Ancient Towns and Continuing Rituals-Maasimagam In Tiruchengode

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

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masimagam pics
Visitors  enjoyed having their pictures taken with 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

badrakaliamman temple entrance

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Decorated paal kudam pots are lined up around the shrine of goddess Badrakali

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Participants leaving the temple to take part in the procession. Tiruchengode hill can be  seen behind the temple.

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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.

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Thandavam

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The beautiful temple mandapam

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Badrakaliamman kovil

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!  

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Pictures of the annual paal kudam procession

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paalkudam

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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.

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Destination-the temple on the hill

masimagam (2)Devotees walk with friends and family towards the temple on the hill.

masimagam vizhaThe 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.

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The arch indicates the way to the steps beside the Aarumuga swamy temple which lead up  the hill.

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mandapamThe 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.

Temple steps

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.

 The temple of Ardhanareeswarar on Maasimagam

A monkey searches for tidbits

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.

 

 

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Tiruchengode Awaits Maasi Magam

Ardhanareeswara temple

It is that time of year again when in Tiruchengode the Maasi 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 mandala consisting 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 on Ardhanareeswara 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.

Tiruchengode temple (2)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.

Tiruchengode temple (3)

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.

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A closer look at the above sculpture

temple sculptures (2)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.

Ardhanareeswara temple (2)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-adiyaar standing 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.

Tiruchengode temple

Maha Shivrathri

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.

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Mahashivrathri in Ardhanareeswara temple, Thiruchengode
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Mahashivrathri – Ardhanareeswara temple, Thiruchengode

Mahashivrathri 2018 T'gode (4)

Mahashivrathri 2018 T'gode
A Thevaram Recital at the Ardhanareeswarar temple on Mahashivrathri
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Waiting patiently to see each kaala abhishekam
Mahashivrathri 2018 Pillur veerateswarar temple
Pillur Veerateswarar Temple, Namakkal district
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A Rendering of Traditional Nadhaswaram music in Pillur Veerateswarar temple makes the long night vigil a pleasant one  
Mahashivrathri Nerur
Mahasivarathri – Sadasiva Brahmendral Adhishtanam, Nerur
Mahashivrathri 2018 Nerur
Sadhashiva Brahmendral Adhishtanam, Nerur on Mahashivrathri

Glimpses of A Temple Festival In Rasipuram

November 16 , 2017

A Time for Faith and Togetherness

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. Rasipuram is 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!

Click here to read a previous article on Mariamman festival

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-mithi or 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 kundam was a bed of ashes and visitors bent down to take the holy ash from the pit and apply it on their foreheads.

Glimpses from the festival:

Nityasumangali Mariamman Temple- Rasipuram
Nityasumangali Mariamman Temple- Rasipuram
Nityasumangali Mariamman Temple- Rasipuram (2)
Festival crowds
Agni kundam, Rasipuram Temple
The agni kundam , where the fire-walking ritual called thee-mithi takes place.
Prayers at the extinguished agni kundam, Nityasumangal mariamman temple, Rasipuram
At the Agni kundam people bend down to touch the holy ground in reverence and to put their hands over a burning camphor that has been lit
Bangle seller
A bangle seller slips on glass bangles on the hand of her customer inside the temple. It is considered auspicious by women to wear glass bangles

Rasipuram Nityasumangali mariamman temple

 

 

 

Maasi Magam Abishekam – Rituals to Cherish

March 2017

Maasi is the month (Feb-March) when the days are turning warmer after the pleasant cold weather of Margazhi and Thai. In temples all over Tamil Nadu, Maasi Magam  is a special day when the deities are given a holy ritualistic bath.In the temple of Lord Ardhanareeswara on Tiruchengode hill, this ritual is called the Maha-abhishekam, the ultimate abhishekam.

