Arunachaleswara temple

  • Vasantha Utsavam, the Spring festival – Part I – a curtain raiser

    In Tiruvannamalai, the Vasantha Utsavam is celebrated to commemorate the momentous events that took place one fateful spring morning thousands of years ago, when 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 festival is celebrated alternately in the popular quarters of the town of Tiruvannamalai and inside the big temple of Arunachaleswara under the auspices of an Utsavam. In the town it is celebrated in 5 or 6 minor shrines dedicated to Devi or Subramanya. About two months prior to this, on the day of Masi Magam, a staff with a green standard is planted in the earth near the temple. To the bottom end of the staff is attached a pat of dried cow dung which bears the vaishnavite symbol of Kama. Although it is not used otherwise than in this ceremony, the pat of cow dung is the symbol representing the burning of Kama to ashes by the fire of Shiva. Following this incident, 10 days before the full moon of Chithirai, a little group of devotees from each temple march across the town in the evening bearing a tambour and a flag depicting Kama in the process of striking his arrows. They go from street to street singing the mournful strains of the Oppari (funeral) chant. Moreover, interspersed with the chanting, they recite the amorous exploits of Kama in coarse dialect. On the 10th day which is the full moon, an effigy of Kama made of lemon grass is dragged on the streets and burnt early in the morning in the presence of a character dressed up as Rathi and another dressed up as Shiva in meditation under the trees.

    However, in the temple celebration, Kama is always resurrected, 3 or 5 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 wont 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.

    In the temple also 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 preparations for the festival in the big temple consist of the following ceremonies:

    – the pandalkal muhurtam or the auspicious moment for defining the sacred space of the festival by the ritual of erecting the pandalkal or pandal pole. This is done in front of the shrine of the Sambandha Vinayagar who is freshly anointed with vermillion and showered with abhishekas for the occasion. Here on the ground the pandalkal decorated with mango leaves and flower garlands is firmly planted inside a pit which has been dug and consecrated earlier with bhumi puja ritual. After the pole is erected,  diparadhana and arathi are performed.

    – the Yagasalai or hall of sacrifice is opened on the first day in the evening after the sayarakshai ritual.

    Here on the central platform, two kalasams, one representing Soma and the other Kama, have been placed on a mound of rice. The kalasams in this case are bronze pots filled with turmeric water and a coin, they are closed with a coconut surrounded by mango leaves crested by a knot of Dharba grass and decorated with a flower garland. Around the kalasam representing Soma, there are five palikai, little earthen pots in which the Navadhanya or the nine classic food grains have been germinated.

    The soil in the pots comes from the ground beneath the Vilva tree which grows near the shrine of Goddess Pidari amman. Puja is performed to the kalasams twice daily during the 10 day period of the festival.

    – A Kappu or protection bracelet is tied around the arm of god Somaskanda just after the first ritual in the yagasala.

    The specific rituals of the Vasantha festival: They are connected to the Southern area of the 3rd courtyard of the temple where there are the three Makila (mimusops elangi) trees, (the sthala viruksha or sacred/special tree of Arunachala), as well as to the divine marriage hall or kalyana mandapam.

    – the deities who are installed in shrines under the trees receive abhishekam and karpuratti puja daily twice during the 10 days.

    – inside the marriage hall right at the back, the Bhimaswera lingam is also venerated with abhishekam and puja during all the 10 days whereas this lingam is never venerated at any other time of the year. Interestingly the name of this lingam, Lord Bhima refers to the third brother of the Pandavas in the epic of Mahabharatham and it is he who gives Kama, the desire, the precedence over the three other goals of man (purusharthas)

    The principal and most attractive feature of the festival are the 10 splendid nightly tours of the god Somaskanda around the Makila trees with music and dance accompaniements and fanfare for the first 9 days of the festival. On the 10th day which falls on the full moon, the gods will go on a tirthavari procession to Ayyamkulam (ritual of the gods taking holy dip in a sacred pool) and on their return will take place the burning of Kama enacted in the form of an elaborate divine charade.

    The celebration of the Vasantha festival dates back to very ancient times as learnt from the Bhavisyottara purana. Our next post will describe the actual proceedings of the festival with photos.

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  • Tamil New Year

    Tamil Nadu and Kerala are the only regions in India which follow the lunar calendar year (Chandra varusham) unlike the other regions which mostly follow the solar calendar year (Ravi varusham). The Tamil New year is born in the middle of April which is the first day of the month of Chithirai according to the Tamil calendar and it always begins on the new moon (Amavasya). People celebrate the new year like a religious festival and in Tiruvannamalai too, on this day they do giri pradakshina, perform pujas and religious ceremonies in their homes and then go to temples to worship the Lord.

    In the big temple of Lord Arunachaleswara, the beautiful golden chariot is taken out in honour of this day and the God and Goddess ride out on procession in all their magnificence and splendour. It is indeed a wondrous sight to see the Gods bedecked with jewels and flowers, seated majestically inside the chariot of pure gold and the air is rent with loud exclamations of wonder and piety as the chariot makes its way, around the vast courtyard of the temple, pulled by hundreds of earnest hands.

