after which they are borne back in procession to their altar inside the main shrine.

Interestingly, this festival is believed to correspond to the period of ‘between two’ which highlights the transition from day to night, the ‘pradosha’ moment. From this point of view, it would signify the coming of a period of longer nights and shorter days. And thus the end of the hot summer!

Vaikaasi Amavasya

The new moon falling in the tamil month of Vaikasi (May-Jume) is Vaikasi Amavasya. This happens to be an important occasion in the big temple of Arunachaleswara and one of the grandest abhishekams of the year is celebrated to the Utsava Murthy, Lord Shiva-Somaskanda (whose shrine is in the left corridor of the inner mandapam of the main sanctum). The ceremonies start early in the morning with Rudra japa and Mahanyasam during which the kalasams and all the abhishekam elements are consecrated.

After this, the actual Maha Abhishekam commences. It is indeed an impressive array. There are about 5000 litres of milk in cans. Hundreds of pots of sandalwood paste, ghee, curd, honey, turmeric and rose water are kept in front of the deities. Flower garlands and flowers dear to Lord Shiva are heaped in the side aisles for the alamkaram to the Gods. Fruits of the trinity, mangoes, bananas, jackfruits and also pomegrenates, dates and coconuts are brought in baskets. The Brahmin Archaka priests work with tireless energy carrying the hundreds of pots to the pedestal where they are received with devotion by the Gurukkal brahmin priests who then bathe the gods elaborately with the different elements. The devotees who are assembled to watch the Abhishekams are overcome by spiritual fervour every time the milk or curd or honey or ghee is poured on the deities, and as it gently flows down, the air is charged with sacred enthusiasm and devotional energy. The temple musicians play unstintingly throughout the celebration which takes place for upto over 8 hours.

The Arunachaleswara temple of Tiruvannamalai stands as a towering pillar in the beautiful and elaborate manner with which they perform all the ceremonies due to the Gods and thus celebrate and preserve ancient sacred traditions. Needless to say be it scorching sun or pouring rain, the Gods here are always honoured properly at all the appropriate occasions.

The Fall of Kama

One fateful spring morning, thousands of years ago, Kama, the God of Love,decided to wield his Cupid´s bow and fire a flowery arrow into the heart of Lord Shiva himself who sat in deep meditation. Shiva, thus aroused, becomes furious and burns poor Kama to ashes with the flames of wrath leaping out of his third eye. Much later, Rathi the celestial consort of Kama appeals to Shiva in tearful agony and Shiva moved by her distress resurrects Kama out of the ashes.

This event is celebrated as a 10 day festival alternately in the popular quarters of the town of Tiruvannamalai and inside the big temple of Arunachaleswara under the auspices of the Vasantha Utsavam. In the town it is celebrated in five minor shrines dedicated to Devi or Subramanya. However, in the temple celebration, Kama is resurrected, three or five days after his death. And with this idea, the ashes are collected in a little mound and in the midst of chanting Rathi pours milk on them as is the custom in funerals. In some cases Shiva also gives a stick to Rathi with which to beat on the ashes thus showing that the Lord has accepted the appeal of the wife and that it is He who thus accords to Kama the right to live again. Moreover in the temple, the festival is celebrated just after the vernal equinox which corresponds to midday of the gods day. It is notable that the 10th and final day of the festival coincides with the full moon of Chithirai in conjunction with the Chaithra constellation.

The deity of this festival is Lord Somaskanda, a form of Shiva and Parvathi, usually found in a shrine on the south-western corner of the main temple of Lord Arunachala. From the first day of the festival upto the ninth, every night around 10 o clock, the gods are brought outside to the third courtyard of the temple, installed in a special palanquin and there ensues an elaborate procession-celebration of the Gods in the form of ten splendid, event-filled tours around the Makila trees lasting till well over midnight. The significance of the “Makila tree” (mimusops elangi) : the tamil verb makil means to enjoy, to desire and the noun makilchi means joy, exultation or ecstasy. Makiltaran is one of the names of the god Kama. The word makila is often pronounced makuta meaning crown and refers to the coronation of Lord Shiva as the sovereign of the universe.

