17 January 2017

2017 Pongal—Thiruvoodal Festival

In an earlier posting I wrote that the Gods go on procession several times around the perimeter streets of Arunachaleswarar Temple (mada veedhis) on the 3rd day of the Pongal Festival. 

After the Gods have completed their processional circumambulation, they retire to the Alankaram Mandapam (outside the Raja Gopuram) and wait for the evening. In the evening the Gods set out towards Thiruvoodal Street to enact their “divine quarrel”. 

The word 'Thiru' signifies; deity, sacred, holy and wealth and the word 'Voodal' actually means 'tiff' or 'petty quarrel', and represents the friction between the male and female in a love relationship which is consciously exacerbated. The distinguishing mark of Voodal is that it should arise and stay only for a brief period and not be prolonged as its focus is the bliss when the Voodal is withdrawn. 

The actual staging of the Divine Quarrel is re-enacted on the madaveedhi street named Thiruvoodal Street in celebration of this Divine Drama. 

Gods on Thiruvoodal Street having their "tiff" (photo from previous year)
After their quarrel, the Goddess continues her procession on the mada veedhi streets, circumambulates the Temple and re-enters via the Thitti Vassal Gate. Lord Shiva however turns left off Thiruvoodal Street and moves onto Thirumanjana Street until he reaches Kumara Koil (Temple famous for daily supplying consecrated water to the Big Temple). At that place He spends the night. 

The next morning He performs girivalam and gives His blessings to devotees during His circumambulation of the Hill.

To read in full about the Thiruvoodal Festival go to this link here.


When Lord Shiva completes his girivalam he returns to Arunachaleswarar Temple and wishes to have a reunion with his consort. This part of the Festival is known as Maruvoodal. The point of the Maruvoodal myth is to show that even a Celestial Couple has differences between them. But in the end there should only be reunion. 

Returning to his residence, Shiva knocks but it has been bolted by Parvati. Lord Shiva asks, 

‘Oh my darling why have you locked the door?’ 

‘Sir after we came to an understanding still you went without me. And see now look you have lost everything there is no ornament or clothes. Not, only that but you went and gave darshan to all kinds of people. So, I am now requesting you must establish your manliness to me and retrieve everything that is lost and give the special one-legged dance.’ 

Shiva starts the dance, Parvati forgets everything and opens the door. 

Their reunion is complete. 


Goddess waiting in solitidue

Lord returning from his night away

Reunion complete Gods moving about Big Temple

"Tiff" over. Reunion complete

God Circumambulation on 2017 Maatu Pongal (3rd Day)

In the morning of the third day of Pongal (as celebrated at Arunachaleswarar Temple), after giving darshan to the lavishly decorated Temple Nandis, the Gods leave the Temple by the Thitti Vassal gate and later proceed to circumambulate the Temple several times on the mada veedhis (perimeter streets).

The below photographs are of one such circumabulation which occurs in the middle of the day when the Gods stop at the house of the Temple's chief Priest (located on Big Street) to symbolically take lunch and refreshment. 

The circumambulation on this day is one of the few times that the Gods on the palanquin (with two priests on each platform), is physically carried by devotees and not pulled by tractor. In fact it is only comparatively recently that tractors are used to pull the Gods on procession, some years previously bullocks were used to pull the Gods on their vahanas. 

The Gods on Big Street on circumambulation of mada veedhi streets

The palanquins of the Gods are being physically carried by devotees

The Gods are lavishly decorated

The Goddess on processional palanquin

Musicians accompanying the Gods on their procession

Notice the permanent "buffalo" bumps on the man's shoulders from carrying palanquins over the years. Many of the older carriers, because of the immensely heavy palanquins, have such bumps.

Gods stop in front of Priest House on Big Street

Family and devotees wait outside Priest House

Devotees offer clothes to the Gods, which the priests add to the display

After each offering of clothes, food, flowers and ornaments the Priest offers aarti

The priest comes out of his house to greet the Gods

Food is offered to the Gods so they can symbolically take lunch 

After "symbolically" taking food at the priest house, the Gods continue travelling down Big Street on their way around the Temple perimeter streets

Musicians continue accompanying the procession on its several circumambulations of the Temple perimeter streets

Throughout the procession devotees make their offerings to the Gods

Maatu Pongal: 2017 Pongal Festival

From the early hours Abishekam is performed at the Temple, in order to ensure the start of the procession by 5 a.m. At which time iconic representations of the Lord (and Parvati) is carried by attendants on a palanquin with a huge sunshade. 

After Blessing the Nandhis enroute the Holy Couple find their way out through the thitti vaasal - a small entry at the east of the Temple compound, instead of leaving through the main Temple gate known as the Raja Gopuram. 

Lord Arunachaleswarar gives darshan to the Sun

The Goddess in front of the Thitti Vassal Gate

On blessing the Sun at the thitti vaasal the procession goes around the temple perimeter thrice.

