Adi Annamalai Temple, to the north of Arunachala and Tiruvannamalai, is ancient. No one knows just how old this temple is, but the main temple in this area, Arunachaleswara Temple, is perhaps 2000 years old. “Adi” means “first.” So the big temple is 2000 years old, and Adi Annamalai , the first temple here that worshiped Arunachala, must be much older.
15 July 2012 was a special day for Adi Annamalai Temple. Temple authorities have spent months repairing and repainting the temple, especially the colorful gopuram (temple gate and tower). Today is the celebration of Kumbabishekam for Adi Annamalai Temple.
Kumbabishekam has to be performed for every temple once in 12 years according to the agamas (Hindu theological treatises and practical manuals of divine worship). Water is sprinkled or sprayed for the Moolasthana moorthy (main deity of the temple) on the temple tower.
Kumbabishekam recharges the spiritual power of the deity and also the Kumbha of the temple tower, which is also surcharged with the same divine power as the deity. This is done to benefit even those who are unable to visit the temple to derive the same spiritual merit by just beholding the temple tower. The Kumbha (Sanskrit: कुम्भ) – is a full pot, jar or pitcher. In the context of Hinduism and Hindu mythology, it is also symbolic of the womb. It represents fertility, life, generative power of human beings and sustenance; and is generally associated with the mother goddesses, particularly Ganga.
While the heart of the Kumbabishekam is a water-pouring ceremony, the day is one of festival and celebration. We were able to capture a bit of this celebration so that we could show it to you.
After I parked my scooter, I walked through busy traffic to get to the street that goes to the temple.
There will be many people here today, so a few vendors have their wares displayed.
Families bring their children, even if they are so young they need to be carried.
Crazy traffic, even to walk through.
I start seeing people carrying food plates.
Then I see food being served. This is the first of many such places today, but I do not know this yet.
Below is the Manikkavachakar Temple, the small temple on the street that to goes to Adi Annamalai Temple. It has also been repainted for this day. This temple marks the spot where Manikkavachakar, one of the four main Nayanmar saints, stood when he composed a famous Tamil devotional poem, Tiruvembavai.
On the wall around this temple are these painted figures. They are the 63 Tamil Nayanmar Saints.
The street to Adi Annamalai Temple was crowded. Sometimes it was hard to walk through the crowd.
I see more people walking with food.
More vendors, with colorful necklaces.
A special space for people to sit and eat.
At the next roadside stand, they serve biryani on a banana leaf. All this food is given away today.
This is some kind of legume – bean – served in a leaf cup. As I walked up the street, a group of happy young men came to talk to me, and offered me some of their food. Prasad, they said, offering me food that was consecrated by the gods. I accepted their gift and had a mouthful of pongal and of these beans.
More food being served.
Here is a canopy, a pandal, over some booth.
They are serving buttermilk here. Milk is pretty expensive, relative to other food costs, so this offering to the people today is a big one. This milk is important in their vegetarian diet as a rich source of protein.
Crowds of people. I can only move slowly.
There are signs along the way, and the bright printing celebrates the newly painted gopuram.
More crowds. And a small part of Arunachala in the background.
Finally the gopuram comes in to view.
There is a scaffold behind it, with people going up and down. Some stop at the top of the wall and throw flowers down to the eager crowd, waiting for such gifts from god.
You can see the scaffolding here, and the people waiting at the top. I think they are able to take some holy water from the kumbha at the top of the temple.
The painted statues on the gopuram are about life-sized, with new and careful painting. A very good job was done, I think. Also done, but not visible, was repairing these as needed. They are hundreds of years old, made of special materials from an ancient formula. So this is done with great care.
From my left I see an elephant, standing above the crowd.
Behind me I hear drums and cymbals.
These drummers are really going at it. I am sorry I could not record the sound. (I think I am going to get a way to do this in the future, and also pay a little extra to WordPress so I can host audio files. Someday soon, maybe you will be able to listen, too.)
This drummer saw that I had a camera, so started hamming it up.
An old man blows a conch. This is a kind of sound you hear only sometimes, and then only associated with some temple activity.
