Navarathri – Messages of a Festival

Navrathri Kolu at Sri Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Salem

October, 2018

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 nine devis of Navarathri,the manifestations of devi Durga and the slokas in Tamil for each devi, to be recited during on the nine days of Navarathri

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.

Navrathri Kolu (5)

Navrathri Kolu (2)

Navrathri Kolu (1)

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.

 

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DEEPAM

Dec.2, 2017

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:

Brass lamps at the Poompuhar crafts emporium

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Muperum Deviar Vilakku depicting Lakshmi Saraswati and Parvati handcrafted beautifully
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The tiruvasi of the Muperum Deviyar vilakku can be removed for easy cleaning and polishing of the lamp
lakshmi villaku in Poompuhar showroom
Lakshmi Villaku which can be dismantled for cleaning and polishing
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Pradosham vilakku! Lighting this lamp on pradosham days will bestow immense benefits on the household
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Hanging lamps with Kili-parrot motif!
Terracotta lamps
Terracotta lamps

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.

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The beauty of Lord Karthikeya on the colorful mayil (peacock) vahanam

More pictures of Karthigai deepam celebration in the Sugavaneswarar temple in Salem:

Karthigai deepam Sugavaneswarar temple Salem
People watch the Deepam being lit atop the deepa-stampams by the Sivachariyars
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The temple deities are brought out in a procession for the Deepam festival
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Siva- Parvathi utsava idols outside the temple
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People gather the ashes from the burnt sokkapanai
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Sugavaneswarar temple Salem during TiruKarthigai deepam 2017

 

 

You might like to read this post :

KARTHIGAI DEEPAM

VINAYAGA CHATHURTHI

Vinayaka Chathurthi 2015 4

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.

Beginnings in Clay
Beginnings in Clay

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

Colourful Umbrellas for little Ganeshas
Colourful Umbrellas for little Ganeshas

Tiruchengode – In Anticipation Of Maasi Magam

TIRUCHENGODE

In anticipation of this year’s Maasi Magam festival, Tiruchengode town and Sri Ardhanareeswarar temple wear a festive look, this being the most important festival of this temple town. Hundreds of devotees take a vow of austerities by wearing the holy maala for a prescribed number of days. Life becomes focused on only one thing and that is Lord Ardhanareeshwara, the divine Father and Mother of the universe.

For me, it is always a pleasure to visit the temple and taking the vow is just another excuse to visit Ardhanareeswara, Ammaiyappan.

This year, our small group went to the temple to commence the viraddam by wearing the maala blessed and given by the Sivachariya in front of lord Ardhanareeswara. It was a subh muhurtham day with dozens of marriages taking place in every available corner of the maha mandapam in the temple. Ardhanareeswara temple is the temple for marriages because unity of husband and wife is what lord Ardhanareeshwara is all about. Mango leaf thorans were strung everywhere between the ornate pillars and many homa kundams for the many marriages.

Carving on the rocky wall inside the temple of lord Ardhanareeshwara in Tiruchengode, Tn
Carving on the rocky wall inside the temple of lord Ardhanareeshwara in Tiruchengode, Tn

On every visit to the temple,there is always a surprise, some new sculpture to marvel at, that previously went unnoticed by me. The temple is too full of of detailed sculptures of all sizes to be covered on a single day and this time it was a carving of lord Ganesha on the rock near the shrine of Aadhi Seshan below the Raja gopuram.

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Shrine of Adhi Seshan beneath the Rajagopuram. The Ganapati carving can be seen on the rock wall to the left of this shrine.

Carvings of two serpents can be seen on either side of Ganesha on the rock. as befits another name of this ancient Tiruchengode hill, which is Naagachala. No wonder that serpent carvings are seen everywhere on the hill either as Aadhi Seshan or as Naagars.

Spending time in the beautiful temple after darshan, it was amusing to watch the goings on! Slowly the big mandapam emptied as wedding groups left. The temple staff started cleaning up and a bunch of monkeys joined in! They were everywhere, even high up on the temple pillars, on the railings, the floor,   a couple of baby monkeys were sitting on the Maha Nandi! People were offering fruits and tidbits which they took absolutely unafraid.

An important reminder :

This year’s Maasi Magam is celebrated on Saturday,11th March, 2017.

