22 May 2016

Vaikasi Pournami Girivalam: Saturday May 21, 2016

The two below photographs are of early crowds in the afternoon of Saturday May 21  performing Arunachala poornami girivalam. 

Pilgrims on Poornami girivalam

Crowds beginning to build up through the afternoon

The next photograph is of pilgrims performing this month's poornami girivalam. One of the pilgrims is performing what is known as "anga pradakshina" i.e. rolling around the 14 km Hill girivalam pathway. 

Pilgrim on ground performing amongst anga pradakshina

There are many stories of Anga Pradakshina performed at Arunachala, one of the most recent and inspirational concern the great Saint Esaki Swamigal. 

1917-1975 Saint Esaki Swamigal

Esaki Swamigal (also known as Panchamukha Swamigal) performed girivalam of the Hill numerous times. 

Many would go to the saint and ask for blessings and he would assure them to gain the Blessings of Lord Shiva it was necessary only to surrender to Arunachala—and that all problems would be solved by performance of giripradakshina. 

Based on the problems and diseases concerned, Swamigal advised giripradakshina for one mandalam (48 days), two mandalam (96 days) or for three mandalams (144 days). His followers started to take his advice and performed giripradakshina to relieve their difficulties. 

During his life, it is believed that Esaki Swamigal performed angapradakshinam (pradakshina by rolling the body in a clockwise movement on the ground) of Arunachala 1008 times. Even today, it is thought that Swamigal in his astral form performs giripradakshina twice daily. Close to the Panchamukha Daharshanam Point there is a small meditation mandapam where it is believed that he performs meditation daily at midday. Near the mandapam, Swamigal created a well in order to supply drinking water for devotees. 

Esaki Swamigal (Dr. Ezekiel)

Meeting with Esaki Swamigal in the 1970s 

“One man we met on our first visit to Arunachala had done the circular sacred journey round the mountain in a remarkable way and had a truly remarkable boon. This was Dr. Ezekiel, a medical practitioner of Tiruvannamalai. We met him one evening as we stood by the side of a road coming out of the town. Along the road towards us, with the beat of drum, sounding brass, and tinkling cymbals, came a group of men. There must have been a dozen of them, some carrying a canopy under which walked a man. Surely a prince must be approaching, we thought. And when the group came in front of us and stopped, we could see that he was truly a prince of the spirit. His eyes were shining, a smile lit up his radiant face and around him was the unmistakable vibration of one who has reached a high level of attainment. My wife was so overcome that she pushed in through the crowd of men around him and touched his feet. Then she stood up and moved to join our friend and myself by the side of the road. Then the procession moved on with its joyous marching music. 

Our friend, Ma Tallyarkan, who was residing at Tiruvannamalai, told us that it was Dr. Ezekiel with a group of his devotees. From her, and from other people, we heard the story of his journey around the mountain and his boon. It seems that, lying horizontally on the ground, he rolled the whole eight miles along the circular route. When he stood up at the end of it, Lord Siva with his consort Parvati, were standing before him. With this boon of the Siva-Shakti darshan, came the gift of healing. 

Dr. Ezekiel had been an ordinary medical practitioner but now he healed with spiritual power. Miraculous healings were the result and people came to him in great crowds. His consulting rooms could not cope with this huge influx, so he took up a position near the road on the other side of Arunachala from Tiruvannamalai. It was a quiet, pleasant spot. He went there at about three o’clock each morning and droves of people surrounded him at that time. But the good, compassionate doctor did not have unlimited energy as does an Avatar. So eventually, his vitality and healing power began to wane. Then he went away and stayed somewhere in seclusion until his good health came back. Eventually, he returned quietly to his practice in the town. Even so, drawn by his elevated spiritual level, people began to gather around him, treat him at their guru, and move about with him as we saw that evening by the roadside. “ 
[Howard Murphet] 

To read more about Saint Esaki Swamigal (Dr. Ezekiel) please visit postings on my Arunachala Mystic site at these below links. 

21 May 2016

May 19, 2016 Thursday Pradosham: Arunachaleswarar Temple

Pradosham literally means “Removal of Sins”. When Pradosham falls on a Thursday, it is known as Guru Vara Pradosha. On this day Divine blessings are received from the Guru and also from ancestors. It is believed that possible dangers are eliminated by observing a fast during the time of Guru Vara Pradosha. 