Then the horn players come in.
These are not trumpets with valves, but just a straight-through horn.
I look back towards the temple. Some people have climbed up the wall. I think maybe they are taking flowers from the decorations on the temple. If you look at the malas on the right, they are ragged at the bottom.
Here comes the elephant.
I love the Siva stripes and decorations on its head.
It’s getting close. Get out of the way!
The elephant walks by right in front of me. It is sure big!
As it walks past me people run up and touch its rear quarters.
Here is the entrance to the temple. There are so many people, that I think I cannot go in. I do not have much time today, and if I go it, it will take a long time, I think, to get out.
Looking in the open door. Many people fill the entrance, entering the temple.
Here is the gopuram. I notice that there are two flower malas that hang straight down from the top, maybe 20 feet in length.
Close up of some of the tower figures. I notice the suckling mother.
I would bet that the blue guy is Siva. Look at the crescent moon in his hair. Ganesh is to the left.
A number of these characters are figures seemingly holding up the walls. They represent the ego, which thinks that it does everything (while really contributing nothing).
Here are people at the top of the gopuram.
Here is the central part of the tower. Two powerful guards stand here, protecting the temple.
The horns are going at it. One guy plays two at once!
And the drummers beat out a rhythm.
This is an interesting looking horn, with no flare at the end.
A group of Westerners comes out of the temple. They have badges on and are on some kind of a tour. Great tour activity!
I love the goddess on the right with ten arms. Hey, that’s no lady. It is Murugan sitting on his peacock, with his two consorts on each side. It looks like he has five faces, but Murugan is the Lord with Six Faces, so maybe one is not visible? Another symbolism sometimes expressed is Murugan with five faces (which is what Siva has). This shows that Murugan is the same as Siva.
To his left is Kannappa, who is cutting out his eye to give it to the blinded Siva lingam. Kannappa is beloved by the Tamil for his self-sacrifice and devotion to Siva.
Meanwhile the music and drumming continue. The horns blare out.
I am on my way out now. I notice something typical in India, that you would rarely see in the USA, a political sign (called a “billboard” in the US, and a “hoarding” in India) to commemorate the religious event. The woman on the left of the sign is Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister (the equivalent of a state Governor in the US) of Tamil Nadu. The people at the bottom of the sign are surely politicians, local elected officials, from her party, the AIADMK. Carol wonders how I can be so sure of what the sign is about since I do not read a word of Tamil. But what else could it be? We see the two gods of the temple to the right, the big lady to the left and the row of headshots below.
People line the roofs of the houses on this street, looking down at the happy crowd, watching the frenetic energy from the relative peace of their rooftops.
Under the holy tree next to the temple something is happening.
They are burning camphor, making a holy flame for each of us to touch, take into ourselves, and bring to our eyes as a blessing.
They are also giving things to the people in the crowd.
Here is the flame. I shall take some.
Sadhus are in the crowd.
This one is really begging, big time.
Here is another line of people waiting for prasad. This is a good day to eat holy.
This sign commemorates the two deities of this temple, I would guess Siva and his consort, Parvati (Annamalai and Unnamalai), standing in front of the renewed temple.
Back walking through the traffic on the main road. It is much worse than when I came.
Here is my trusty motor scooter. I have put about 30,000 km on this vehicle with four years of driving around town.
I can’t believe the traffic. Maybe I should have driven around the hill the other way, six times further. It would have been faster, I think.
Normally the road is big enough for a bus to pass a car. But today the street sides have hundreds of motorcycles parked on them, and are much narrower.
For a car to get by takes a long time, with someone walking in front of it, moving motorcycles out of the way.
Behind me, lots of walkers.
Cycles and cars, too.
I finally got through the traffic and arrived home. The next time this will happen here, I will be 80 years old. I don’t think I will be able to make it through the crowd.
The South Indian life, at least in the villages and smaller cities like Tiruvannamalai, is filled with the spiritual, from the daily poojas inside most every house, to major festivals lasting many days and attracting millions of people. This is part of the wonder of India. This is part of why Carol and I love it here. I am glad that we can show you a bit of it.