After coming out of his shrine, Somaskanda is installed on the first pandal just in front of the golden flag pole facing the main shrine. Here the Gods are placed under a lovely canopy of fragrant cooling roots called vilamichaiver vimanam (vilamichai root canopy) hand-made by artisans specially for this occasion, and worshipped with offerings of flowers, diparadhana (waving of lights) and karpuraratti (burning of camphor) with the accompaniment of the temple musicians on their mridangam and nathaswaram.

Next the Lord is brought to the second pandal, the panneer mandapam, where he is greeted at first with the lovely fragrance of panneer (rose-water) which is sprinkled copiously from the top. An offering of diparadhana is made and the priest sthanikar climbs on the pedestal and sits at the feet of the Gods.  Along with the kalasams Soma and Kama,  the Gods are decorated with garlands. And then to the delight of the already excited spectators, the Gods perform a frenzied ritual-dance in front of the mirror placed on the adjacent gallery, with the musicians playing accompaniment with great  fervour. Now the Gods settle down under the panneer mandapam to witness a series of elaborate rituals whose significance should not be lost. The showering of flowers on the Gods by the Gandharva Kanni (the virgin-nymph) is enacted by a puppet activated by strings attached from the adjacent gallery terrace. In a very beautiful show which is enthusiastically cheered by all the spectators both old and young, the lovely gandharva kanni puppet comes many times, seemingly out of thin air, and showers buckets of rose and jasmine flowers on the Gods. It is indeed a marvellous spectacle! Then a priest pours a pot of water with five vilva leaves in front of the deities and makes an offering of lights. During all this time, the stately temple elephant stands in attendance, donned in its festive robes. In the past it would gently fan the Gods with a venchamaram (sacred white fan made of peacock feathers and silk).

After these rituals, the ten processional rounds take place and the gods are borne on their palanquin ten times around the makila trees enclave led by the elephant and accompanied by the musicians and singers and followed by devotees. At the completion of each round, the gods dance in front of the mirror and then remain seated under the panneer mandapam where they receive two floral showers by the Gandharva kanni and diparadhana (light) offering.

The significance of the Gandharva Kanni (celestial virgin nymph) : The Gandharvas are celestial beings and also musicians. They are the guardians of Soma, the divine nectar of immortality and divine teacher of the Moon who is also called Soma. They are the parents of the first human beings, the brother-sister couple Yama and Yami. The Gandharvas are attributed with a mystical power over women and the right to possess them. They are invoked in traditional hindu marriage ceremonies and in the brahmin tradition, the bride who is to be married is supposed to belong first to Soma, to Gandharva and to Agni before becoming the wife of a human being. A gandharva marriage is a marriage of love (not arranged). The chief of the Gandharvas is Chitraratha. The wives of the gandharva men are usually celestial damsels, apsaras. In the present festival, the appearance of the Gandharva kanni would mean to manifest, in a nubile form, the expression of desire and the virtue of union as well as the other elements which are associated here-in (flowers, fragrance, music).

The death and resurrection of Kama represent the spiritual truth of how after the ego is destroyed, one is reborn as pure eternal Being. The fact that the flames from the third eye of Shiva burn Kama signifies that the third eye of Jnana (knowledge) in one’s heart  must be opened in order for the ego (ignorance) to be destroyed for no darkness can prevail when the light of knowledge shines !

Lord Arunachala and Vallala Maharaja

According to legend, the great king Vallala III who reigned in Tiruvannamalai during the 14th century, the last emperor of the Hoysala dynasty of Karnataka was childless for a long time and yearned to have a heir and son. He therefore came to Tiruvannamalai and prayed fervently to Lord Arunachaleswara for this boon. His sincere devotion and prayers bore fruit and in due course of time his Rani gave birth to a son. For some reason the king believed that Lord Shiva himself had come down and been born as his son. The Thai Poosam festival which falls in the month of Thai (Jan-Feb) during the constellation of Poosam is generally dedicated to God Muruga or Subramanya. However, in Tiruvannamalai, the Thai Poosam and Maasi Magam festivals are connected with the erstwhile king Vallala Maharaja for Thai Poosam is the date of the death announcement of the said king.

