Navrathri Kolu at Sri Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Salem
Navarathri means nine nights in Sanskrit, and is the name of the festival dedicated to the worship of goddess Durga Devi. It refers to the nine nights of darkness and of battle against evil and the tenth day of victory and of light.
This year, at the Ramakrishna Mutt temple in Salem, there were five sections in the Navarathri Kolu.
The first section had the most beautiful rangoli of Durga devi, Lakshmi and Saraswati.
During this nine day festival nine different manifestations of the goddess Durga are worshipped. The nine goddesses are Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skanda Mata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, Maha Gowri, and Siddhidatri.
The message of Navarathri is the innate strength of woman. We only need to remind ourselves of this tremendous strength within us. Goddess Durga shows us that we are capable of standing up to evil, to conceit, to atrocity, that we too can stand up and battle the demons in our life. That we can say no firmly to weakness, to fear, to wickedness, to tears, to feeling helpless. Just tell yourself, ‘I am strong’, ‘I can face any hardship that comes my way and triumph’.
The second and fourth sections were the Bommai Kolu – the traditional display of painted clay dolls on specially put up golden steps.
Each step had groups of dolls of different kinds, like,the Chettiar and his wife selling provisions, dolls depicting Dasavatharam, the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, dolls of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati and of Ardhaneshwara, Ganesha and Muruga.
The central section had an idol of Goddess Durga as Mahisha Mardhini, the slayer of the buffalo faced demon, Mahishasura. To her right and left are goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati. Ganesha and Subramanya are seen below on either side of the vanquished demon Mahishasura.
The last section was dedicated to the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekanadha’s famous Chicago addresses. It showed Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and a miniature of the Art Institute in Chicago,USA, the venue of the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893.
The Parliament of Religions was held here from September 11 to September 27, 1893.
It was within its halls,that 125 years ago, on September 11th 1893, Swami Vivekananda delivered his famous, trail blazing Chicago address.It was here that his words swayed a gathering of 4000 and went on to sway the heart of a nation, where people had no true idea of India and of the Hindu religion.
He addressed the audience first on September 11. More lectures were to follow in further sessions and he went on to become one of the most popular speakers at the Parliament. His address at the final session was delivered on September 27.
Parts of his speech and lectures were exhibited at the Kolu, both in Tamil and in English.
The impact of reading his memorable words is as strong today, as it was for those who heard them delivered more than a century ago. For those who were fortunate to hear his words on that day, half way across the globe, the impact was huge and decisive. It permanently changed the way the world looked at India and its understanding of the Hindu religion.
Maasimagam vizha is celebrated in the tamil month of Maasi (February-March) over a period of ten days with pujas and programmes at three ancient temples in Tiruchengode–Badrakaliamman temple, Kailasanathar temple and Ardhanareeswara temple. One of the highlights of the colorful festival is the Paal-kudam procession. The Paal Kudam Procession Around 7a.m on 1st March, 2018, everyone taking part in the paalkudam (milk-pot) procession for Masimagam were gathered at the Badra Kali Amman temple in a narrow lane off the North Car Street in Tiruchengode town. There were familiar faces everywhere, faces that I saw only during the festival every year.
Siva and Parvati were already at the temple ready to lead the procession. A trained classical dancer and expert in folk dancing and Sivan-sakthi Thaandavam, Dr. Muthukumar was known to the local people as lord Siva, a role he took on year after year for Masimagam. Together, he and Parvati would lead the procession through the four ratha veedhis ( north, south, east and west car streets)around the ancient Kailasanathar temple in Tiruchengode. Click on the link to know about Kalaimamani Muthukumar and the rich cultural tradition of Tamilnadu folk dances. The participants prayed to Goddess Badrakali amman and received a small garland of flowers in front of the goddess in the sanctum. This was followed by the Sivan-Sakti Thandavam dance performed by folk dancers representing lord Siva and devi Parvati to the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments.
Pictures from the Badrakali amman temple on Maasimagam
Sivan and Parvati
The procession started from the temple and went along the four ratha veedhis moving slowly and stopping at intervals for the dance of Siva and Parvati. The ratha veedis are the four streets along which the temple chariots are pulled by the people at the time of the annual chariot festival, but today the milk pot procession would follow the same route for the Masimagam festival.
