24 November 2007

Deepam Day

I am posting this beautiful narrative, (authorship unknown) which describes in stirring, graphic language the events of this day, Deepam:

Deepam Day
"At about 4:30 a.m. this day November 24th, Bharani Deepam, the small main sanctum of the massive Arunachaleswarar Temple, is packed with souls who have been waiting in line all night.

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 Deepam officially begins.

All across Tamil Nadu, bonfires are lit on hills and in temples on Krittika Deepam. But nowhere is this festival celebrated like it is at Tiruvannamalai. Here it is unique. It is on this auspicious day that, at dusk (approximately 6:00 p.m. this evening), a sacred fire will be lit on top of the 2,668 foot Arunachala mountain to symbolize the merging of all manifest existence back into the one source of all things.

Preparations for this day begin one month in advance with the local administration, revenue department, police and temple authorities. Since early morning, temple staff and volunteers have been carrying five-gallon containers of ghee and large pots of thick, braided cloth wicks to the top of Arunachala mountain. Once the mountaintop flame has been lit, it must be kept burning for ten days, which requires vast quantities of wick and clarified butter.

As the day wanes into dusk and night begins to darken the sky, pilgrims stand or sit, motionless with anticipation, at the base of Arunachala mountain, preparing to worship God Siva as an infinite pillar of light.

At 6 pm, a roaring fire is ignited in the Temple at the base of Arunachala. This signals the lighting of a similar blaze on the summit. When that flame is seen by the thousands of devotees below, the entire countryside explodes with flashing luminescence. Bonfires, lamps, neon lights and fireworks light the night like day as a surging, thronging, emotionally charged mass of devotees chant, "Arunachala Siva," "Annamalai” and "Annamalai Harohara”.

The Chosen Fishermen
A flame taken from the five earthen pots that were lit just after the early morning temple ceremony of Bharani Deepam is 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. At 10:00 a.m., a group of fishermen are blessed by the temple priest with a small ceremony. At this time, amidst ringing bells and temple music, the priest gives the fishermen a lamp that has been lit from the Bharani Deepam in the Temple. This lamp, also called Bharani Deepam, will be taken by the fishermen to the top of the mountain.

Local fishermen are traditionally given the privilege of carrying the Bharani Deepam up the mountain and lighting the Krittika Deepam in the evening, because, according to a popular myth, Parvati (the wife of Lord Siva) was born in a fishing village. After their consecration ritual, the fishermen take off up the mountain. Their hike up the steep, rugged slopes will take about four hours.

In the Temple, all is quiet after the fishermen leave. By 5:00 in the evening, the area surrounding the Temple flagpole, as well as the adjoining terrace, will be packed. Pilgrims observe the dramatic arrival of five exquisitely decorated palanquins, carrying the Gods Vinayaka, Subramanya, Siva, Amba and Chandikeshwara.

Within about 30 minutes, five palanquins have arrived in all their spiritual pageantry. Now, we wait for the climax, the coming of Ardhanarishvara (Lord Siva as half man, half woman). This will occur immediately after the Krittika Deepam is lit. Everyone wants to be able to see the mountaintop. All eyes are looking up.

Finally, the appointed moment arrives. Against the backdrop of a sunset sky, crowned with the rising star of Kartika, thundering firecrackers, ringing Temple bells and a frenzy of rhythmic chanting merge to create a cacophony of chaotic splendour. Camphor is lit in a cauldron by the Temple flag pole, signaling priests on top of the mountain to light their flame. The timing is perfectly synchronized. The air is charged as the overpowering sight of light, signifying Siva in the form of Jyoti (divine light), merges with Parvati to become Siva/Sakti. Now, finally, Ardhanarishvara is brought out of the Temple with great ceremonial fanfare. This is the only day of the year that this particular Deity is ever moved. It is most auspicious.

The sight of the Krittika Deepam is magical. It brings an inexplicable joy. People are ecstatic, mesmerized by the light. After nightfall, we see groups of people lighting lamps in the streets. Every house, every shop, every temple, not only in Tiruvannamalai but in all surrounding villages and towns, is bedecked with beautifully flickering lamps.

Throughout the day, street merchants have been performing annadana (free distribution of food). For this one day, the entire town has merged as one family of unforgettable warmth, amity and cordiality. Even amidst the discomfort of the crowded streets, life runs smoothly and everyone gets along harmoniously.

During the 10 days that the flame burns on Arunachala after Krittika Deepam, it consumes a ton of ghee and 1,000 feet of thick, cotton wick. The fishermen who have been chosen to light the Deepam hike up the mountain every day to restock the cauldron and keep the flame alive. They consider their task a sacred privilege.

A month after the celebration has ended they perform fire-walking to absolve themselves of any sins they have accrued by setting foot on the mountain while carrying the Deepam. They also arrange for special pujas (worship ceremonies), abhishekam (water ceremonies) and homas (fire ceremonies) to be performed in their names.

The fishermen who have been chosen to light the Krittika Deepam are all gathered together inside a side shrine adjacent to the main Temple. They have just been blessed by the Temple priest who now lights the ghee lamp they will carry up Arunachala mountain. To the thundering of drums, they all suddenly rise together to stride quickly out into the main temple courtyard where hundreds of pilgrims are waiting for them. They make their way out of the Temple into the street heading for the trail that leads up the mountain.

The main devotee fisherman, who is carrying the ghee lamp, is moving very quickly. At first, a few of his colleagues stumble behind him with a cluster of pilgrims clumsily striving to keep up. As the progression proceeds, more pilgrims join the march. Soon, there are hundreds. Then there are thousands.

Pilgrims scramble, most shoeless, along the snake-like trail, snatching blessings at various shrines along the way. Storm clouds are gathering rapidly around the mountain's summit. Now we are meeting devotees coming down. There is only one trail and we tangle in a human traffic jam. Miraculously, the fishermen thread their way through this obstacle as if it is not there.

As the temple fire is lit at 6 pm, the moment is overwhelming. Thousands of pilgrims are chanting "Aum Namasivaya." Suddenly a fire is jumping skyward from the top of Arunachala, "Siva and Parvati are one." "


Robert said...

Thanks for all the great information you are posting. I can't find these kinds of facts or news from anywhere else.

Divya said...

Wonderful details!