In the big temple, the festival begins with a grand abhishekam to Lord Palani Andavar (another name for Muruga) in his shrine in the 4th courtyard and also in the Kambattu Ilayanar shrine in the 5th courtyard. This happens early in the morning. After this, Lord Shiva in the form of Chandrasekara and his consort Goddess Ambal along with the Astra deva or Trident deity come out in procession. After rounding the 4 streets bordering the temple, the procession of gods winds its way to the Isanya Tirtham which is situated in the crematorium at the North-Eastern corner of the town. There the Trident, weapon of Shiva, is bathed and then placed beside the deities of Shiva and Ambal who have meanwhile been installed in the Mourning Pavilion of the grounds.

On the return journey to the Temple, near the statue of Harischandra, (a legendary king who was tested by Shiva and reduced to serving as crematorium worker) which is often placed at the entrances of crematoriums in Tamil Nadu, a character dressed completely in black robes, the Otran, spy or secret messenger, boldly halts the procession of the gods and hands over a message to the Oduvar or temple singer. The musicians accompanying the procession stop playing their music and in the silence that ensues, the Oduvar reads out loudly the announcement of the death of the king Vallala, murdered by treachery, while in combat with the king of Ottiyam land (Orissa). After hearing this the procession goes back accompanied by the chantings of the Oduvar and the din of the cymbals played by the temple drummers who now play a funeral march.

On the same day as the death announcement of the king, a man from the Vallalar community, Pachai Appa Goundar receives a letter by post, informing him of the death of the king. It says “Pachai Appa Goundar, Alas! you have to weep for your honoured father, the great Vallala Maharaja is no more ! In the house of Pachai Appa goundar from now onwards the members go into mourning and they start to eat talial a meal prepared from curd rice and bananas, only eaten during mourning times.

When the gods arrive back to the Temple in procession, they stop at the statue of the king Vallala (which is in a niche on the passage bordering the entrance gopuram of the 4th courtyard) and here the king’s statue is bathed, anointed and decorated by a representative from the Vallala community. As the gods approach the entrance pavilion, an Aarathi (waving of lamps and camphor flame) is offered to the gods as well as to the king Vallala’s statue.

The final commemoration of this historic event happens at the festival of Maasi Magam later this month during which the last rites for the departed soul of the king are performed by Lord Shiva himself (since it is tradition in India for the son to perform the last rites of his father).

The Divine Quarrel – Tiruvoodal

Tiruvoodal is the legendary quarrel that takes place between Lord  Shiva and Goddess Parvathi and it is celebrated particularly in Tiruvannamalai during the month of January, the 2nd day after Pongal. In fact there is a whole street close to the temple called ‘Tiruvoodal street’ where the main part of the festival, the divine quarrel itself, is enacted.

The Divine quarrel revolves around the time when one day Parvathi playfully closes the eyes of her august husband, Lord Shiva, with her hands. Utter chaos ensues. The whole universe is plunged in darkness and what was just a moment of play to Parvathi causes countless years of darkness and misery on the universe. Lord Shiva, enraged by this act of folly, punishes Parvathi which sends Her to Kanchipuram to do Tapas where She receives the assurance that after she kills the buffalo-demon Mahishasura on the slopes of Arunachala, She would subsequently regain the favour of her Lord and be united with Him in the left half of His body (Ardhanaariswara) and this is what is realised on the day of Karthigai Deepam.

It would seem that the Tiruvoodal festival is celebrated in Tiruvannamalai in order to commemorate the time when Shiva and Parvathi were in discordance. Nevertheless,  it finishes with the divine union and brings them both back together in harmony. On the first day, there are three processions of the deities starting from the big temple and going on the four streets around the temple. The Utsava Murthis are Sri Mula Nayakar (Shiva in the form of Somaskanda), Tani Ambal (the independent goddess) and Sundaramurthi Nayanar (one of the main tamil saivaite saints).

