24 April 2016

Significance of Chitra Pournami

The 2016 Chitra Pournami was observed on the full moon day in the month of Chithirai (i.e. April-May). This year the full moon fell between April 21-22, 2016. The time of Chitra Pournami is regarded as the time to try and satisfy Chitragupta, the chief accountant of Yama, who is believed to record the commissions and omissions by men in order to punish or reward them after their death. 

Chitra Pournami is said to be conducive to human happiness in general. Further, if the occasion happens to fall on a Thursday, Saturday or Sunday, it is considered specially auspicious and important. 

Chitragupta is the God responsible for tracking people through their lives to determine where they go after they die. He is the son of Lord Brahma, the creator of the Universe. 

In one version of the creation myth of Chitragupta, it is said that Lord Brahma gave the land of the dead over to the god Yama. Yama confused at the number of dead souls that came to him, would sometimes send the wrong soul to heaven or hell. Lord Brahma commanded Yama to keep better track of everyone, and Yama explained that it was not possible for him to keep track of all those born of the eighty-four different life forms in the three worlds. 


Lord Brahma, determined to solve this problem for Yama, sat in meditation for many thousands of years. Finally he opened his eyes, and a man stood before him with a pen and paper. As Chitragupta was born of Lord Brahma’s body, Brahma declared that his children would forever be known as Kayasthas. As he was first conceived in Brahma’s mind, or "chitra", and then made whole in secrecy, or "gupta", away from the other gods, he was named Chitragupta. 

Chitragupta is sometimes also referred to as the first man to use letters. He is known as being meticulous, and tracks with pen and paper every action of every sentient life form, building a record of them over the course of their life so that when they die the fate of their soul can be easily determined. 

At the time of birth and death of an individual, adjustments in his accounts are made, either in the shape of fresh entries or by the removal of certain entries already in existence. The consciousness controlling this adjustment is Yama, the god of death and his accountant Chitragupta stands figuratively for the cosmic ledger of the accounts of jivas’ commissions and omissions—physical, emotional or mental. 

These perfect and complete documents are referred to in mystical traditions as the “Akashic” records, and as they contain the actions of each person from birth to death, they can be said to contain every action taken in the Universe. 

Items associated with Chitragupta in his puja include writing paper, pen, ink, honey, betel nut, matches, mustard, sugar, sandalwood and frankincense. A puja is often performed to Chitragupta in reverence of the four virtues he is seen to embody: justice, peace, literacy, and knowledge. Part of the Chitragupta puja also includes writing down how much money you make in your household, and how much you need to make to survive in the following year, while making offerings of turmeric, flowers, and vermilion. 

Night Nine: Vasantha Urchavam 2016

To complete this pictorial record of the 2016 Vasanatha Urchavam Festival, below are photographs of Night Nine of this Festival at Arunachaleswarar Temple. 

Being carried out of the Siva Sannidhi by Palanquin

Lord Somaskanda

Lord Somaskanda being carried by palanquin towards the Paneer Mandapam. Sweet Rukku leading the procession

Good view of decorations inside the 3rd Prakaram at Arunachaleswarar Temple

The God's Palanquin nearing the Paneer Mandapam

Worship being conducated at the Paneer Mandapam. Gandharva Kanni approaching God with floral offerings

The Gandharva Kanni (Celestial Nymph) offering flowers to the God

23 April 2016

10th Night Vasantha Urchavam: Burning of Manmatha

During the night of Chithirai Pournima (i.e. the tenth evening of the Vasantha Ursavam 2016 Festival), Lord Somaskanda performs a dance in front of Sambanda Vinayaka while the Goddess is taken inside the Temple shrine. Lord Somaskanda is installed on the porch of the Vasantha Mandapam of the 3rd Prakaram.  Kama (Manmatha) appears in the form of a huge straw effigy. His effigy which holds a bow and arrow covered in flowers is seated in a cart. 

A string is tied connecting Lord Shiva and Manmatha A priest lights a cracker at Lord Somaskanda’s palanquin where it takes off down the string, reaches Kama and makes him explode into flames. Immediately the burning effigy of Manmatha is moved back near the Makila Trees where it remains until entirely burnt. 

