8 December 2016

Kumbhabhishekam Isanya Desikar Math: 8 a.m. December 9, 2016

Tomorrow, Friday December 9th, 2016 at 8.00 a.m., kumbhabhishekam will be performed at the Sri Isanya Math here at Tiruvannamalai. To those Arunachala devotees unfamiliar with Sri Isanya, he is regarded as of one of the great saints of Arunachala (1750-1829). 

His Samadhi located at an Math dedicated to him, is opposite the Isanya Lingam (one of the Asta Lingams). To learn more about this mahatma, go to this link here

Below is a story about the famous saint and how he helped his British devotee Ayton (who was the District Collector of the area at that time), overcome dangers in his efforts to safely attend a Deepam Festival. 

Deepam: a Saint and a District Collector 

The story goes thus:- 

Isanya Desikar, whose math is located just outside Tiruvannamalai on the old pradakshina road, was a distinguished yogi who, like many before and after him, felt the spiritual call of Arunachala. He was born in 1750 in a small village called Rayavelur in northern Tamil Nadu. He came and settled at the foot of Arunachala only late in his life, but nevertheless, by virtue of his intense and personal relationship with Arunachaleswarar, he is regarded as one of the major saints of Arunachala. 

Isanya Desikar had a western devotee, who is now recalled by the name of Ayton. He was the then District Collector for the region that extended from Tiruvannamalai to Vriddhachalam. Ayton had heard about the greatness of Isanya Desikar and approached him in the hope of getting a cure from the tuberculosis from which he had been suffering for many years. 

Isanya Desikar smiled and after a brief pause spat on the ground. The moment he spat, Ayton was cured of the disease. Ayton then spoke to the holy man with both trepidation and devotion. 'Swami, I have recently acquired a large amount of land, I would like to offer your holiness as much as you need. It can be a permanent endowment in your name.' Isanya Desikar smiled and asked tauntingly, 'Will your land yield crops even during a drought?' Then, pointing his finger towards Arunachaleswarar and Apeetakuchamba, he added, 'Here is a householder with two children and a large family. It is proper to give him any amount of land, but it is not proper to gift it to me, a sannyasin.' 

Ayton took leave of him but returned on many occasions. He got into the habit of addressing him reverentially and affectionately as 'Tata', which means 'grandfather'. It is said that before he began any new project he would always meditate on Isanya Desikar and invoke his blessing by saying, 'Tata, please lead me in this work. It is your work.' At Deepam Festivals Ayton would take the lead in dragging the huge temple chariot through the streets of Tiruvannamalai. However, before moving the chariot for the first time he would pick up one of the ropes and exclaim loudly: 'Tata, you hold the rope and lead us!' The local people were all astounded that such a prominent British official should have such devotion towards a naked sannyasin. 

Ayton made it a point always to attend and lead this annual festival, but one year he found himself stranded by floods on the southern side of the River Pennar just before the beginning of the festival. Knowing that he was expected to be at Arunachala to start the chariot on its journey, he called out to his mount: 'Horse, I must see Tata and I must also get the Deepam Festival started. Think of Tata and cross the river!' Without a moment's delay or hesitation, the horse leapt into the raging torrent of water and effortlessly waded to the other side. None of the other people who were stranded dared to follow for they were all convinced that it would be suicidal to enter the surging waters. 

At the moment when Ayton put his faith in Tata and leapt into the water, Isanya Desikar opened his eyes after a long meditation and stretched out his hand in a southerly direction. When one of his disciples asked what he was doing, he replied, 'If someone falls into a river, should we not save him?' 

Ayton arrived safely and took Isanya Desikar's blessings to start the festival. When the news of Ayton's spectacular river crossing and Isanya Desikar's role in it spread among the Deepam crowds, many of them came to the north-eastern side of the hill to see the man who had been responsible for the miracle. Several of the new visitors turned out to be mature seekers who were looking for guidance from a Guru. Isanya Desikar accepted some as disciples, had a small thatched shed built to accommodate them and gave instruction by writing a guide to liberation entitled Jnana Kattalai. 