On Saturday, 11th March, 2017, our group of six members joined hundreds of participants of the maasi magam vizha as they congregated in the ancient Badrakali amman temple in Tiruchengode town. It is customary to begin the procession after prayers are offered to goddess Badrakali. The participants then walked along the very narrow and winding lanes of this historic town to the main ther veethi.

 At seven in the morning it was a scene of ethereal beauty as saffron clad devotees walked in silence, all bearing decorated pots of offerings of their choice for the abishekam. Folk dancers representing Siva and Parvati led the way.  At the main ther veedhi, the procession stopped briefly for a dance recital accompanied by music, and beautifully rendered by the folk dancers. As police-men made way for early morning traffic the procession moved slowly along the four ther veethis (chariot streets).

 The participants then went to the malai kovi (hill temple) of lord Ardhanareeswara for the maha-abhishekam.

ardhanareeswara temple on Tiruchengode hill 1
The temple on the hill

After darshan of Lord Ardhanareeswara, everyone waited for the abishekam to begin. This was no ordinary abishekam and the offering-pots contained a wide, interesting variety of sacred things. At the auspicious time the abishekam was first performed in the main sanctums of Senkotuvelavar(Murugan) and Ardhanareeswara. The beautiful utsava deities of Ardhanareeswara and Sengotuvelar were brought to the maha mandapam and placed on the central stone platform so that the rituals could be clearly viewed from all sides.The Maha abishekam commenced after the abishekam in the main shrines were completed.

A unique sight and an experience to cherish!

An awesome 1500 pots of milk, endless pots of vibhuti,honey,sandal-paste,,grapes,choppedbananas,sugarcanejuice,riceflour,panchamitham,turmeric,kalkandu(sugarcandy),panangarkandu-candy made from palm-sugar and pomegranatepearls were poured on the deities. Most of the offerings were collected and given back to the devotees as prasadam.

Faith And Blessing

Everyone present that day must have felt as I did, a divine peace and blessing fill the heart as the abishekam progressed. Seeing the abishekam was a purification of hearts and minds and   this cleansing deep inside gave strength of a divine kind, the courage to face the world with all its imperfections and trials. The divine blessing is a balm, a gentle reminder that on this hard journey of life God makes his presence felt in many, many ways. 

Pictures from the Masi Abishekam

Ardhanareeswarar
Utsavar of Lord Ardhanareeshwara is brought to the Maha Mandapam
masi magam in ardhanareeswara temple, Tiruchengode
The Utsavar of Lord Segottuvelar is placed alongside the deity of Lord Ardhanareeshwara
Preparing for abishekam in Tiruchengode temple
Preparing for the abishekam
Vibhuthi abishegam in Ardhanareeswarar temple, Tiruchengode
Abishekam with vibhuti- the holy ash sacred to Lord Siva
abishegam in Ardhanareeswarar temple, Tiruchengode
Water is poured on the deities after each abishekam
Palabishekam
Abishekam with milk
Abishekam
Abishekam is done with hundreds of pots of milk brought by devotees
Thaen abishegam in Ardhanareeswarar temple, Tiruchengode
You are the essence of sweetness – Abishekam with honey
Thaen Abishekam
Like honey, May our lives be filled with the sweetness of Your Prescence
Alangaram
                         Alangaram                                           We come to you with faith – May our lives become richer and more beautiful !

Read more posts on Maasi Magam  and Ardhanareeshwarar Temple by           clicking on the links below

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 

CHARIOT FESTIVAL IN PANDAMANGALAM

THER THIRUVIZHA

The temple chariot festival is an annual event in temple towns in Tamil Nadu.It is also celebrated in some famous temples in the other South Indian states. The Tamil name for the festival is Ther Thiruvizha. Ther is the Tamil word for chariot and Thiruvizha refers to the festival or fair. It is a part of temple ritual.

Professor Paul Younger in his book, Playing Host to Deity,writes that,‘The annual festivals that are central to the south Indian religious tradition are among the largest religious gatherings found anywhere in the world’.