Prayers at the Badrakali amman temple
Sivan-sakthi thandavam dance performance before the start of the procession.Besides pots of milk, devotees carry large baskets with fruit, coconut and flowers for puja in the Ardhanareeswara hill temple.
Worship of snakes is as old as civilization. Naagam or sarpam refers to snakes. Serpent idols and sculptures are found in many temples of Tiruchengode..a constant reminder of the mythical beginnings of the holy hill which was called Naagamalai and Naagachalam as Aadhisehan worshipped lord Siva after he was thrown here, wounded and bleeding, in the battle of might with Vaayu. This fascinating wood sculpture of a five-hooded serpent is seen in the Badrakali amman temple!
Pictures of the annual paal kudam procession
Around the ratha veedhis, colorful images of lord Ardhanareeswara and other deities can be seen on mandapams like the one above, a constant reminder that this is the city of Ardhanareeswara. Many mandapams have been rented to shopkeepers with minor alterations.
A closer view of the above pic.
Destination-the temple on the hill
Devotees walk with friends and family towards the temple on the hill.
The hill temple of lord Ardhanareeswara is visible from Tiruchengode town and foothills.
The Aarumugaswamy Temple
Participants reach the old stone steps near the Arumugasamy kovil, another ancient temple for lord Murugan at the foot of the Tiruchengodu hill. Most of the participants take the steps that go up the hill to the temple of Ardhanareeswara. A few, mainly the elderly and those with health issues who cannot climb the steps take the hill road to reach the temple.
The arch indicates the way to the steps beside the Aarumuga swamy temple which lead up the hill.
The steps begin beyond this pillared mandapam. There are mandapams along the winding way up the hill.They were built to provide a place for people to take rest when they undertook the arduous climb to the temple of Ardhanareeswara.
Maha abhishekam The main event in the Malai kovil (hill temple) is the Maha abhishekam. The first abhishekam is for Sengotuvelar, the second for Ardhanareeswarar and finally the abhishekam of the utsava moorthies in the maha mandapam. The Abhishekam for lord Ardhanareeswara commences exactly at 12 noon and it was this abhishekam in the sanctum sanctorum that I was fortunate to see this year. A big vessel was kept outside the sanctum to collect the offerings of milk. This was taken inside the sanctum and the Sivaachariar poured innumerable pots of milk from the vessel over the deity. It is when abhishekam is performed that you get to see the matchless beauty of the Moolavar deity which otherwise is covered in vastra (clothes) and flowers. Another highlight of the day was when Siva and Parvati who led the Paal-kudam procession came to the sanctum to offer prayers to Lord Ardhanareeswara.
After Deeparadhana we went to see the abhishekam of the utsava moorthis in the pillared hall. This was an even grander ritual. There were three barrels full of milk alone brought by the hundreds of people who visited the temple that day. Besides milk there were pots of sandal, turmeric, honey, pancha-mirtham, tender coconut, vibhoothi, curd and so on. Every offering was accepted from the hundreds of visitors to the temple and it took a long time for the abhishekam to be complete. Visitors came from places as far as Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode, Chennai just to have darshan of this unified form of Siva and Parvati on this auspicious day.
Annadhana for everyone In the annadhana venue on the hill, annadhana commenced from 10 in the morning. Everyone was invited to have lunch at the annadhana hall and pandal. It consisted of a special kulambu made with seasonal veggies like mochai, yellow pumpkin, avarakkai, and drumstick, with rice, rasam, cabbage porial, and sweet pongal. Everyone who took the vow ended their long fasting with this special meal served on behalf of Lord Ardhanareeswara. After lunch everyone waited around the temple for the alangaram of the deities to be completed and then gathered to see the special elaborate deeparadhanai.
Waiting in the majestic halls of the temple. After abhishegam, darshan is not complete until you have seen the Deeparadhanai.Alangaram of utsavar deities of Ardhanareeswarar and Sengottu Velar after Abhishekam
With this the Maasimagam rituals ended in the hill temple with concluding pujas and annadhana in the evening at the Kailasanathar temple.