Invitation to Kumbhabhishekam

Arunachala darshan from Isanya Ashram

Entrance to Sri Isanya Desikar Math

Statue of Sri Isanya Desikar

Scaffolding in preparation to tomorrow's kumbhabhishekam

Scaffolding erected to shrines at the Math

Pujas and rituals being performed in Yagasalai in Math compound

Entrance to Isanya Desikar Samadhi

Samadhi of Isanya Desikar

2016 Arunachala Karthigai Festival: Day 5. Night—Big Silver Rishabam

Big Silver Rishba

“The Festival begins nine or ten days before Thibam. Each evening there are solemn processions round the Temple, which are over and above the regular worship and the private offerings of puja which go on through the day. 

The day comes to its climax with the procession in the evening, which lasts almost until midnight. It is led by Ganapati, the commander of the heavenly hosts (gana-pati). Next comes Karttikeyi, the Lord of the Pleiades, also called Murugan (or Subrahmaniyan in Tamilnadu), who like Ganapati is a murti of Shiva and also his son . . . . There there is Uma or Parvati, Shiva’s consort; and lastly, on his white bull, Shiva Arunachala or Annamalaiyar. According to custom they are carried on the Temple cars, whose dimensions and decoration are on the grandest scale. Every evening there are different cars, each more impressive than its predecessor. Of these the most remarkable are the huge car of carved wood, more than ten metres high, on which the statue is carried on a day during the Festival and also the silver bull on which Shiva rides on the fifth day. 

It was recommended not to miss the night of the silver bull, and I had accordingly arrived in very good time. I passed the time in the shrine of Sundareshwar, which was under the supervision of my friend Arunachala Aiyar, Ramana’s old companion in the Virupaksha cave. Saminathan was also there that evening. The mandapam was crowded with people who like us were waiting to see the procession. They plied me with endless questions, which I answered as well as I could. Saminathan, not knowing Tamil, remained silent, his eyes half shut, lost in his prayer. I have to admit that my questioners were much more impressed by Saminathan and his silence than by the answer that they sought to extract from me; but they paid even less attention to the disquisitions which which one or other of the company sought remorselessly to improve the occasion. They clearly told me so . . 

During this time, in the Kalyana Mandapam, ‘the portico of weddings,’ the priests were busy decorating the murtis, using silk and gold brocade, flowers and valuable jewels. Meanwhile the cars were standing outside the Temple, and on them also ornaments were being loaded. All this seemed to go on interminably; but at last there was a sudden blare of trumpets form the inner courtyard, their sound re-echoing loudly from the high enclosure walls. Accompanying the trumpets was the low drone of the tamburas, while the silvery melody of flutes pierced though the noise of the crowd. 

Now the file of murtis with their attendants emerged from their shrines, and when they passed under porticos or gopurams the echo from the low vaults become deafening. Soon they came to the Vallalla Gopuram where were were standing. In front were the torch-bearers, next the musicians, and last the palanquins, carried on the bare shoulders of the priest. On either side was the tightly-packed crowd with outstretched arms, giving cries of fervent devotion. Somewhere breaking coconuts on the ground, while others held out at arm’s length gilded trays of burning camphor. The enthusiasm spread, swelled, multiplied itself irresistibly. Light, heat, scents, sounds, bodies and souls too, all were weeded together into a single vast and vibrant outpouring of love in honour of the Lord of Arunachala. 

We followed behind the procession, crossed the outermost courtyard, passed under the huge gopuram, passed under the huge gopuram over the East Gate and reached the long colonnade which adjoins it on the east, where the cars were waiting. The murtis were installed on the cars; and once again the work of decoration was resumed with renewed zeal; flowers, jewels, lights in even greater quantity. The crowd was now more tightly packed than ever. The friend who was guiding me managed to open a path for me immediately in front of the chief car, where the palanquin of Shiva Annamalaiyar was mounted on the silver bull. 

Over him was held a huge ceremonial umbrella which touched the roof overhead. Behind the car was a trailer with a dynamo, and thousands of electric bulbs sparkled all over the palanquin, the platform, the decorations, among the jewels, silks and flowers which adorned the statue. Appusastri, who was standing near, was so moved that he cried out: “How can one doubt any longer that it is the Lord himself upon his car, who presents himself for our adoration!” Yet this Appusastri was an old disciple of Ramana and Ganapati Muni, who more than anyone had lectured me about advaita, proclaiming that whatever appears is maya, that there is no distinction at the heart of Being, and that it is vanity to worship God as an “Other” . . .!

