27 November 2015

2015 Deepam Festival. Day Eleven--Night: Lord Chandrasekhara on Theepal

The last of the celebratory observances during Karthigai Festival is Thirthotsavam which literally means “water festival”. Four days are allocated at the end of Deepam to celebrate the water festival at Ayyankulam Tank in front of Arunagirinathar Temple (the third oldest Shiva Temple at Arunachala). The water festival is representative of the sadhaka’s plunge into the higher realms of consciousness – and typifies an entering into samadhi... an end of religious aspiration. 

Lord Chandrasekhara Alangaram

The Theepal for the Gods are floating structure made up of drums and timber and decorated with lights, flowers, religious paintings and silken buntings. Lights are installed around the perimeter of the tank and focus lights placed at strategic points. When the murtis of the Gods come to Ayyakulam Tank they are placed lovingly on a float and then the float pushes off and completes an allocated number of turns upon the Temple Tank. Devotees sit on the steps of the tank to take darshan of the God on the Theepal. Thereafter the deity of that day is taken in procession around the four Mada Streets (perimeter streets) surrounding Arunachaleswarar Temple. 

Preparing the gods on their Float

Ready to push over from the bank of the Theertham

Crowds sitting on the steps of the Tank

Many devotees who attend the Theepal ceremonies at Ayyankulam Tank, take the opportunity to visit the adjacent Arunagirinathar Temple, which is the third oldest and most significant Shiva Temple at Tiruvannamalai -- and for many visitors a great favourite. 

2015 Deepam Festival. Day Eleven--Day: Gods on Hillround

On the morning after the lighting of the Mahadeepam, the Gods perform girivalam of the Arunachala Hillround roadway. There are only two times the Gods perform such a girivalam; the first time in the calendar year is during the Thiruvoodal Festival, and the second time is during the Arunachala Karthigai Deepam Festival . . . always in the morning of the 11th day i.e. day after lighting of the Arunachala Mahadeepam. 

Panchamoorties going through the streets of Tiruvannamalai

The Gods constantly stop to receive their devotees and for aarti to be performed

The Panchamoorties are pulled around the 14km Girivalam roadway, stopping frequently

The idols stopping outside the gates of Ramanashram

26 November 2015

2015 Deepam Festival. Day Ten—Bramhatheertham Theerthavari

Each day of the 10 day Deepam Festival the Sulam is carried with reverence and pomp through the mada veedhi (Temple perimeter streets) about an hour prior to the designated panchamoorthies procession of that morning and evening. 

During the daytime of the Mahadeepam day at Arunachaleswarar Temple, the Siva Sulam (representative the Lord’s Trident) traditionally is sanctified in the Braham Teertham through abshikeham and puja. 

Abhiskeham performed on morning of 10th Day of Deepam Festival

The Gods at base of Trisula

The three points of the Sulam (Trident) are said to represent the triads of; creation, maintenance and destruction, past, present and future and the three conditions (sattwa, rajas and tamas). When looked upon as a weapon of Lord Siva, the Trishula is said to destroy the three worlds: the physical world, the world of the past) and the world of the mind (representing the processes of sensing and acting).

At base of Trishula, Lord Siva and the Goddess on Rishaba (bull)

Immersion in the Brahma Teertham, Arunachaleswarar Temple

In the human body, the Trisula also represents the place where the three main nadi, or energy channels (ida, pingala and shushmana) meet at the brow. Shushmana, the central one, continues upward to the 7th chakra, or energy centre, while the other two end at the brow, where the 6th chakra is located. The Trishula's central point represents Shushmana, and thus is longer than the other two representing ida and pingala. 

2015 Deepam Festival. Day Ten--Night: Temple Mahadeepam Alangarams

The below photographs are of the Alangaram of the Panchamoorthies on the evening of the 10th Day of the 2015 Karthigai Deepam Festival. The Five Idols (as in all processions) are: Lord Ganesha, Lord Arunachaleswarar, Goddess Unnamulai, Subramaniyar and Chandideswarar. The sixth God is that of the form of Ardhanariswarar (half male, half female) which is only taken outside the 2nd Prakaram on the evening of Mahadeepam.

Lord Ganesha

Lord Arunachaleswarar
Goddess Unnamulaiyar

Lord Subramaniyar with his two wives


2015 Deepam Festival. Day Ten—Late Night: Golden Rishaba

Late in the night of the 10th day of the 2015 Karthigai Deepam Festival, the Vahana for Lord Arunachaleswarar was the Golden Rishba (the golden bull). This was recently presented to the Temple by a devotee, at a cost of Rs.20 Lakhs. 

The 2015 Karthigai Deepam was the first time the new Golden Rishaba has been used. As is customary a puja was performed on the Rishaba previous to the Festival. 

