10 December 2011

2011 Karthigai Maha Deepam

The below extract and video is a narrative about the celebration of Karthigai Deepam at the Arunachaleswarar Temple. I hope to soon post either photographs or a video of the lighting of the 2011 Deepam cauldron at the top of Arunachala. But for now, this is what happens at the Temple:

“All across India, millions of 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. Krittika Deepam occurs annually in the lunar month of Kartika, which occurs in November/December, on the last day of the 10-day festival called Brahmotsavam.

It is on this auspicious day that, at approximately 6:00 in the evening, a sacred fire is 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. It is said that those who witness this sacred ceremony personally receive the blessings of Siva and Parvati. All of the traditional temple rituals that are performed during Brahmotsavam create a spiritual fervency that culminate with great power on Krittika Deepam as a grand congregation of devotees, holy men, officials, police personnel and media squeeze together, shoulder to shoulder, to witness the festival's magnificent consummation.

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.

By 5:00 in the evening, the area surrounding the Temple flagpole, as well as the adjoining terrace, is packed. People are grabbing seats to observe the dramatic arrival of five exquisitely decorated palanquins, carrying the Hindu Gods Vinayaka, Subramanya, Siva, Amba and Chandikeshwara. The devotees are constantly moving and adjusting their positions to get a better view and to make way for still more people pouring in.

Suddenly, the crowd's attention shifts to the Temple entrance from behind the flag pole. Some devotees jump up to get a better view. The first palanquin arrives with a dramatic flair. It's the Vinayaka Deity, a form of Lord Ganesha. Exquisitely bedecked with a variety of flowers artistically arranged, this relatively small Deity seems magically large in its luxurious setting. More than eight people are carrying the heavy wooden palanquin. They dance with graceful dignity to the accompaniment of temple music, devotional singing and Sanskrit prayers. Soon enough, they reach their designated position in front of the flag pole and come to a stop.

In a few minutes, the next palanquin arrives “Subramanya”. It's a little bigger. Unmindful of its weight, those who are carrying this celestial cargo somehow manage to dance with abandon, rocking the Deity joyously.

Now another palanquin is arriving, rocking to and fro. "Swami, Swami," the crowd shouts. Here, "Swami" is referring to Siva. Amba (Goddess Parvati) is right behind, followed by Chandikeshwara.

Within about 30 minutes, five palanquins have arrived in all their spiritual pageantry.

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 splendor. 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

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 sight of the Krittika Deepam is magical. It brings an inexplicable joy. People are ecstatic, mesmerized by the light.

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.

To learn more about the 'Legend of Ardhanarishvara' at Arunachala go to this link here.

The Temple is closed for a day after Krittika Deepam, because it is believed that, when Arunachala manifested Himself in the Deepam, He temporarily shifted His abode from the temple to the hilltop.

Long-time pilgrims assert that, even years later, the very thought of an otherworldly moment like this recreates it, just as if it is happening fresh and new.“

[Edited extract from ‘Fire on the Mountain’]

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