The chariots are made of special wood, engraved with images of deities, scenes of Indian Epics and other ornate works and are used to carry the idols called urchavar which are representations of the temple deities.

The place where the chariots are kept for the greater part of the year is called as Ther Adi or Ther Nilai. A few weeks before the festival the Ther is spruced up.A temporary structure resembling a temple is put up on the  ornate wooden base. It is then decorated tastefully with Thoranam of mango leaves, flowers, banana trees, and brightly colored embroidered cloth.The ropes or chains used to pull the chariot are called as Ther vadam.

The festival lasts for ten days but the day on which the chariot is drawn is the most important and attracts hundreds of worshipers.

THER THIRUVIZHA IN PANDAMANGALAM

In Pandamangalam in Namakkal District, the chariot festival is traditionally celebrated on the day of Ashwini Nakshatram in the Tamil month of Thai. This year it coincided with the last day of Thai Pongal or Sankaranthi.

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All eyes on the Ther as it turns a corner

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The villagers have invited their family and friends to join in the celebrations. After the ritual puja, the richly decorated chariot is drawn along the four main streets around the temple. The deities of the temple, Prasanna Venkataramana Swamy and Alarmel Mangai Thaayar represented by their panchaloga idols ride in the chariot along with a host of preists and the Naadhaswaram goshti or temple musicians.

Water is sprinkled on the streets through which the ther will come.Every doorstep is decorated with beautiful kolams. Women place huge pots of buttermilk on tables by the roadside and offer glasses of it to anyone who would like a drink.

The players of traditional vaathiyams (musical instruments) go in front.Behind them the  folk musicians beat a steady credence on the  Thaarai and Thammpattai (musical instruments used in folk music) as the young men join in a folk dance watched and cheered by the reveling crowds.

Behind comes the massive Ther drawn by the people. All are welcome to pull the chains.

The significance of the Ther festival is that once every year, God comes out of the temple to give darshan to worshippers. When this happens, everyone is equal before Him- there is no distinction of rich or poor, high caste or low, man or woman. The festival is for those who at other times of the year are not allowed inside the temple, for those who were away, for the old and the infirm and also for those who were too lazy to go!!

STOPPING AND TURNING THE THER

Pulling the chariot is only one part of the operations. Behind, a team of village youth are engaged in carrying and operating a system of  wooden manual levers that you can only see during such festivals.

The Ther is two or three storeys tall. Along with the deities, there is a whole team of priests and temple musicians on board. It stops many times so that people can give offerings for puja. When the Ther needs to halt, heavy triangular blocks of wood shaped like a wedge are placed in front of the wheels. These act as brakes in front. At the street corners the Ther needs to turn. Long heavy wedged blocks of wood and ropes are used to do this. Little by little, the Ther turns the corner, the wheels guided and carefully controlled by the team of young men who also volunteer to carry the heavy wooden blocks, so heavy that merely lifting them is a feat in itself.

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A view of the Ther from behind

 

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One of the heavy wood blocks used to turn the chariot

 

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SCENES FROM THE THIRUVIZHA

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A small Ther of Hanuman goes in front pulled by the boys

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Temple rituals such as Ther Thiruvizha were aimed at unifying society. No difficult mantras were required, no training in the Vedas. People from all walks of life participated even as they do now. The four castes or varnas were united in a common cause – that of successfully pulling the holy chariot around the four veedhis (streets) which is no mean feat.

Hours later,the journey along the four veedhis is complete.As the sun goes down, the crowds applaud as one , as slowly and carefully the Ther is guided into the resting place called as Ther Nilai. Nilai is Tamil for – to be stationary ,or not in movement. Everyone is happy that a tough task was done well.

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Dusk falls as the Ther approaches the resting place

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Tomorrow it is back to mundane, everyday life.

But with a difference – the memories of this year’s Ther festival linger….. and the soul is refreshed and rejuvenated.