It is that time of year again when in Tiruchengode theMaasi magam festival is just days away. The town wears a festive look as it gets ready to host the biggest festival of the year.
Every year in this temple town the festival unites people from places both near and far away. Observing the vratha is a thread that binds and connects all who take the vow towards Lord Ardhanareesawara.Some observe austerities for a mandalaconsisting of forty-eight days starting in December. Some wear the holy mala for a half mandala of twenty-four days and some for a shorter period of twelve days. The vratha basically helps to focus the mind onArdhanareeswara and to purify the mind and body by fasting.
During these forty eight days there are various activities like special katalai puja, bhajans, annadhana that are organized both in the malai- kovil (hill temple) and also at the ancient Kailasanathar Siva temple in the heart of Tiruchengode town.
17th February was the day for wearing the mala for the last twelve days of the mandala.
The temple of Ardhanareeswara is fascinating even though I have visited it many times.
The sculptures are always a delight to see and admire. Sometimes I also see unusual people in the temple who are not our usual urban city-dwellers.Even the people who work at the temple have a blessed simplicity to them that is hard to explain. And sometimes the thought comes to my mind that these people are so very blessed to be living a life so close to a divine presence.
The much awaited Maasi Magam is on 1st March, 2018.
This row of sculpted pillars is the first thing you see when you enter the temple from the north-facing Rajagopuram. A row of warriors on rearing horses..the symmetry in stone is marvelous.
And under the horses are sculptures depicting the perpetual battle between man and beast…it is a constant battle of might and will power. It is a tribute to the sirpi(சிற்பி,Tamil for sculptor), who brought these sculptures to life with his ulli (உளி/chisel).
The pillared hall near the main shrines has many exceptional sculptures. In this sculpture you can see a man stroking his moustache- his posture, the details of his garb, jewelry, hairstyle of the age, and the expression on his face are intriguing.
A closer look at the above sculpture
This year there were a lot of young calves up in the hill temple. They were so tame that they came up to visitors and accepted snacks from them!
This man was cleaning the outside of the goshala. They also serve who do the smallest tasks.
Sivan-adiyaar(சிவனடியார்)is the word we use when we speak of those who have devoted their lives to lord Siva. They are considered to be in the service of lord Siva. I saw this Sivan-adiyaarstanding quietly near the Adhiseshan shrine in the temple. He did not speak to anyone and was standing there for a long time silently looking at the idols and Sivalingam.
Maha shivarathri, one of the biggest Hindu festivals was celebrated on February 13th 2018.
Maha Shivarathri is the great night of Shiva. People stay awake the whole night, fasting and offering prayers to lord Shiva and visiting temples which remain open the whole night.
In Tamil Nadu, people visit Shiva temples to see the abhishekam that is performed to the Shivalingam repeatedly during the four jamam of this sacred night. A jamam is a unit of time in Tamil consisting of 2 hours and 24 minutes and there are four jamams during the night. They usually bring offerings of milk, honey and so on that is used for the abhishekam. The last and final abhishekam concludes at dawn.It is an important night for people on the spiritual path. In major temples there are Thevaram recitals the entire night.
I was fortunate to visit a number of ancient Shiva temples with a group of friends on Mahashivarathri. We started our temple tour around 8 p.m and returned home at dawn bleary-eyed but happy… definitely a night to remember!!
Some pictures from various temples on Maha Shivarathri.
It has been raining continuously for the past two days as cyclone Ockhi battered the southern most Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, with Kanyakumari district of Tamilnadu being the worst hit and left without power. Early this morning it was cold with a light drizzle, but by mid-morning the rains stopped and the sky cleared up. Late afternoon I went to the Poompuhar showroom which is a state- run crafts emporium, to see the latest models of brass lamps on display.
Stepping into a Poompuhar showroom is always like stepping into a museum. The handicrafts on display differ according to the festivals at various times of the year. The present display of lamps is for Karthigai Deepam, a festival of lights that is celebrated in Tamil Nadu.
The traditional brass oil lamp of Tamil Nadu is called Kuthu Vilakku. It is lit before deities in homes and in temples. Besides this there are other traditional varieties of vilakku (lamp) such as the Kamatchi vilakku, Lakshmi vilakku and so on.