[Narrative By Swami Abhishekananda 1970]

Aarti to Gods inside Kalyana Mandapam

Adorning the Gods in front of the Alankaram Mandapam, outside Raja Gopuram (East Tower)

Huge garlands for Lord Arunachaleswarar on the Big Silver Rishaba (bull) being passed over the head of devotees to the platform in front of the Alankaram Mandapam

Brahmin priests arranging the huge garlands on Lord Arunachaleswarar and his vahana

Huge umbrella has been placed over the adorned Lord on his Big Silver Rishaba

The panchamoorthies giving darshan to devotees in front of the Alankaram Mandapam

Starting off on their procession of the mada veedhis (4 perimeter streets) around Arunachaleswarar Temple

7 December 2016

2016 Arunachala Karthigai Festival: Day 5. Day—Chandrasekhara on Rishabam Vahana

On the morning of Day 5 of the 2016 Arunachala Karthigai Festival, the vahana for Lord Chandrasekara is Rishabam Vahanam. 

Chandraksekhara and Vinayaka give darshan in front of the Alankaram Mandapam

After giving darshan both vahanas set off on Car Street at the beginning of their circumambulation of the mada veedhis around Arunachaleswarar Temple

Vinayaka on his vahana leads the procession with Lord Chandrasekhara on Rishabam Vahana in background

The procession started off from the East Gopuram of the Temple. Here it has reached the West Pey Gopuram. This side is the closest to Arunachala

Lord Chandrasekhara on Rishabam Vahana

Arunachaleswarar Temple

2016 Arunachala Karthigai Festival: Day 4. Night—Kalpavriksha and Kamadhenu Vahanams: Wish-Fulfilling Tree and Wish-Fulfilling Cow

One of the most popular processions during the Deepam Festival at Arunachala, is that of Kamadhenu, the wish-fulfilling cow, and Kalpavriksha (also known as Karpavirutcham), the wish-fulfilling tree. Both of which emphasis the wish-fulfilling aspect of Arunachala. 

The Kalpavriksha is a mythological Divine tree said to fulfil all desires. Its mythology narrates that the wish-fulfilling tree originates from the churning of the ocean of milk afterwhich the god Indra, returned with the tree to his paradise. During the Deepam Festival on the Fourth Night Lord Arunachaleswarar is seated under the Kapavriksha Tree. 

The second major Radham appearing on that night is that of Kamadhenu (literally meaning; the cow; "from whom all that is desired is drawn", or “the divine cow providing for all needs”). The Kamadhenu is a divine cow-goddess described in mythology as the mother of all cows who provides the owner with whatever is desired. 

Theories as to the origin of the Kamadhenu are two-fold. One scripture describes her as the daughter of the creator god Daksha, and another narrates that Kamadhenu also emerged from the churning of the cosmic ocean. Upon the divine cow during the Deepam night procession is seated the Goddess Saraswati. 

It is often the wish fulfilling aspect of Girivalam that brings many pilgrims each Poornima (Full Moon) to the Hill, whatever the difficulty or weather, to perform girivalam. In fact many pilgrims prefer it when the conditions are extreme (cold, heavy sheeting rain, previous tapas such as fasting and mortification etc) as they believe that the greater the difficulties they overcome in performing girivalam, the greater will be the focus of their sankalpa (intention) and success of their wish. 

The now deceased Annamalai Swami explains the power of the Hill as thus:- 

“. . . It is not an ordinary hill. It is spirituality Itself. It has a powerful, magnetic pull to the Self. Seekers who come to this place with the intention of realizing the Self will have untold benefits to do pradakshina on a full moon. 

In the proximity of this holy hill the presence of the Self is more powerful and more self-evident than anywhere else. Indian mythology speaks of a wish-fulfilling tree. If you find this tree and tell it what you want, your wish will be granted. 

Arunachala also has this reputation. This is why so many people come here on a full moon night and walk around it. But very few people come here and ask for their complete freedom, for undisturbed peace. 

Arunachala is a light. It shines. It is the light of the Self, and the light of the Self will continue to shine on you whether you believe it or not. Arunachala is greater than all other religious places. There are other holy, powerful places in the world, but none have the power of Arunachala . . . There is a huge amount of shakti, or spiritual energy, here.” 