Afterwards Lord Somaskanda is taken back into the Temple and returned to his shrine. 

Fixing the strings between the Palanquin and Kamadeva

Edge of Lord Somaskanda's palanquin with string stretching to Kamadeva on other side

Another view of preparing the string to carry the firecracker down to Kamadeva

Kamadeva being burnt in effigy

Story of Lord Shiva burning Kamadeva 

Shiva filled with sorrow at the death of Sati after being humiliated by her father Daksha, withdraws from the world to spend his days in meditation. Without Siva as Guardian, the Gods became worried that the worlds are in danger and approach Lord Brahma for advice. Lord Brahma says: 

"I understand your difficulties. It was my fondest wish to see the child of Rudra and Sati. Thanks to the foolish actions of Daksha, Sati is no more. However, all is not lost. Know that she has been re-incarnated as Uma, the daughter of Himavan, the king of the mountains. Becoming aware of her destiny from a tender age, she has resolved to obtain Shiva for a husband and has been performing a penance for that purpose. The child of Uma and Shiva shall be your savior." 

God Indra becoming impatient sends for Kama (Manmatha) the God of Love and instructs him to go to Siva and make him fall in love with Parvathi. 

Kama calls forth his attendants, including Vasant (spring), and the Apsaras and marches to the place where the Lord was performing his penance. 

With the arrival of Vasant, the desolate forest is transformed into a beautiful garden, with flowers in full bloom. The songs of the birds fill the air, and the atmosphere is redolent with a divine fragrance. Kama judged it to be time. He strings his bow made of sugarcane and affixes a flower-tipped arrow to it. Impelled by his incantations, the arrow flies from the bow and strikes the Lord squarely on his chest. 

Lord Shiva burning Kamadeva (Manmatha) with his third eye

The Lord feels desire rise deep inside him. However, in a moment, he regains control over his mind, and the desire is supplanted by anger. Omniscient, he immediately knows this to be the work of Kama. He opens his third eye and glances at the God of Love. Such was the potency of his gaze that Kama is instantly reduced to ashes. 

The Apsaras who were singing and dancing, were stunned. They fly from the forest in terror. Only Parvati remains. When Shiva looks at her, he sees the image of Sati and realises this is his wife reborn. 

Meanwhile, the Apsaras carry the news of Kama’s death to his wife Rati. She rushes to the Lord and falls at his feet and beseeches; "Lord, is it fair that my husband should be dead? He was merely doing the bidding of Indra and the other Gods. His sin was nothing more than pride. You have found yourself a wife, and will be very happy. What will become of me? I have lost my husband, dearer to me than life itself. Kill me also, so that I may join him in death!" 

By now, Lord Shiva’s anger had subsided. He says to Rati, "Do not be afraid, Your husband is not really dead. I have merely burnt his corporeal body, of which he was inordinately proud. From this day on, he shall live only as a disembodied spirit. Only you shall be able to perceive his physical form. To everyone else, he shall be invisible." 

From that day on, Manmatha no longer had a physical form. Gods as well as mortals can never perceive him and he does his work unobserved, aided by his flower-tipped arrows of love. 
[Abridged from the "Matsya Purana"] 

22 April 2016

2016 Chithirai Pournami Girivalam

Below is a wonderful sequence of photographs showing devotees performing girivalam of Arunachala BEFORE things started to get busy. As the day waned into evening, the crowds of devotees performing hillround grew to even larger numbers. 

Chithirai Pournami afternoon of 10th day of 2016 Vasantha Urchavam

Good natured crowd of devotees performing girivalam

Many were brave enough to walk barefoot on the burning hot tar covered NH66
Later in the day this photograph (from a State Newspaper) shows devotees performing girivalam on Thiruvoodal Street on their way from the Big Temple

Fruit and refreshment stalls available throughout the devotees girivalam

The devotees above are purchasing Nungu fruit from vendors on the side of the girivalam pathway. The Nungu fruit was given the name by the English in India of "Ice Apple". Its a delicious and refreshing indigenous fruit of Tamil Nadu which grows on the top of the long lived stately Palmyra Trees. 