The manager of the sales emporium and the staff explained how the Poompuhar lamps were crafted by mixing 30% copper with brass, a combination of metals that kept the lamps shining like gold. The showroom’s customers included Indians settled overseas in Malaysia and Singapore.
Some of the Vilakku varieties on display:
In the evening I visited the Sugavaneswarar temple, an ancient Siva temple in Salem.The rituals were conducted outside the temple where the Deepa sthambams are seen. During festival times the deities come out of the temple and oversee the rituals. This evening the Deepam was lit atop the towering sthambams in the presence of the utsava murthys of Karthikeya and Siva and Parvati. The sokka panai was set aflame. This is a bonfire made of palm fronds tied together.
Karthigai deepam is a festival associated with the birth of lord Karthikeya. The puranas say that six sparks of fire that arose from the third eye of Lord Siva took the form of Karthikeya, the most adored god of the Tamil people. And so the deepams were lit as cries of Muruganuku arohara, Kandha perumanukku arohara, Ammai appanuku arohara rent the air.
More pictures of Karthigai deepam celebration in the Sugavaneswarar temple in Salem:
In Rasipuram, Nityasumangali Mariamman temple is located in the heart of the old town. The annual festival takes place in the Tamil month of Aippasi(Oct-Nov) and is celebrated for a period of two weeks. To the townspeople, Nityasumangali Mariamman is one of their own, a beloved daughter of each family and her festival is a time of re-union and family get-togethers.
I have been to this temple a few times but never during the festival and it is a really lovely temple where you can spend some time enjoying the peace and quiet.
Festival times are auspicious times and on Friday, November 10, during the ongoing festival I went with some friends in the evening to offer prayers at the temple. Rasipuramis usually a quiet place, partly urban, partly rural with a seamless blending of ancient and modern but now it was as if the whole town had come alive.
There was something going on everywhere and needless to say it was fun! Festival crowds, the fair grounds, festival shops, people dancing to the cadence of drum beats, it was all so lively!
Unusual practices can be seen in temples at times like this. In one part of the temple near the Dhyana Ganapathy shrine stood a pujari holding a whip made of coir rope in his hand. People stood in line and as each person stepped up he received some lashings from the whip (very gently, of course and probably as a symbolic punishment for sins), and then the pujari placed the whip on the person’s head and blessed him! I got a whip blessing too!
At the Murugan shrine,a boy pujari sat with a bunch of mayil peeli (pea-cock feathers) in his hand and blessed people after they worshipped Murugan by touching their heads with the long feathers.
In the open courtyard of the temple was the agni kundam which had been the scene of a most important temple ritual the previous day. This was the thee-mithior fire-walking ritual in which hundreds had participated holding a thee- chatti, (a pot with fire in it) in one hand.
On the evening of my visit, the agni kundamwas a bed of ashes and visitors bent down to take the holy ash from the pit and apply it on their foreheads.
Here in Tamil nadu we are celebrating Vinayaka Chaturthi today as is the rest of India. We call it Pillayar Chathurthi in Tamil.
It is celebrated to mark the birthday of Lord Ganesha. A more appropriate description would be to say that it is the day in which the avatar of Lord Ganesh took place, as Gods are not born as humans are.
The story goes that Parvati created the image of Ganesha out of the turmeric used for her bath…some say it is sandalwood-paste, and brought it to life. He was a lovely cherubic child! Shiva was not at home and Parvati asked the little boy to stand guard outside while she bathed. Shiva, on returning home found that the little boy would not allow him to enter. He and Ganesha were engaged in a tiff at the end of which the enraged Shiva severed the head of the little boy.When Parvati saw this she was grief stricken. Shiva was filled with remorse and promised Parvati that he would bring him back to life. A search ensued for the child’s head which was now missing. All that could be found was an elephant’s head. Shiva lost no time in placing it on the boy and bringing him back to life and that was how our beloved Ganapati was born. He became the God of Gnana (Wisdom), prosperity and all good things. Shiva honoured him with the right to be worshipped First, before the other gods.
And so He came to be the God of Auspicious beginnings. He removes all obstacles on our way in all that
A crowded street in Salem on the eve of Vinayaga chathurthi