Golden Rishaba before adornment 
Golden Rishaba giving darshan on circumambulation
The Golden  Rishaba late on the 10th Day of Deepam Festival

25 November 2015

Arunachala Karthigai Deepam November 25, 2015

Below are photographs taken of the Mahadeepam being lit on the top of Arunachala around 6 p.m. this evening, Thursday, November 25, 2015. 

2015 Arunachala Mahadeepam

2015 Arunachala Mahadeepam   

2015 Deepam Festival. Day Ten—Evening: Mahadeepam Arunachaleswarar Temple

Lord Arunachaleswarar Gives Darshan

Deepam in Temple precedes the Deepam on Arunachala by a few seconds
After Deepam is lit, Ardhaniswarar gives darshan to devotees at Temple

Packed Temple Crowd  with eyes on Deepam, in Temple and on Hill

2015 Arunachala Deepam

[By Swami Abhisktananda 1970] 

"Towards five the singing stopped, as a procession emerged from the Kalyana Mandapam. It was the five murtis (Ganapati and Subramaniyar, the two sons of Shiva; the Bull Nandi, Shiva’s vehicle, Parvati, his consort; and finally Shiva himself) which were now coming attired in their most splendid garments and covered with flowers, to mix with the crowd so that they might have the darshan of the Holy Light. Immediately in front of the porch of the sanctuary stands a mandapam which was built in 1202 by Mangayarkarasi to provide a shelter for the Lords of the Temple during this annual function. The murtis passed through the crowd in their palanquins carried on the shoulders of the Brahmins. Once they were in their place, everyone’s attention was once more turned towards the Mountain and the chanting of mantras began again. 

The atmosphere became more and more tense. The sun had now disappeared behind the mountain, and the lengthening shadow of the mighty Linga of rock gradually spread across the sanctuary, the courtyards and the Gopurams. The great moment was drawing near for which everyone was waiting—the appearance of the Flame. Expectation filled every heart and showed on every face. It increased in harmony with the rhythm of the cosmos itself; as slowly beyond the horizon the moon rose into the sky, while in the depths of space the constellation of the Pleiades, of Krittika, appeared in the same direction. 

Suddenly there was the sound of an explosion, like a gunshot. Young Brahmin torch-bearers came running out of the inner sanctuary, brandishing their lighted torches at arm’s length. Priests offered the flame of the arati before the murti of Arunachala at its space under the mandapam. In front of the main gate a huge bronze cauldron, filled with oil, camphor and clarified butter, burst into a giant flame. 

And from the peak of the Mountain also, - on which all eyes had been fixed for the last full hour, not only in the Temple and the town, but in the whole countryside around to a distance of many leagues—the flame mounted up, manifesting both outwardly and in the heart of the faithful, the mystery of Light which from the beginning has at the same time hidden and revealed itself in Arunachala. 

That is all. The Flame has been seen. Joy and grace have filled all hearts. The crowd immediately begins to disperse, though it will be more than two hours before the Temple courts are completely empty. Each one as he leaves, goes to the bronze cauldron and casts into it his offering of camphor or of oil to be burnt up in the one great flame - a symbol of his own departure into the mystery of the Flame. 

Meanwhile the bearers up above begin their slow and difficult descent from the Mountain. They had climbed up early that morning in the first light of dawn, carrying jars of oil and clarified butter. The worthiest of their number were entrusted with bearing the sacred fire, taken from each of the Temple shrines, in order to light the Thibam flame. This had to be done at the very moment when, from their lofty observatory, they saw simultaneously the red sun disappearing in the west while the moon’s dish came over the horizon in the east. 

As soon as I left the Temple precincts amid the crow of faithful, I joined with many others in once more following the circular road round Arunachala . . . as I stepped into the cool air of the night . . . all the detailed features of the Mountain had disappeared. There was nothing to be seen but the sharp outline of its mystic triangle sketched against the sky. As the moon climbed majestically towards the zenith, it shed over it its silvery light, while all around was spread a mysterious shadow. 

The Mountain had become an immense lamp, from the top of which glittered the bright Fame. OM.” 

2015 Deepam Festival. Day Ten—Morning: Bharani Deepam

The chief priest has just finished a simple ritual called bharani deepam and now ceremoniously waves a huge camphor flame in the direction of nearby Arunachala mountain. Although he is chanting Sanskrit slokas, he cannot be heard amidst the deafening furor of devotion that surrounds him. Finally, he touches the flame he is holding to the wicks of five huge, earthen, ghee-filled pots, representing the sacred elements earth, air, fire, water and ether. 

As these five flames loom up with red-yellow light, the famous, one-day, South Indian festival of Krittika Dipam officially begins. A single flame is then taken from the pots and kept burning in the Temple throughout the day as a symbol of the merging of manifestation back into God, the one source of all. This single flame is referred to as the Bharani Deepam. 


"There is immense significance in this ceremony called Bharani Deepam. At this time, the universal Lord manifests as the five elements, which will later fully merge to become one when the Krittika Deepam flame is lit in the evening. From one to many and many to one. This is the whole essence of Saivism and the meaning of Krittika Deepam." 