Aarti to alangarams in Kalyana Mandapam, 3rd Prakaram

Closest: aarti to Lord Arunachaleswarar (left) and Goddess Saraswati (right)

Panchamoorthies giving darshan outside the Alankaram Mandapam in front of Raja Gopuram

Lord Arunachaleswarar on the Kalpavriksha Tree (Wish-fulfilling Tree)

Goddess Saraswati on Kamadhenu (Wish-fulfilling Cow)

The panchamoorthies led by Lord Arunachaleswarar on the Kalpavriksha Vahana on circumambulation of the mada veedhis (perimeter streets of Arunachaleswarar Temple)

2016 Arunachala Karthigai Festival: Day 4. Day—Naga Vahana

In the morning of Day 4 of the 2016 Arunachala Karthigai Festival, the vahana for Lord Chandrasekara is the naga.

The use of the word naga usually refers only to mythological serpents while snakes living in nature are called sarpas. However the word naga is also used to represent the cobra.

The cobra which is seen coiled around the neck of Lord Shiva, represents power over destruction and creation. It primarily represents rebirth, death and mortality—due to the casting of its skin thus being symbolically "reborn". The snake also represents Kundalini Shakti and as a vahana of Lord Shiva depicts desires kept under control of the Divine.

Alangarams of the Lord and Vinayaka

Brahmin Priest applies pottu to the Lord in front of the Yagasala Shrine, 3rd Prakaram, Big Temple

Carrying the Lord on palanquin through Temple, 4th Prakaram

The Lord on palanquin in front of the 1000 Pillar Hall, 5th Prakaram

The Lord on Naga Vahanam receiving aarti at Alankaram Mandapam

Tractor with the Lord on Naga Vahana beginning procession of the mada veedhis

Procession on Car Street, Tiruvannamalai

Lord Vinayaka on Rat Vahana, followed by the Lord on Naga Vahana

2016 Arunachala Karthigai Festival: Day 3. Night—Shima Vahana

During this 10-day Arunachala Karthigai Festival, the panchamoorthies are daily taken out in procession and circumambulation of the mada veedhis around Arunachaleswarar Temple. Sometimes, the Deity is shown mounted on or riding the vahana, while at other times, the vahana is shown by the Deity’s side. Many times, this vahana (vehicle) represents and symbolises a Divine attribute and even though the vahana appears to be independent, it is actually part and parcel of the Deity’s presence and has an meaning to it. 

In the case of the Lord on the Simha (lion) vehicle; the creature represents lordly power in general and lordly power of wild beasts in particular. The lion is regarded as a Royal beast and thus represents the best in animal creation. However it may also represent greed for food and hence greed for other objects of enjoyment, which invariably leads to lust. The Lord mounted on this Simha vahana represents His ascendancy and control of animal instincts manifested in the human being. 

The lion is an archetypal symbol for the golden-rayed sun, the lord of the day, whose appearance kills the demonic forces of the night. The lion has always been important in Indian mythology as it symbolises the solar and luminous principle of life and knowledge. 

The lion also expresses the heroism and prowess necessary to defeat asuric forces and represents the heroism and strength required to enter the spiritual path. 

Panchamoorthies giving darshan in front of the Alankaram Mandapam

The Lord mounted on Shima (lion) Vahana in procession on Temple perimeter streets

The Lord mounted on His Shima Vahana on Thiruvoodal Street (one of the mada veedhi streets)

6 December 2016

2016 Arunachala Karthigai Festival: Day 3. Morning—Bootha Vahana

On the morning of Day 3 of the 2016 Arunachala Karthigai Festival, Lord Chandrasekhara on the Bootha Vahana. 

Vinayaka leading procession through 5th Prakaram

Lord Chandrasekhara being carried towards Thitti Vassal gateway

Lord leaving Temple via the Thitti Vassal gateway

Lord Chandrasekhara

Brahmin priests adorning the Lord

Bhoota Vahana before recent make-over

Bhootha Vahanam with impressive panchalogam covering

Lord giving darshan outside Alankaram Mandapam

Starting procession of circumambulation of mada veedhis

Tractor pulling float with Lord Chandrasekhara on Bhootha Vahana

Lord Chandrasekhara preceded by Vinayaka on Rat Vahana

Lord Vinayaka with lovely Rukku in background