One thing that I love about India is the unexpected. This often is our experience here. Today is a festival day, being Cow Pongal and a full-moon day in addition.
In the middle of the morning, Carol and I had to do some errand in town, and, being a full-moon day, we wanted to get out pretty early to miss the crowd of people walking Arunachala Pradakshina. As we neared the big temple, Arunachaleswara Temple, first we encountered barriers across the road, then traffic was stopped.
Ahead it looks like one of the days in which the temple gods are taken for Pradakshina around the big temple. We see three chariots ahead of us, stopped, and, I guess, receiving worship from the surrounding crowd.
There are also families carrying children in sarees hung on sugar cane stalks. These are children who had health problems that were cured upon praying to the gods in the temple. So this is a way of thanking the gods.
Since it is Pongal, there are colored kolams in front of houses. This is a beautiful one!
We got through the crowd to go to the shop we needed to visit. But it was closed for the holiday (Pongal).
So we zipped around to get in front of the procession. Walking in front we saw this Brahmin gentleman walking.
Talking to Tamil friends, I think we may know what this event is today. I am going to tell a story that I do not know well, so please correct the many mistakes that I probably will make.
This day marks the real end of Deepam. Deepam, I guess, celebrates more about Siva than just Arunachala-as-endless-column-of-light-created-by-Siva. This day celebrates the resolution of fighting between Parvati (and Sati, also known as Dakshayani). Sati was upset with Siva over his marriage to Ganga (needed to bring this river to the earth). Siva has explained that since Siva and Sati were the same person, he still needed a partner to marry. Sati, in her anger, threw away her jewelry. A Nayanar (one of the 63 Tamil Nayanar saints) talked to Sati and calmed her. She wanted to make up with Siva, but there was a problem with her missing jewelry. She told Siva that she had been beset upon by robbers, who stole the jewelry. Enraged, Siva searched until he found the “missing” jewelry, in a small town nearby Tiruvannamalai, Palikunda (a town that actually exists near Vellore). Upon restoration of the jewelry, Sita and Siva were again happy.
We were told two possible names for this day: Thirvileadu or Thiruvriya. It happens during Pongal, because Pongal is the start of the six months of the year that have “positive energy.” Sati, with this positive energy, can reconcile with Siva. Before this day, there has been a special trip to Palikunda, where the residents still donate golden jewelry for the occasion. Today the procession will walk around the big temple a total of five times. We are seeing one of those circumambulations.
Here are the three chariots, stopped again for worship. We can see them from the front this time.
This is certainly the main god and goddess. I had thought them to be Annamalai and Unnamalai from the big temple. Now I am told that they are Siva and Sita.
I think this then is Parvati, maybe?
I think this is the Nayanmar that talked to Sita to resolve the conflict between her and Siva.
Gifts to the gods are being added to the decorations by people in the street.
A man walks around with burning incense on a plate.
The crowd in front of the chariots.
A fine dhoti being passed up to one of the gods.
Dhotis or sarees are given if the person has prayed to the gods, and their prayers have been answered. An example is a woman who prayed to bear a son, and she had one.
One priest sitting on the main chariot has a green dhoti on, and is wearing a crown typical of Vishnu. What is this about?
Here is the male god. Looks more like Annamalai than Siva to me.
Here is the goddess again. I see she is holding a parrot. This says that she is either Parvati or Meenakshi.
Usually when we see the gods being taken around the temple they are on wheeled cars of some kind. The vehicles here have no wheels, and are instead borne by devotees, so they are more accurately called palanquins, I guess, though giant ones.
Crews of men carry the gods today. Many are wearing yellow tee-shirts, identifying them as bearers.
When they stop, big braces are used to hold the palanquin, so the bearers can rest.
A man walks around the palanquins carrying a flaming torch.
Up close to the gods. You can see painted figures on the palanquins, too.
People pass items up to the priests. Here are dhotis for the gods.
A pooja plate is passed up. It will be offered to the gods, then passed back down so the worshiper can take it back to his family.
Dressing the god with gifts. These dhotis and sarees will later be used to dress the gods in the temple.
A saree is being passed for one of the goddesses.
The saree is being added to the decorations.
In front of the chariots are musicians. Here are a group of cymbal players.
Naturally there are a number of drummers.
You can see the smoke from incense rising above the crowd.
Time to get moving again.
These guys are straining. I notice that these men are carrying in pairs, to support one another as well as the gods.
We head off. One last look at the procession. There are cloth pandals above the road mark this as a special day. Arunachala is in the background.
Just another day in Tiruvannamalai. We never know what we will find each time we leave the house. This is certainly one of the joys of life in India!