2015 Deepam Festival. Day Nine—Night: Kailasha (Ravana) Vahanam

The below photographs are of the Alangarams of Lord Arunachaleswarar which on the Night of the 9 th Day of the 2015 Karthigai Deepam Festival will be mounted on the Kailasha (Ravana) Vahanam. 

Aarti to the Panchamoorthies at Kalayana Mandapam

Inside Temple Compound infront of the Yagasala (3rd Prakaram)

Priest adorning Lord Arunachaleswarar at the Yagasala

Kailasha (Ravana) or Ravananugraha-murti ("form showing favour to Ravana") is an aspect of Lord Siva depicted seated on his abode Mount Kailash with the Goddess Parvati while the rakshasa Ravana tries to shake the mountain. 

Ravananugraha at Arunachaleswarar Temple

The legend recorded in the Ramayana goes like this: 

The ten-headed, twenty-armed mighty King Ravana defeated and looted the city of Alaka (which belonged to his step-brother and God of wealth, Lord Kubera). After the victory, Ravana was returning to Lanka in the flying chariot stolen from Kubera, when he spotted a beautiful place which his chariot could not fly over. 

Ravana met Shiva's bull-faced dwarf attendant Nandikeshvara and asked the reason for his chariot's inability to pass over the place. Nandi informed Ravana that Siva and Parvati were enjoying dalliance on the mountain and no one was allowed to pass. 

Ravana mocked Siva and Nandi. Enraged by the insult to his Lord, Nandi cursed Ravana that monkeys would destroy him. In turn, Ravana decided to uproot the mountain Kailash, infuriated by Nandi's curse and his inability to proceed further. He put all his twenty arms under Kailash and started lifting. However, the omniscient Shiva realized that Ravana was behind the menace and pressed the mountain into place with his big toe, trapping Ravana beneath it. Ravana gave a loud cry in pain. Advised by his ministers, Ravana sang hymns in praise of Shiva for a thousand years. Finally, Siva forgave Ravana and granted him an invincible sword. Since Ravana cried, he was given the name "Ravana" – one who cried. 

Ravana Vahanam

The Tamil version of the legend narrates that imprisoned under Kailash, Ravana cut off one of his heads and built a veena from it. He used his tendons for the strings and began singing the praises of Siva which pleased the Lord so much that he bestowed a powerful linga to be worshipped by Ravana at Lanka. 

Taking Darshan of the Panchamoorthies on Day Nine—Night

2015 Deepam Festival. Day Nine—Day: Purusha Mrigu Vahanam

On the morning of the 9th Day of the 2015 Arunachala Karthigai Deepam Festival, the Vahana of Lord Chandrasekhara, is that of Purusha Mrigu. 

Lord Chandrasekhara Alangaram

Ganesha Alangaram in Kalyana Mandapam

Taking darshan of the Lord on his Vahana, morning of the 9th Day

Crowds milling around Car Street on morning of 9th Day of Festival

Forefront Lord Ganesha on Mouse Vahanam and at back Lord Chandrasekhara on Purusha Mrigu Vahanam

Purushamriga in Indian mythology, is a creature with a human head and a lion’s body. It is described as the Indian Sphinx. Statues are often found outside temples, where it serves to take away the sins of entrants to the temple and to ward off evil from the sacred grounds. It is Sanskrit for “human-beast”.

Close-up of Purusha Mrigu on its way on Thiruvoodal Street

24 November 2015

Cow and Horse Fair: Deepam 2015

The below photographs were taken this morning (Tuesday November 24, 2015). By now the number of cows and horses will have hugely increased as the Tiruvannamalai Deepam Cow (Horse) Fair is one of the most important and famous Cow Festival in Tamil Nadu. 

The Fair is located just passed the Government Arts College on NH 66. It is situated on both sides of the Highway, and on the South Side stretches down to Perumbakkam Road, and on the North Side all the way up to Arunachala. 

On both sides of the Highway there are shops selling accroutements for both Bulls, Cows and Horses. There are also buggies and carts set out for sale. 

Ropes, ornaments, bells and harnesses all for sale

By tomorrow afternoon these stalls will have multiplied expotentially

Snacks, Fruit Stalls, Tiffin Restaurants surround the Fair

For the first time ever, I notice three camels at the fair ready for kid rides

The Bullocks for sale are for work and breeding -- as they are specialist and hugely expensive

Some Superb looking Bullocks

Already Bullock teams attracting attention from potential purchasers

Some serious checking-out! The inspector must be an experienced handler, as such bullocks can be very fierce when handled by an amateur

Traditionally purchases are not finalised until the Deepam is lit on Arunachala (i.e. 6 p.m. November 25)

Within 24 hours, the fields will be covered with Bullocks, Cows, Horses and lots of people

These creatures are massively strong. Remember seeing a tractor stuck in a muddy field having to be towed out by bullocks . . . sometimes the old way really is the best way!