The most interesting part of the festival takes place in the evening on Tiruvoodal street. During this part, the quarrel between Shiva and His consort, Parvathi, is enacted in public on the streets and witnessed by a large gathering of devotees who are assembled there eagerly to watch the divine drama. The God and the Goddess are brought on palanquins from opposite ends of the street and then borne down to face each other. The narrative of the quarrel is chanted by an Oduvar (temple singer) in tamil lyrics. After this ensues a dramatic dancing procession. Six times the God and the Goddess are borne down at a great speed and then meet in the centre and have their quarrel. This is played out by the palanquin bearrers jumping and shaking the palanquin up and down, which makes it appear as if the deity inside is jumping up and down in a fit of rage. The temple musicians play their drums in fitting accompaniment, adding to the frenzied rantings of the gods as they are shouting at each other. After each quarrel-dance, the deities change sides and each goes off in the opposite direction from which he or she came initially. The crowds of devotees are hysterical with excitement and after each dance-quarrel, the tension mounts and so do the loud cries of fervor and devotion which increase in volume and fury.

The next day, Shiva is up at dawn and leaves on Giripradakshina during which he makes a halt at the Vedarpari mandapam where his jewels are supposedly stolen and later on he also grants salvation to his ardent devotee Kannappa. This is the reason for the Kannappa temple on that location. Shiva also grants darshan to another of his devotees the great rishi ‘Bhringi’ during this trip.  Shiva eventually completes his giri pradakshina and returns to the temple in the afternoon where he enters, dancing the dance of the Swan (Hamsa Natanam). The bearers of the palanquins have a special technique to execute this dance and it causes a type of swaying, continuous oscillation of the deity without losing balance, quite a fascinating sight!

Now a ritual takes place in the southern area of the temple which covers directly the sanctum sanctorum. Sundaramurthi Nayanar first goes to warn the Goddess about the return of Shiva. Of course, She, being curious, leaves Her door open so that She can have a glimpse of the dancing arrival of Her Lord. On seeing this spectacle, however, She is so dazzled by her Lord’s beauty and splendour as He arrives majestically doing His swan-dance, that She submits to Him and wishes to be re-united. Thus the reconciliation and reunion of the gods take place and to synchronise this, both the deities are brought together and placed on the same pedestal and the priests perform an Arathi puja waving and encircling one flame around both of the deities to signify the restoration of harmony.

The Tour of the Great Chariot

The eight day of the Karthigai festival is the day of the Maha Ratham or the Great Chariot. On this day, the great wooden chariot which is the largest temple chariot in Asia, is taken on procession around the four streets of the temple. The main great chariot carries the stately figures of Lord Arunachaleswara and his consort Goddess Unnamulai whereas the smaller chariots which follow in retinue carry the deities of Lord Muruga, Lord Ganesha and Goddes Durga respectively.

Early in the morning, thousands of men and women flock the venue of departure in front of the Raja Gopuram, eager to pull the chains of the chariot and thus have the honour of drawing their Lord’s vehicle. The method in which the chariot is drawn goes back to ancient times. Two long chains made of iron links are connected to the chariot. Carpenters use wooden wedges as brakes to check the speed on the downward slopes as well as to stop the ratham. The signal is given to lift the chain and the devotees pick up the chain. The men hold one side of the chain and women the other. When the wedges are removed and the lever is applied at the back of the huge wheel to give the initial momentum, the second signal is given from the chariot. At once, men and women with great enthusiasm and cheering in unison “Hail to Annamalaiyar” draw the chariot with all their might. Slowly, inch by inch, the great chariot moves and as the pull increases, it gains momentum and moves faster.

It is indeed impressive to see the gigantesque, enormous wooden chariot move forth slowly and majestically, drawn entirely by man power. The chariot is made of rose wood and has beautiful carvings of divinities on its sides.  The top is decorated  attractively with silk canopies, banana and coconut fronds and flower garlands. The Temple Sivacharyas in royal attire are seated on either side like footmen to the Gods and they wave lovely peacock feathered fans to keep the Gods cool and refreshed during their procession.

