This is the full moon in the month of Chithirai in conjunction with the Chaitra or Chitra constellation. It is a one of the special full moons of the year and the word chitra means brilliant or colourful from which the term chitrakar is derived meaning painter-artist or magician.
On this full moon night, the legend of Chitragupta is narrated among families.
Chitragupta is the Hindu god, who is assigned with the task of keeping a complete record of the good and bad deeds of human beings and after their death, judge them whether they should go to hell or heaven, depending on their actions on the earth. In some beliefs, Chitragupta is the creation of Lord Brahma and the younger brother of the god of death, Yama. According to Hindu mythology, Brahma is the creator of the whole world. He first created sixteen sons from different parts of his body. Then lord Brahma created his seventeenth son Chitragupta from his belly. Chitragupta is also called `Kayastha` as he was created from the Kaya(body) of Lord Brahma. He is a divine incarnation in human form. Chitragupta has eight sons namely Gorh, Mathur,Bhatnagar, Saxena, Asthana, Srivastava, Ambastha and Karn. The Hindu religion believes in the cycle of life, death and rebirth. It is believed that those who have done misdeeds in life have to take rebirth after a punishment period in hell to complete their life cycle. The primary duty of Chitragupta is to create a log of the lives of all human beings. After the death of each creature, Chitragupta judges and decides whether they will attain ‘Moksha’ or go to heaven for their good-deeds and get redemption from all worldly troubles or receive punishment for their sins in another life form or in hell.
It is a general belief that on this night, any religious act of absolution like bathing in sacred waters or pradakshina around a holy mountain will propitiate Chitragupta who may obliterate the records of one’s bad deeds as a result. Hence millions come to Tiruvannamalai on this night to do giri pradakshina.
Interestingly, the nakshatra Chitra is placed under the protection of Tvastr, the divine carpenter of hindu mythology who supposedly crafted the living creatures, It is believed that he is also associated with the fire and lightning bolt of Indra as well as serving as priest to the Asuras.
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 verbe 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 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).
Special days of the festival: The special days are the 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th days. On the 3rd day, the birth of Kama is supposed to happen, (this was enacted by a temple danseuse disguised as Kama in the olden days).
The 5th and 8th days: On the 5th day, during the 3rd round, Somaskanda makes a halt in front of the main Dakshinamurthi statue under the Makila trees and two priests perform simultaneously one puja to each of the deities with food and light offerings, the synchronisation of the pujas highlighting the unification of the two divine forms. After the 10th round, Somaskanda is taken inside the Kalyana mandapam where he is divested of silks and jewellery and re-adorned in a new alamkaram made entirely of flowers and green leaves (spring costume).
When the Gods come back outside, the entire lights of the temple are switched off and the Gods make a special tour of the 3rd courtyard with only the light of flaming torches made of rings of plaited straw thereby representing the olivu-vattam, circle of light which designates the moon (Soma).
On the 8th day, Somaskanda is taken inside
the Vasantha mandapam which is at present the temple
administration office and after changing to spring costume, brought outside and again all the lights are switched off and the same olivu vattam tour takes place but this time in the opposite or anti clock-wise direction (apradakshina). Thus the Gods arrive from the left side whereas his musicians
and singers come from the right and they meet in front of the main pandal. In the olden days, the devadasis danced the pinnal-kollattam and one of them, disguised as Kama, was bound in cords.
The 10th and final day: Around 10 o clock in the morning, after the uchikala ritual, Somaskanda and the Goddess go outside the temple on procession in palanquins. They are accompanied by the Astra Deva and the Palikkai. The procession winds its way up to the Ayyankulam, a sacred reservoir of water inside the temple of Arunagirinathar. Here the Teerthavari ritual takes place according to tradtion and the palikkai is thrown inside the water after the Astra deva,s holy dip in the water. The Gods return in procession to the big temple late in the evening. It is the full moon of Chitra. Somaskanda first performs a salutation dance in front of Sambanda Vinayaka while the Goddess is taken inside the shrine. Somaskanda is then borne to the Vasantha mandapam and installed on the front porch where he
is worshipped with diparadhana and karpurarathi. And there he sits beaming benevolently at the crowds of devotees who are thronging at his feet. One would never imagine the terrible events that would follow. Lo and behold! Kama appears and starts to wield his bow and aim his flowery arrow at Shiva. Depicting this, a giant effigy of Kama made of straw holding a huge bow and arrow festooned in flowers is brought in on a wheeled contraption and placed facing Somaskanda. A string is tied connecting the two deities. Then with the help of the priests a fire cracker is lit at the hand ofSomaskanda where it instantly takes off and whizzes down the string and reaches Kama and BOOM! Kama explodes into flames and is immediately wheeled back to the Makila trees enclave where he gets burnt up entirely. A magnificent display of fireworks then takes place in the temple courtyard, enthralling the crowds. After this Somaskanda is borne back into the temple and installed in his shrine.Thus Kama is destroyed by the wrath of Shiva in the festival. However, according to legend, Kama is later on resurrected out of the ashes after his consort Rathi appeals to Shiva and begs him to restore her husband. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Going deeper, the mind (manomaya kosa) and its functions are not ‘I’.
The next step takes on to the question. “Wherefrom do these thoughts arise?” The thoughts are spontaneous, superficial or analytical. They operate in intellect. Then, who is aware of them? The existence of thoughts, their clear conceptions and their operations become evident to the individual. The analysis leads to the conclusion that the individuality of the person is operative as the perceiver of the existence of thoughts and of their sequence. This individuality is the ego, or as people say ‘I’. Vijnanamaya kosa (intellect) is only the sheath of ‘I’ and not the ‘I’ itself.
