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!