And thus the great chariot winds its way down the temple streets. By the time it has reached the western street, it is evening and the sun has started to set. The golden rays of the sinking sun shine through the peaks of the Hill. With the Hill view, the golden sunset, the soaring temple towers and the Lord majestically riding on his great chariot in the centre, it is indeed a spectacular sight and one feels the presence of the Lord Himself witnessing the scene in quiet enjoyment !

Skandha Sashti

The sixth day of the lunar cycle in the tamil month of Karthigai is celebrated as Skanda Sashti, a festival dedicated to Lord Muruga, the younger son of Lord Shiva. This festival commemorates the great event Soorasumhaaram or the slaying of the demon Soorapadman by Muruga in the form of Skanda, slayer of demons and vanquisher of evil.

In Tiruvannamalai, the big temple of Arunachaleswara celebrates this festival in a very popular and dramatic manner. The battle of  Soorasamharam (destruction of Sooran) takes place at nightfall on the day of Skanda Sashti. Now Skandha  in the form of Arumugam or Shanmukham with six heads and twelve arms goes out in an impressive procession from the big temple after having, earlier, received the sacred weapon (a bow and arrow) from his mother, the Goddess Unnamulaiyamman. First he makes a festive a tour of the four streets around the temple collecting a crowd of devotees everywhere. He then wields his way in the northern direction preceded by the temple elephant and accompanied by his retinue of priests, musicians and devotees.

The procession passes the Durga temple and then stops in front of the Vada Subramanya temple a few metres before the town bus depot. At this place, Lord Muruga is assailed by the demon coming from the North (like all asuras). This is enacted in the form of a giant wooden doll placed on a cart with wheels which comes whizzing down the slope pushed by men from behind. The asura Sooran thus attacks Lord Muruga three times and Skanda wields his bow and lets fly an arrow to strike him each time. After each hit, the head of the Asura changes significantly.

The last head is the Maamarasura, with the head of a mango tree. At the end, the Asura undergoes a change of heart, repents his misdeeds and to signify this, his head is altered into a peacock and a rooster head, being the two mounts of Lord Muruga. The Asura Sooran then pays obeisance to the Lord and thus the festival ends but not without a grand display of fireworks to the delight and cheer of the audience.

Aadi Padhinettam Perukku

Aadiperukku is a festival celebrated on the 18th day of the Tamil month of Aadi (Mid july -August). This year it happened on the third of August. This festival is also called as “Padinettam perukku” – Padinettu -means 18 and Perukku signifies a great rising. The Aadi month falls during the south-west monsoon period and during this month all the south Indian rivers would normally get flooded by the rains. Aadi Perukku is celebrated in Tamilnadu and it is a time of rejoicing for the farming community who live on the banks of the main rivers and their tributaries. People perform special pujas to the river on this day. Hundreds of devotees, especially newly married couples celebrate this festival and worship the Mother Goddess on the banks of the river.

In Tiruvannamalai, due to the absence of a river in the town, Aadi Perukku is celebrated within the precincts of the big Temple. The Mulaipari ritual in which 9 types of grain are sown in  earthenware pots and then brought as offering to the Goddess, takes place outside the Pidari Amman shrine. This ritual is performed as a prayer to the Goddess to provide a plentiful monsoon and for fertility of the land and to have a bountiful yield from the crops. Women also float clay lamps on the Brahma Theertham of the temple and this is quite a lovely sight at night.

Subsequently, there is also the Aadi Puram festival which is celebrated in the big temple. During the celebrations, the Goddess Parashakthi is brought to the ‘valaiyal kappu mandapam’ in the 5th courtyard. Here, first the Goddess is worshipped with a grand abhishekam. Then She is beautifully adorned in a silk sari and decked with golden ornaments and flowers. After this a long queue of women devotees offer bracelets and bangles (valaiyal) to the Goddess. The priest places the bracelets on Her arms and then returns them to the women as prasad. Rudram is chanted by the Vaidikas (brahmin vedic scholars) all the while. And thus the festive month of Aadi draws to a close and with these final two festivals it is believed the Mother Goddess to whom this month is consecrated, would have been ideally propitiated  and Her blessings would be abundantly showered.