I recently wrote about this beautiful fruit on my Blog Arunachala Land. To read the narrative and view wonderful photographs of this delicious fruit please visit this link here.

10th Day Vasantha Urchavam: Theerthavari Ayyankulam Tank

In the morning of the 10th Day of the Vasantha Urchavam Festival, around 10 a.m. Lord Somaskanda and the Goddess go on procession outside the Temple on their way to the Ayyankulam Theertham. 

At this place Theerthavari takes place. Later the Gods return in procession upon their palanquis back to Arunachaleswarar Temple. 

Gods leaving the Big Temple on way to the Ayyankulam Tank

The Gods giving darshan outside the Ayyankulam Tank

Worship conducted in Mandapam at Ayyankulam Tank. Arunachala background.

Priests coming out of Tank after Theerthavari

Safety rails at edge of tank to help prevent mishaps

Puja at side of Ayyankulam Tank

20 April 2016

Night Eight: Vasantha Urchavam 2016

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 up to 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 elaborate processions. 

Yesterday evening the 8th day of this Festival, Lord Somaskanda appears in a special Spring costume. The lights of the Temple were switched off and the Gods make a special tour of the 3rd Prakaram using light from torches made of plaited straw shaped into rings. These rings represent the olivu-vattam, "circle of light" i.e. the moon (Soma). 

The Lord under the mandapam

Lord Somaskanda

During this sacred Festival much attention is paid to the Gods under the Makila Trees in the 3rd Prakaram. This is also the time of the year that the Jumbo Keswara Lingam which is set in stone on a raised platform in the midst of the Makila Marams is filled with water. Plants and flowers are placed to float inside the recess of the Lingam. The illusion of the water and flowers makes the Lingam appear to levitate.

The giant lingam set in stone appears to be floating in water

Flaming torches representing Olivu-Vattam

The Gods on Circumambulation

Lord Somaskanda in Spring attire

Large crowd gathered to take darshan of Lord Somaskanda in front of Lord Vinayakar's Shrine

The God illuminated by the Olivu-Vattams

Gods re-enacting their dance in front of mirror

In front of this mirror, located in a gallery adjacent to the Paneer Mandapam, every evening of the Festival the God’s re-enact their dance while accompanied by musicians, singers and devotees.

19 April 2016

Chithirai Pournami 2016 Girivalam Map and Information

The full moon girivalam this month (i.e. Chithirai Pournami 2016) will be the busiest girivalam of this year (excluding that of the full moon circumambulation during the Mahadeepam Festival). For this reason be aware crowds will be HUGE. So make sure that you have no important deadlines to catch . . . as once you start the girivalam there really will be no way back -- can't go against the tide of humanity coming towards you.

There will be many Ashrams and Temples giving prasad off the girivalam roadway . . . so no reason to take food. But if you have problem feet don't be shy to put your sandals in a bag to take along and put on if necessary. Many devotees wearing shoes will be performing girivalam. The roadway is not the idyllic one of yesteryear with cooling grass and soft earth to protect one's feet. Nowadays the pathway will be hot, dirty and gravel crusted.

Also please understand that bad people as well as good people visit pilgrim areas, especially during times of heavy crowds and special functions. Do NOT carry unnecessary valuables and cash with you. There will be many thieves on the roadway to relieve you. This applies to women as well as men. I myself was robbed by women while pulling the Maharadham Chariot one Mahadeepam Festival. My handbag (which was tucked tightly under my arm) was slit from behind with a razorblade. Luckily the inner lining of the bag prevented the robber taking my valuables.

Chithirai Pournami is a wonderful celebratory occasion. The Municipality has made great and loving effort in providing extra facilities for visiting Devotees. Please ensure by using commonsense that your visit is wonderful. 

The below map of facilities, first aid stations etc., are listed in this map which the Thiruvanamalai Municipality has released especially for this Chithirai Pournami. 