Enquiring further the questions arise, “Who is this ‘I’? Wherefrom does it come?” ‘I’ was not aware in sleep. Simultaneously with its rise sleep changes to dream or wakefulness. But I am not concerned with dream just now. Who am I now, in the wakeful state? If I originated from sleep, then the ‘I’ was covered up with ignorance. Such an ignorant ‘I’ cannot be what the scriptures say or the wise ones affirm. ‘I’ am beyond even ‘Sleep’; ‘I’ must be now and here and what I was all along in sleep and dreams also, without the qualities of such states. ‘I’ must therefore be the unqualified substratum underlying these three states (anandamaya kosa transcended).
‘I’ is, in brief, beyond the five sheaths. Next, the residuum left over after discarding all that is not-self is the Self, Sat-Chit-Anand
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.
The Kannappa temple is situated on the Girivalam inner path but it is also accessible from the outer path by means of a little forest trail near the Echo mandapam. Set with Arunachala as a backdrop, this temple is a scenic and quiet spot, ideal for meditation and is built at an altitude with a fine view of the forest and hill. It was falling into ruins some years ago and was renovated to its present state by the Shantimalai foundation. Today it appears as a beautiful stone monument with carved stone pillars in front and a fine stone staircase leading up to the shrine.
As the name suggests, this temple is dedicated to Sri Kannappa Nayanar who is one of the 63 Tamil Saivaite saints. Legend has it that Kannappa was a hunter in the forest and an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. Everyday he would worship a Shiva Lingam in the forest with great devotion and piety. One day the Lord decided to test his faith and made the left eye on the Lingam to bleed copiously. When Kannappa saw this, he was so distressed that he pulled out his own left eye out of its socket and placed it on the bleeding eye on the Lingam. When he did this, the Lord made the other eye on the Lingam to bleed too and on seeing this, Kannappa even more pained, started to pull out his other remaining eye out of its socket to place it on this bleeding eye after first marking the spot with his foot because he knew he would be unable to see if he pulled out his other eye. At this point, Lord Shiva, greatly moved by his devotion, appears to Kannappa there and holds his hand. Thus Kannappa’s devotion is rewarded and he is granted liberation. Till today he is revered as one of the 63 holy savants of Tamil saivism even though he was only a simple huntsman.
The Kannappa temple also plays a role in the Thiruvoodal festival in January which is the Divine quarrel between Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. During this event, the jewels of the Gods are supposedly stolen and this episode of the ‘Divine Jewels robbery’ takes place, interestingly, inside the Kannappa temple where it is enacted every year in the form of a divine drama ritual.
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).
The Sri Chakra puja is performed in Ramanashram inside the Matrabhuteswara shrine every Friday, every full moon and on the first day of every tamil month. Sri Chakra puja or Yantra puja is worship of the deity in a diagrammatic form. The worship of the divine mother, Devi in this form is the highest form of Devi worship. The Bindu in the centre of the Sri chakra represents the cosmic spiritual union of Shiva and Shakthi. By worshipping Devi in Sri Chakra, one is worshipping the highest ultimate force in the tantric form.
The presiding deity of the Sri Chakra is Lalita Tripura Sundari, the sovereign of the 3 realms in all areas i.e. of the 3 gunas – Rajas, Tamas and Sattva, of the 3 lights – Sun, Moon and Fire, the 3 energies – Icchai (Will), Jnana (Knowledge) and Kriya (Action), of the 3 states – Jagrat (waking), Swapna (dreaming) and Sushupti (deep sleep) etc. She is also the ruler of the zodiac, the planets and of Time itself. It is hard to say what She is not.
The 9 avaranas of the Sri Chakra have various presiding Devis. They are the Devis Parivar (retinue) and they number totally 108. During the Sri Chakra puja they are systematically worshipped one by one with their names and mantras. This is known as Navaavarana puja. Lalitha Sahasranamam, Durga namavali, Durga ashtothram are all chanted during the puja.
In Ramanashram, experienced Brahmin priests well-versed in the vedic tradition perform the Sri chakra puja to the Sri Chakra Mehru in the sanctum santorum of the Mother’s shrine (which was installed by Sri Ramana Maharshi himself) with great devotion and spiritual energy. The ceremony begins around sunset and lasts for a span of nearly three hours at the end of which Prasad is distributed to all present. Devotees feel greatly energized by this puja due to the intense Shakthi which arises from the Mother and look forward to it every week!
The Nirudhi lingam shrine on the Arunachala giri pradakshina path nestles in a cool and woodsy spot surrounded by lovely old trees and can be quite a refuge on a hot summer afternoon. A fine old stone well near the entrance serves as the water source for the temple. The theertham also called as Sani theertham known to have psycho-therapeutic properties is unfortunately dry at this time. Legend has it that king Nala himself bathed in this sacred pond to be relieved of some doshas that he incurred due to his karma. The sign in tamil says that this lingam is specially renowned to help people recover from the bad effects of black magic and other negative energies. The officiating sadhu-priest claims that it also bestows peace of mind and indeed as one takes darshan of this lingam and comes out, one does feel swept by a wave of tranquility…
‘A’ asked: I often desire to live in solitude where I can find all I want with ease, so that I may devote all my time to meditation only. Is such a desire good or bad?
M.: Such thoughts will bestow a janma (reincarnation) for their fulfillment. What does it matter where and how you are placed? The essential point is that the mind must always remain in its source. There is nothing external which is not also internal. The mind is all. If the mind is active even solitude becomes like a market place. There is no use closing your eyes. Close the mental eye and all will be right. The world is not external to you. The good persons will not care to make plans previous to their actions. Why so? For God who has sent us into the world has His own plan and that will certainly work itself out.