Day 4:45 pm
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 !