Deepam Scenes


Deepam is the largest event each year in Tiruvannamalai. It takes place over ten days, and its highlight is the lighting of the lamp at the top of Arunachala. Lakhs (hundred of thousands) of people come from all over India to participate. Because of the magnitude of the celebration, it  is not possible to cover it with a blog entry, so I will show some parts of it.

One big part of Deepam is the parading of gods through the streets on ‘chariots’ (the local name, obviously from antiquity). This happens in several ways: late at night, at midday, and in special processions like the Maha Radham, the Big Car Festival.

The Arunachala Grace blog has some very good material on this, and  more descriptions, so you you may want to look there as well.

Midnight Procession – On the Fourth Night

At midnight, they will bring out some of the Gods. This is an auspicious time (though it is really too late in the night for me). I have pictures here from an Arunachala mountain guide, Jagan.

I do not know the identity of most of them. Notice how they are all elaborately decorated, a sign of the reverence of the people. There is enormous effort involved in the preparations of each God for its time out of the temple.

I think this is Sarasvati (because of the musical instrument).


I believe this is Kamadhenu (the wish fulfilling cow).


This is Murgan, sitting on his peacock.


These must the the Lord and Lady of Arunachaleswarar temple.

Lord Arunachaleswara (Annamalai) and his Goddess, Unnamalai are seated under Kalpavriksha (the Kalpataru Tree is a synonym) – which is a wish-fulfilling divine tree common in Hindu temples.



Below, details of the various gods at the feet of the Lord and Lady.


Another of the gods.


And another, we think Meenakshi.


What a nice blue saree she is dressed in!


And another, I htink Ganesh sitting on his rat.



And still more.


Midday parade

The gods exit Arunachaleshwarar Temple from the North gate, then turn down Big Street, then onto Car Street, then past the vegetable market, and up the hill and back into the North Gate, from which they departed. This takes many hours, though in distance it is probably only a little more than one mile.

We watched one day’s small parade.

We were  not sure where it was on the route, so went to the temple, and walked out the big entrance in front of the south gate. This would take us to Car Street, one of the main Tiruvannamalai streets. It is named for the chariots (cars), which sit on this street except when carrying the Gods around the city.

A high pillared hall goes from the temple to the street.


As we have seen in other temples, this area is used by merchants, to offer goods to the many visitors. Some shops are related to the temple, selling puja items or small stone idols. Some booths sell food. Some sell toys for the kids and other general merchandise.

These temples in India are community gathering places. Families will come here on Sunday, for example, and spend the whole day (like they would in the West at an amusement park or other park.  So there are booths, accordingly.


In front of the pillared hall is an area on the sidewalk that local people have made into a puja location. The camphor flame keeps going, fed by a continuous stream of visitors depositing more camphor. People going by will bless themselves with the camphor smoke.

This is one more example of how, here in south India, God is close to everybody, and worship is certainly not confined just to a formal temple.


When we got to Car Street, we turned left, going counter-clockwise to find the parade, which was going clockwise.

Many people were on the street, but this is not a big day, so the crowd is really pretty moderate today.

We can see several of the ‘cars’ sitting by the street, brightly painted, and freshly repainted for the festival, too.


These cars are enormous, the height of a two or three story building.


Walking towards the parade, first we see a group a dancers, wearing their horses, accompanied by drummers. There is a circle of people, about four people thick, around these dancers. The whole  road is blocked by this.


This sadhu was watching the dance.


Next came the temple elephant, gaily decorated for the event today.


Then came the Parade of the Gods, led by a group of drummers.


Then the gods. It is a small parade today, with only two gods.

This may be the Lord and Lady of the temple, Siva and Parvati, (Annamalai and Unnamalai) They are sitting on a bull, I think Siva’s Nandi.


This being India, cows are still on the streets, even in the midst of a parade. Carol is behind this one.


The other god. Is this Vishnu on his boar?


Maha Radham – The Big Car Festival

Four days before the climax, the major temple gods are brought through town on the ‘cars’ we saw outside  the temple.

This is one of the biggest parts of the festival. We walked into the crowd. We had been warned by the rickshaw drivers about our bags, to hold them tightly, because of thieves out on days like this.

We got into the crowd waiting on the street. This turned out the be the worst such crowd I had ever been in. While taking these photographs, I was almost pushed over several times. Carol was standing behind me, and so did not have as much trouble with the press of people.

We were in the street, just a bit up from the temple’s West Gopuram.


The biggest of the cars was coming up the street. Again, this car carried the Lord and Lady, Arunachaleswara and Unnamalai. This is the climax of the parade.


People were everywhere. The best spots, I think, were on rooftops.


The car slowly moved up the street. It is uphill here, and this matters when you are trying to move such a massive car.


The car is pulled by a line of men and a line of women (shown here). The chains themselves are as big as I have ever seen, with each link about one foot long and more than an inch thick.

Here you start to see just how much of a community effort this is. It is considered great good fortune to even touch the chain, and much better luck to be able to take a hand in pulling it.


Around the car, helping to clear the crowd away from its path, are many, many police, with their brown uniforms and berets.


As the chariot gets closer, you can see the symbolic horses that pull it.


And in the center is a compartment for the gods. You can see Lord Arunachaleswara faintly in the dim light in the inner chamber.


As the chariot approaches, you can see better just how big it is. As it passes, it seems like a building on wheels.


The wheels must be nine or ten feet high.


The chain pullers pull the chariot, but even thousands of pullers are not enough to get the chariot moving, especially uphill. To start it moving, there are ‘levers’ maybe 20 feet long, made from big timbers, with steps set into them for people to stand and jump to get the car started.


Below you can see that some use bamboo poles for balance.



Now the chariot has passed us. Arunachala is in the background, silently watching all that goes on.


Getting out of the crowd was almost worse than standing it in with the flow of it pushing us over. We got separated, and took about 15 minutes to work through all the people to get back together.

Then I thought of getting a rickshaw to go home, and reached for my wallet. It was gone! I think it was picked from my pocket, as I held the camera above my head for these photos. We have our rickshaw driver’s, Rajan’s, business card  in it. He got a call from a woman saying she found  it on the street (without any cash in it). She said if he could get where she was (at a payphone) in ten minutes, she would give it to him. He and another driver, Gopal, stopped what they were doing (and  in Gopal’s case, he asked his passengers to wait), and tried to run through the crowd to get there in time. Alas, they did not make it. This is the kind of heroic effort that Rajan and his friends have made for us during our time here. We are so grateful for everything they have done to help us.

We canceled one debit card with a US bank over the phone. I have to got to State Bank of India today to cancel another one. I don’t know what I have to do to get my California drivers license replaced.

Next year we will try to find our way to the top of one of the buildings. I do not know if I can ever face such a mass of people again.

Related Post:

Deepam Scenes Part Two


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One Response to “Deepam Scenes”

  1. rpodury Says:

    Dear Richard
    The dedication with whic you are covering various aspects in Tiruvannnamalai is unique and is thoroughly professional. Though I have been visiting arunachala since more than 15 years you have shown to me what I have not seen all these years. I am glad you are enjoying your migration to India. We first met at Nome’s ashram and briefly in ramanashram. Presently I am in Sanjose and will visit SantacruJ shortly. My wife wants to attend sunday satsang there. I will try to call on you In Tiruvannamalai when I visit the place

    Ramana Sarma

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