Below are pictures taken inside the temple on this visit:

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CLEANING UP

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Mango leaf thorans are removed after the weddings.The light of the lamps on the homakund are reflected beautifully on the gleaming floor on which rice and flower petals are strewn and look ethereal
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A baby monkey! This little fella takes pleasure in sitting on Nandhi’s head!

More monkey photos..!

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A little girl looks on with her mother at this cute little fellow
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Two adult monkeys sit back to back on the railings with a snack
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Near the temple entrance, temple cows feast on the banana trees that were used for the weddings.Beyond , Tiruchengode town lays spread out beneath the hill  temple
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A bride leaves with her relatives as a temple bull stands near the entrance 

KARTHIGAI DEEPAM

LIGHT A LAMP FOR HAPPINESS

At six in the evening on full moon day in the Tamil Month of Karthigai, little oil lamps start to glow at every doorstep and all around the homes and in all temples throughout Tamil Nadu. It is the most divine and beautiful of sights. From the most humble dwellings to the palatial homes, lamps are lit as one even as the Maha Deepam is lit on the hill of Arunachala in Thiruvannamalai sharply at six p.m on the day of ThiruKarthigai.

The festival of Karthigai Deepam is celebrated when the full moon coincides with the rising of the six star constellation of Krithigai. The Tamil month of Karthigai is named after this constellation.

It is traditional to buy new earthen lamps every year. The photos below are of an old lady selling lamps in front of her home from whom I bought some lamps this morning. The lamp sellers from next door are her relatives and smiles light up all their faces as a joke is shared!

It is six in the evening and I have just lit lamps outside my home as have my neighbours. Sadly, my point and shoot sony camera is not good for night time pictures.

Dear readers, are there any other traditions observed during this festival? If so please share your views by posting a comment.

Surrounded by Lamps-A lady selling lamps outside her home in Tamil Nadu
Surrounded by Lamps-A lady selling lamps outside her home in Tamil Nadu
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Share a Joke
Smiles and Lamps go so well together!
Smiles and Lamps go so well together!
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Photo courtesy:  www.festivalsofindia.in

 

ON THE EVE OF VINAYAKA CHATHURTHY

It is the eve of Vinayaka Chathurthy- a festival for Vinayaka also called Ganesh, Ganapathy or Pillaiyar depending on which part of the country you are in! One of India’s boisterous festivals, loved by young and old alike, it begins with the coming of Ganesha to individual homes and to neighbourhoods, the celebrations over the next few days, not to forget the yummy dishes that are offered to Him and then eaten as Prasad and the final journey to rivers or the sea where the idols are immersed. For the duration of His stay He is one of the household. I always feel sad when it is time for him to leave.

These pictures show Ganesh idols in my hometown, Salem.The featured image shows colourful parasols for Ganapathy and two little ones helping their mother make more parasols! An evening walk in the kadai veethi around the Raja Ganapathy temple in the heart of the city was vastly entertaining!

Charming Ganapathys
Charming Ganapathys
Pretty pink Pillayaiyar
Pretty Pink Pillaiyar
Vinayaka chathurthi (2)
Ganeshas ready for the celebrations
vinayaka chathurthy
Sugarcane, coconuts, Mango leaves , bananas, and flowers for tomorrow’s puja
Vinayakar statues on a balcony
Vinayakar statues on a balcony
Pillaiyar- big and small
Pillaiyar- Big and small

A Summer Festival in Pudhupatti

Summer is well and truly here! Soaring temperatures are touching 40 degree Celsius, somewhat unusual in April.

We were invited by friends to a gala village event in the village of Pudhupatti near Namagiripettai in Rasipuram taluk, Namakkal district.

A lovely farming village, Pudhupatti also called R. Pudhupatti, has a very popular temple for the goddess Mariamman. 

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Some respite from the sun

Pandigai is a common Tamil name for festival  and today’s festivities centered on the temple chariot.

Village Deities of Tamil Nadu

The magnificent temples of Tamil Nadu are mostly Siva and Vishnu temples. There is another category of gods and goddesses whose temples are predominant in the villages. These are the village deities called as Grama Devata and their temples may be seen in every Tamil Nadu village and town. The Grama Devata is periodically worshiped and propitiated. Village people fear the wrath of these deities but generally they are benevolent divine beings.

The villages are essentially farming communities and so the Tamil Nadu countryside is dotted with shrines to these gods.