    Earlier, the chief priest of the temple has read out the ‘Panchangam’ (traditional tamil almanac) with various predictions and auspicious interventions. The year born today is called ‘Vikruthi’. During the course of the month, the Nakshatra (constellation) Tiruvonam will be consecrated to Lord Nataraja and that of Satayam to the tamil saivaite saint Appar. But the main festival of the month is of course Vasantha, the spring festival which is dedicated to the death and resurrection of Sri Kama deva, god of desire. The spiritual significance of this is the destruction of worldly desire in order to give rise to the pure desireless being.

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  • Panguni Uttaram – the Divine Marriage

    The full moon of the tamil month of Panguni in conjunction with the lunar constellation of Uttaram (meaning that which is superior, excellent) is presided by the ViswaDeva (meaning totality of the Gods). The fullness of the moon, the excellence of the constellation and the divine totality all give this day the qualities of completion and perfection.

    In Tiruvannamalai, on this day, the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi is celebrated. The marriage celebrations last for 6 days and the programme is as follows: 1st day – Panguni Uttaram, celebration of the bethrothal ceremony. 2nd day – Maru Unnal Utsavam, feast of taking meals in the in-laws house. 3rd, 4th and 5th days – Nalangu Unjal, ceremony of ritually rocking the Gods seated upon a wooden swing. 6th day – Manjal Nirattu vizha, ceremony of the ritual bath in turmeric water.

    At the outset, the marriage invitation is printed and distributed to all the town folk. Curiously the marriage ceremony is performed twice. In the morning it happens inside the inner sanctum of the resident chief deity (Moolavar-lingam) and in the evening it is celebrated for the Utsava murthys (the ambulant Gods or the deities in procession).

    Morning: the marriage ceremony is begun with the usual daily rituals performed to the lingam. During the course of the rituals, the gold-jewelled symbol of marriage (thali or mangalyam) is tied around the neck of the Goddess Bhogasakthi represented by a bronze statue who is always present in the ante-chamber of the sanctum.

    Afternoon: Around 4 p.m. the Goddess Thani Amman is borne in procession to the Kumaran temple situated at the South of the big temple where She is installed on a pedestal.

    Night: Around 10 p.m. after a very elaborate ritual of decoration, the Goddess adorned in her marriage sari is borne back in procession to the shrine in the 3rd courtyard of the big temple where Lord Shiva awaits her in the form of Somaskanda (Shiva as a husband).  Now, to the delight of the spectators, a graceful ballet ritual ensues, during which the two deities (Thani Amman and Somaskanda) borne upon devotees’ shoulders are brought close thrice, one to the other, and the marital garlands are exchanged thereby. Then the bridal couple deities are carried to the marriage hall on the South of the 3rd courtyard where devotees are gathered already to witness the marriage celebration. Here the Gods are installed on a beautiful wooden old fashioned swing. At their feet, two kalasams representing the bridal couple have been consecrated and decorated. We also see various other symbols of marriage – germinated grains sprouting in 5 little earthen pots, mortar and pestle etc. The main ceremony begins around midnight. There takes place firstly a series of general marriage rituals:

    – a protection braclelet (kappu or kanganam) is tied around the waist of each.

    – after a divine chanting, a sacred cord (Yajnopavita) is offered to the god.

    – the thali or mangalyam (the sacred cord of marriage with gold-jewelled ornament) is then tied around the neck of the Goddess.

    – the priests perform a very elaborate fire sacrifice (agni homa). This sacrificial fire is conserved in a clay pot and is kept burning for 5 days.

    The end of the marriage consists of a puja, with offering of naivedya (food offering) to the fire, to the kalasams and to the deities.

    Very late at night around 2 a.m. the celebration continues with a very lighted procession around the 4 streets of the temple and this goes upto dawn. On their return, around 7 a.m. the bridal couple, Somaskanda and Thani Amman resume their places in the marriage hall and are worshipped with Abhishekams (sacred ritualistic baths for the deities).

    Thus the divine marriage serves as a reminder to men that the marriage of the gods is a model of that of men and that conjugal life is a source of happiness and prosperity.

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  • Shivaratri festival celebration at Arunachaleswar Temple

    Here in Tiruvannamalai, the celebration of the holy night of Shivarathri is observed with great devotion and fervor, as Sivarathri means ‘The night of Shiva’, and the Holy Mount of Arunachala is believed to be Shiva incarnate on earth. Therefore this holy day is observed and revered by the multitudes. This year, Shivarathri Festival was celebrated in the Arunachelaswar temple on March 14th.

    Shiva, sometimes referred to as the destroyer of the ‘Ego’ is worshiped on this night, on the 6th night of the dark Phalgun (Feb or March) every year.
    On this auspicious day, devotees observe fast and keep vigil all night. Mahashivaratri marks the night when Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’. Tandava, as performed in the sacred dance-drama of southern India, has vigorous, brisk movements. Performed with joy, the dance is called Ananda Tandava. Performed in a violent mood, the dance is called Rudra Tandava.

    It is also believed that on this day Lord Shiva was married to Parvati Ma.

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