Pradosham are windows of opportunity to remove karma or karmic energies that limit our potential in this current life. It is the time that Shiva absorbs our karma. Twilight Pradosham, marks the end of the day light and beginning of night. Day is ruled by Gods, angels and saints while night is ruled by evil spirits. 

Twilight is the time of Shiva when he absorbs the day and night, good and evil and all opposites into oneness. This time of transition is also one of transcendence. The twilight time is also called End Time when Earth ends. 

From East to West the five Temple Nandis are

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

All of these five Temple Nandis receive abhishekam and aarti at Pradosham. 

Next Pradosham to be observed at Arunachaleswarar Temple will occur on Thursday, June 2, 2016 

Abshishekam Periya Nandi, Third Prakaram

Milk abhishekam on Periya Nandi, Third Prakaram

Abhishekam on Kodi Kampathu Nandi, Third Prakaram

Aarti on Kodi Kampathu Nandi, Third Prakaram

Lord Arunachaleswarar during Guru Pradosham

Lord Arunachaleswarar on Golden Rishaba during procession

May 4, 2016 Wednesday Pradosham: Arunachaleswarar Temple

Pradosham on May 4, 2016 heralded the start of Agni Natchathiram which according to Almanacs is regarded as the hottest time during the Summer season. This is the time that the Sun travels through the star Karthigai, which is governed by Agni (fire). The 2016 Natchathiram will end on May 28, peaking around May 11 to 24. 

The Pradosham of May 4, 2016 fell on a Wednesday is known as Saumya Vaara Pradosha. The special significance of Pradosham falling on a Wednesday is believed to benefit a person with education, knowledge, fulfillment of wishes and progeny. 

From east to west the five Temple Nandis are

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

All of these five Temple Nandis receive abhishekam and aarti at Pradosham. 

Periya Nandi, Fifth Prakaram

Kodi Kampathu Nandu, Third Prakaram

Aarti at Kodi Kampathu Nandi, Third Prakaram

Lord Arunachaleswarar at Pradosham

Lord Arunachaleswarar on Circumambulation by palanquin on Golden Rishaba

1 May 2016

Nataraja Alankaram and Puja: Friday April 29, 2016

Lord Shiva, in his incarnation of Nataraja, is believed to have been born on full moon day in the constellation of Ardra, the sixth lunar mansion. 

Chidambaram is one of the Panchabootha Sthalams, where the Lord is worshipped in his manifestation as five boothas (elements): earth (Ekambareswarar Temple, Kanchipuram), water (Jambukeswarar Temple, Thiruvanaikaval), fire (Arunachaleswarar Temple, Tiruvannamalai), wind (Kalahasti Temple, Srikalahasthi) and space (Sri Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram). 

At Chidambaram, where the Principal Deity is Lord Nataraja, Lord Shiva is bathed only 6 times a year. At that place year six anointing ceremonies (mahabhishekams) are performed for Lord Nataraja. 

Lord Nataraja Alankaram, Arunachaleswarar Temple

Lord Nataraja Chittirai Thiruvonam

Chittirai Thiruvonam in April-May performed here at Arunachaleswarar Temple indicates the third pooja of these six anointing ceremonies. 

First Pooja Marghazhi Thiruvaadhirai (December - January ) 
Second Pooja fourteenth day after the new moon (chaturdasi) of Masi (February - March) 
Third Pooja (or uchivkalam) is Chittirai Thiruvonam (April- May) 
Fourth Pooja Uthiram of Aani (June–July) also called the Aani Thirumanjanam 
Fifth Pooja chaturdasi of Aavani (August-September) 
Sixth Pooja (Arthajama) month of Puratasi (October-November) 

Goddess Sri Sivakami Ambal

Devotees outside Sri Nataraja Shrine, Arunachaleswarar Temple

The six Mahabhishekams of Sri Nataraja 2016-2017 

29.04.2016 Friday Chithirai Onam 
10.07.2016 Sunday Aanithirumanjanam 
15.09.2016 Thursday Aavani Chathurdhasi 
14.10.2016 Friday Purattasi Chathurdhasi 
11.01.2017 Wednesday Aarudhraa Abhishekam 
11.03.2017 Saturday, Maasi Chathurdhasi 

Deepa Aaradhanai, Sri Nataraja Shrine, 2nd Prakaram, Arunachaleswarar Temple

Tamarind Rice Prasad at 2nd Prakaram, Big Temple

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.