The village deities are the guardians, the healers and the ever present help that every little village and town has. They have a major role to play in the day to day life of the people and protect them from the countless ills, afflictions and pains of everyday village life.

When calamity overtakes the village, when pestilence or famine or cattle disease makes its appearance, it is to the village deity that the whole body of villagers turn to for protection   –     Right Reverend Henry Whitehead in The Village Gods of South India.

These gods are called as Ayyanar, Muniappan, Mariamman,  Angalamman, Pidari, Karuppana swamy, Periasami and so on.

Mariamma is the commonest of them all. Her function is to bring rain and ward off and cure small pox, chicken pox, measles and rashes.

Thuluka Soodamani Amman temple in Pudhupatti

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The temple of Thuluka soodamani amman in Pudhupatti is one such village temple for Mariamman.

The mid-day journey to Pudhupatti in the scorching sun wasn’t so pleasant even in an air- conditioned car. But once we neared the temple it was a different matter altogether. No one seemed to care about the hot summer sun, and the air of celebration was catching! Folks were dressed in their best, the endless festival shops sold everything under the sun  – literally!

The whole place was action packed, with the temple as the center of all the festivities. In the courtyard of the temple women were busy with a ritual called Pongal Vaikiradhu which involved cooking the sweet rice dish named pongal in  earthen or metal pots on an impromptu stove made of three large stones and some kindling or firewood. The cooked pongal was offered to the goddess on banana leaf lined brass plates and taken as prasad. By the roadside a family gave glasses of koozh, a rice and ragi(finger millet) porridge to all. There were free buttermilk stalls with big pots of cold buttermilk. A makeshift shelter was the venue of Annadaanam where people could eat tasty meals absolutely free.There were stalls where you could have tattoos made for Rs. 15.

The Temple

The temple itself was crowded but we had a good darshan of goddess Mariamman. As I said, her name is Thuluka Soodamani amman. Long ago, the armies of the Nawab are thought to have camped in this region and the goddess blessed the Muslim commander and his men.Hence the unusual name.

A view of the temple
A view of the temple

The temple is famous for cures relating to skin ailments and vision problems. Therefore people with skin and eye maladies come from afar to offer prayers to the goddess.

Outside the temple  the Ther (chariot) was all decked up and ready to go. As usual the villagers joined together and pulled the beautiful Ther.

TEMPLE CHARIOT OF THULUKA SOODAMANI AMMAN IN PUDHUPATTI
TEMPLE CHARIOT OF THULUKA SOODAMANI AMMAN IN PUDHUPATTI
Pulling the Ther
Pulling the Ther

FAITH

Behind the ther, I saw something very unusual.

Angapradakshanam
Angapradakshanam

Men and women, wearing garlands of flowers indicative of their vows and holding bunches of neem leaves sat in two rows  on the paved street in the hot sun. People brought pots of water which they poured on them, the drenching with cool water being necessary to offset the effects of the noonday sun. When the ther with the idol of Mariamman started to move, they lay on the ground and rolled along behind the ther with hands folded in supplication above their heads.

This ritual is called as Angapradakshanam and it is done for answered prayers, usually within the precincts of the temple around the main shrine.

For the first time I saw it being done on a hot paved street and following the ther.

Such devotion is a humbling experience and I felt respect and admiration for all the men, women and children who kept their vows that day. It was a personal interaction between each of the participants and the mother goddess.

Taking part in these rituals involves a period of fasting prior to the festival. It usually means a single meal a day at noon or in the evening and strict abstinence from meat, taking liquor or smoking. It is a purification that conditions the body to the rigorous process of Angapradakshinam.

 Rituals like these have been followed by the villagers traditionally and vary from village to village and from temple to temple. For instance, in Pudhupatti village, our friends said that it was the custom that no palagaram (Tamil for sweetmeats) that required deep frying in oil may be made for the duration of the Pandigai (festival) which usually lasted for two weeks.

Photos of the festival.

Welcome drenching with cold water
Welcome drenching with cold water

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This Matriarch is happy to give water in a brass pot to the devoted.
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Young participants. Its the summer holidays anyway!

WHERE IT IS

The temple is 5 km from Namagiripettai near Rasipuram.

The distance from Salem is 43 km ,roughly an hour’s drive.

The route from Salem is Salem- Rasipuram – Namagiripettai- R. Pudhupatti.

 

Is there a festival in your village or town? If so,do share your views.