The morning after Mahasivaratri this year I needed to go shopping in Tiruvannamalai. I went to a shop on Thiruvoodal Street near the Arunachaleswarar Temple. When processions walk Pradakshina around the temple, they turn up Thiruvoodal street after their start on Car Street. And today I saw such a procession, led by people wearing colorful and fancy costumes. I kicked myself for not having my camera with me, and drove quickly to my house to get it. I was back in about twenty minutes and was able to see the procession after it had turned the corner onto Big Street.
One thing we love about living in Tamil Nadu is that often there are unexpected and interesting things that we just come upon in our daily life. This was once such event.
I saw the Arunachala guide, Saran, and asked him about this procession. He said that it was Mayana Kollai, for the Goddess Angalaamman. She is an ancient Tamil guardian goddess, one that is often seen as the guardian of a village. She is the fiercest form of Parvati, Angala Parameshwari, a form of the primordial Mother Goddess, Amman. The biggest festival day for her is this day, immediately after Mahasivaratri. You can read more about her in this wikipedia page.
Leading the procession, carrying a trident, it must be Siva (with his blue face).
Following behind Siva were several men wearing “shirts” of lemons.
I saw the man shown above pull some lemons off his arm so the watchers could pick them up.
And I saw something that was a shock – the lemons were sewn onto his skin! Below they are shown stitched onto an arm.
And from the shoulder, too. I guess all the lemons are supported by threads through his skin.
I asked a Tamil friend about this piercing and he said that these men undergo this Tapas, austerity, because they need to ask God for something big. An example might be for a couple who have been together for more than five years and have no children. Maybe they have gone to the doctor and the doctor cannot help. Then they might ask Angalaamman to help. He says that it does not hurt much, just like a pinch. My friend said, definitely, he had never done this himself, nor had anyone in his family. He did know, though, another man who had done it.
Please note that they also say to God that if they get their prayer, there is more that they will do for the God.
This kind of ‘bargaining’ with God is common in the Tamil culture. Maybe the couple has been together for three years with no children, so they go to Arunachalaswarar Temple and pray for help so they can get children. They will tell God that they will name the baby after the God. So any new boy would be named “Annamalai,” (for example), the old Tamil name for Arunachala.
Behind the “Lemon Men” there is a chariot, carrying the presiding god for today’s celebration.
Here is another person dressed as a god, not sure who. My friend told me that all of these are men, dressed as women. That is part of the ceremony.
This, then, is a boy, made up as Angalamman. Note the fierce teeth protruding from ‘her’ jaw.
Here is another young Goddess.
Coming behind these people were drummers, ahead of a man carrying a special pot.
He carrys a Purna Kumbha on his head. This is the Tamil “Pot of Plenty,” a very auspicious object. (And heavy. He has been carrying it for about half an hour already, and his arms must be exhausted.)
The final part of the procession is the goddess, Durga, in her chariot, all decorated with flowers in elaborate display. Durga is the Hindu archetype of a fierce woman. After these North Indian ideas gradually migrated to Tamil Nadu, they were imposed on top of the preexisting cultural ideas. So Angalamman becomes a form of Durga.
This is in front of another Amman goddess temple on Big Street. The procession is stopping here, and there is much activity here.
Inside is another Angalamman figure.
She lookss pretty fierce to me. I sure like the headdress, too! I think there are many mirrors in it.
A boy (who looks like a boy), stands, waiting.
Here a man in a dress bends down to help what I think may be his son with his costume.
Or maybe he is comforting him. The lower man looks distraught to me.
Here is the main goddess again, Durga.
You can tell that it is Durga because of all the arms, and the many weapons she carries.
Here is the man in Angalamman costume again, this time in the procession.
A mother with her two young goddesses (both boys. You can see the daughter standing behind the one on the right).
With the long hair this really looks like a girl to me. But my friend was adamant that all these are males in goddess dress.
A baby is passed up to be blessed by Durga.
Now following at the end is one of the goddesses on back of a motorcycle. I guess this shows the merging of the old with the new.
Angalamman is certainly a fierce figure. I read (but did not see) that this celebration to her starts with blood, with the sacrifice of a goat of a chicken. This animal sacrifice is a sign of just how ancient this celebration is.
This is only one of many celebrations that we see here, and ones with roots that are ancient. The roots of this goddess are ancient, surely much more than 2000 years old. I think this is about when the Hindu influences started to reach Tamil Nadu, and these village-protecting goddesses are much older.