Chithirai Pournami Arunachala Timings 
Start: 21 April, 2016 9.54 a.m. 
Complete: 22 April, 2016 11.53 a.m. 

Right click to view enlargement previous to downloading

Chithirai Pradosham: Tuesday 19 April, 2016

Today Chithirai Pradosham was observed at Arunachaleswarar Temple. Pradosham on Tuesdays is also known as Bhauma Pradosham and is renowned for providing relief from disease and improving one’s financial situation. As always the crowds were large at the Temple on this special Chithirai Pradosham day. 

Kodi Kampathu Nandi, Third Prakaram

Aarti at the Kodi Kampathu Nandi

Observance of Pradosham at Chinna Nandi, Fourth Prakaram

Night Seven: Vasantha Urchavam 2016

Lord Somaskanda being carried out of Temple on palanquin

Leaving the Siva Sannidhi on palanquin

The Gods first receive worship in Pandal opposite the Main Shrine

Gods then moved to Paneer Mandapam where they are feted with flowers by a Gandharva Kanni (celestial nymph)

Celestial Nymph offering her flowers to the Gods

Our own sweet Rukku a major part of the festivities throughout the 10 days of the Vasantha Urchavam Function

Night Six: Vasantha Urchavam 2016

Vasantha Urchavam (also known as Vasantha Utsavam) is the Spring Festival held in the season of Vasantha (Spring). It is also commonly known as the Festival of Love as it re-enacts the Love of Shiva and Parvathi and the burning of Manmatha by the piercing look of the Lord’s third eye. 

Lord Somaskanda (a form of Shiva and Parvathi) is the deity of this Festival. For nine consecutive nights after being carried in state out of his shrine, Lord Somaskanda is installed in a pandal facing the main shrine. After receiving due reverence with flowers and light to accompanying musicians playing on their mridangam and nathaswaram, the God is moved by palanquin to the Paneer (rose-water) Mandapam. 

At the Paneer Mandapam diparadhana is performed. Afterwhich the Gods re-enact a dance in front of a mirror placed nearby while musicians accompany them. After the dance, a representation of a Gandharva Kanni (celestial nymph) travels down a rope from a nearby gallery. Once the laps of the Gods are covered with flowers, the priest on the pandal pours a pot of water with five vilva leaves in front of the Gods and then performs aarti. 

Rukku our Temple Elephant is an important part of these ceremonies and on each of these nine consecutive nights, stands adjacent to the Paneer Mandapam during these functions. 

Afterwards the Gods on their palanquin led by Rukku perform circumambulation ten times of the Mahila Marams (Temple Trees). This procession is accompanied by musicians, singers and devotees. At the completion of each circumambulation a re-enactment of the God’s dance is performed in front of the mirror in a gallery adjacent to the Paneer Mandapam. 

Gandharva Kanni (celestial nymph) with offering of flowers
The nymph on her  journey to the Gods under the Paneer Mandapam

Offering her flowers to the Gods

Palanquin returning to the Paneer Mandapam

Beautifully lit and decorated Paneer Mandapam

Sixth Night Vasantha Urchavam Festival, Arunachaleswarar Temple

Night Five: Vasantha Urchavam 2016

Below is a pictorial report of Night Five of the Vasantha Urchavam 2016 Festival. Special Night pujas and accompanying functions occur at the Big Temple each night from the 2nd to the 9th night inclusive of this Festival. 

The Gods exiting the Siva Sannadhi

Being carried by palanquin on their way to the Paneer Manadapam

Gods resplendent under Paneer Mandapam receiving flower tributes from a Gandharva Kanni (a celestial nymph)

Gandharva Kanni coming down from the Gallery on way to the Paneer Mandapam

"At 9 p.m. on the fifth and eighth days the Temple lights are switched off so that the procession is in the dark. After going around the sacred Mahila Maram ten times the lights are switched back on to great rejoicing."

Gods circumambulating the Mahila Trees in 3rd Prakaram

Lord Dakshinamurti under the Mahila Trees is decorated splendidly each night of this Festival