The third day of this Festival is known as Mattu Pongal and is meant to offer thanks to cows and buffaloes, as they are used to plough the lands. 

A legend associated with the Festival and particularly connected with Mattu Pongal goes like this. 

The Banishment of Basava 

The third day of Pongal known as Mattu Pongal involves Lord Shiva and his mount, Nandi (Basava), the bull. According to legend, Lord Shiva once asked the bull to go to Earth and deliver this message: "have an oil massage, bathe daily and eat food once a month". Basava mixed up the message, and mistakenly told the people; "have an oil massage, bathe once a month and eat food daily". Enraged Shiva cursed Basava and said that due to his mistake there would be shortage of grains on Earth. He banished the bull to live on Earth forever in the form of cattle and help people plough the fields. 

Thus, Mattu Pongal has an association with cattle. As well as farmers and agriculturalists celebrating Mattu Pongal, the cow (buffalo) is also worshipped at Arunachaleswarar Temple. 

The Five Nandis 

During Mattu Pongal at Arunachaleswarar Temple, apart from other celebrations, the five Nandis (and Adhikara Nandi) inside the Temple are lavishly decorated with garlands and foodstuff. 

The Five Nandis: 

Pradosha Nandi in Moolastanam
Ratha Vilaku Nandi in Second Prakaram
Kodi Kampathu Nandi in Third Prakaram
Chinna Nandi in Fourth Prakaram 
Periya Nandi in front of Vallala Gopuram, Fifth Prakaram

Ratha Vilaku Nandi, 2nd Prakaram
Kodi Kampathu Nandi, 3rd Prakaram

Chinna Nandi, 4th Prakaram

Periya Nandi, Vallala Gopuram 5th Gopuram
Gods giving darshan to Periya Nandi at 5th Prakaram

Adhikara Nandi

Uthrayana Puniyakalam 2017: Thamari Kulam

Pongal’s astronomical significance is that it marks the auspicious beginning of Uthrayana, the Sun's movement northward for a six month period. All important events are scheduled during this season. The festival celebrates leaving behind old way of doing things, be it relationships, money matters or health habits. 

The below photographs are of Uthrayana Puniyakalam performed at Thamarai Kulam, Tiruvannamalai on January 14, 2017 in observance of the auspicious beginning of Uthrayana. 

The Gods from Arunachaleswarar Temple carried to Mandapam at Thamari Kulam

Lord Chandrasekhara at Mandapam

Immersion of Sulam outside Mandapam

Abhishekam of Sulam outside Thamari Kulam Mandapam

Consecrated water bathing Sulam

Aarti of Sulam outside Thamari Kulam Mandapam

2017 Pongal Preparations

Hope to make a sequence of postings elaborating on the various functions and observances of the 4-day Pongal Festival, which in fact ends today with what is known as Thiruvalluvar Day or Kanum Pongal. 

But to begin with below are photographs of some of the preparations in town previous to the Pongal celebrations.

A welcome sight during all festivities at Tiruvannamalai, is Rukku

Particularly popular at this time of Sunny Celebrations is the purchase of "special protection" for the outside of front doors to ward off negativity

Market in town that makes and sells flower garlands

As its customary during Pongal to give new clothes to friends and family, clothes stalls are abundant on the Temple perimeter streets

Hardware stores doing a roaring business selling paint and accoutrements for Maatu Pongal, and the rural celebration of the cow and bullock

Huge selection of coloured kolam powders for householders to use on Pongal displays at their front gate

Originally would only see sugarcane cradles during the Deepam Festival. Nowadays the custom of carrying one's child around the Temple is becoming commonplace during other Festivals

Shops throughout town making special Pongal discounts

Pongal a peak-time shopping for clothes, electrical items and household appliances

Yearly shop decorations are getting more elaborate!!!

15 January 2017

Photographs of Repairs, Renovation and Painting at Arunachaleswarar Temple

Below sequence of photographs show how smart Arunachaleswarar Temple is looking now that nearly all repairs, cleaning, renovation and painting have been completed in time for Monday, February 6, 2017 Mahakumbhabhiskeham. 

Cracks on Raja Gopuram have been repaired by Civil Engineers

Statues on all Gopurams cleaned and whenever necessary repaired

All gopurams cleaned, repaired and whitewashed

Vimanas on all shrines repaired and painted

Finishing up all work before February 6 date of Mahakumbhabhishekam

Both theerthams with surrounding statues, cleaned and painted

Wherever necessary repairs made on stonework

Statues on top of shrines cleaned and painted

All clean and ready for upcoming function

Shrine at 4th Prakaram showing column of fire legend

Shrine back of 4th Prakaram fully painted

Statues in front of Mother Shrine cleaned and painted

Photograph taken from 2016 Deepam Flag Hoisting showing smartly painted statues front of Arunachaleswarar Shrine