The last two days before the lighting of the Deepam Lamp on Arunachala are spent in preparation. Then there is the actual lighting, and the celebration that follows.
Getting Ready for the Light – Day before
The day before the climax of Deepam there are many things going on in Tiruvannamalai. These include getting all the bulls into the cow market, getting all the roadside shops set up, and erecting the police barricades on the roads to try to manage the unbelievable traffic that is starting to come into town.
The ‘Bull Market’ is set up each year in the big lot where Perampakkam Road meets Bangalore (Chengam) Road. I thought it was a ‘cow market’ until I looked more closely.
Here it looks like this man has two teams that he wants to sell. Each bull is decorated, with the horns matching.
These two men saw that we were taking photos, and wanted their photo taken with their prize humpback.
As we walked and showed interest, people started trying to sell us animals. Here they offer this prime animal to Carol for ‘only Rs 50,000.’
These men have some kind of knife and are shaving the bulls horns. You can see pieces carved away as white strips on the ground. Rajan said they do this to make their animals more attractive.
Across from the Bull Market, stands sell things for your new bull.
This one offers nicely colored ropes.
The one has bull ornaments and accessories.
Now the street is lined with stands. Most are operating, some are still being set up.
Naturally there are people selling necklaces and bracelets.
There is traffic on Bangalore Road, but it is still pretty light, compared to what it will be tomorrow.
There are too many bulls for the Bull Market, and many are on display on Bangalore Road.
The Day of the Lighting of the Deepam Lamp
At 8 am, the Bull Market is crowded with visitors.
Already there are many thousands of people on the road, circumambulating Arunachala. Authorities expect 10 lakhs of people (one million) to do pradakshina (girivalam) today.
All the streets into town are blocked off. Even rickshaws have to have special police stickers to operate in town today. Most people are walking, but there are a few on motorbikes. Occasional police vehicles drive through the crowd, horns blaring all the way.
Here are a few policeman, in the brown uniform typical in Tamil Nadu. Altogether there were 7,500 police active in town today. They are a big force in the main Arunachaleswarar Temple, even searching people as they enter!
In the morning we went to listen to Sri V. Ganesan talk. He is Sri Ramana’s grand-nephew.
Today, one thing he talked about was the significance of Deepam. He related the ancient Siva story, talked about the spiritual meaning of fire burning up the ignorance that obscures the Self. He also talked today about religion vs. spirituality. Religion, he said, is something of the past (the sacred scriptures and stories and teachings) and the future (what you will get from following the teachings and practices). Spirituality is only ever now. The past and future of religion are for the mind. Spirituality is of the experience in the now.
After we left Ganesan’s house, there were more people walking pradakshina.
Before the flame is lit, thousands of people climb Arunachala, bringing the ghee that will be needed to keep the lamp going for the next ten days. Many thousands of pounds of ghee will be needed. In the photo below, taken last year, you can see the procession of the faithful, white dots looking like a line of ants. Each is a person making the trek up the hill with a few ounces of ghee to offer.
Late in the afternoon, in the houses around Arunachala, families get their own celebrations ready.
People lay out their pujas for Arunachala.
Entrances to houses are decorated with elaborate kolams.
Children are excitedly waiting. Sometimes it is hard to wait.
Mother gives daughter a fresh plait.
Ghee lamps are set out and lit.
In the homes, there is extensive live TV coverage of the rites in Arunachaleswarar temple. Most village people cannot attend in person, due the the high price of an admission ticket on this day, so they watch on TV. The coverage is pretty amazing, with many TV cameras and good places to shoot from. It goes on live for many hours and is reminiscent of New Year’s Eve TV coverage of Times Square.
Lighting of the Deepam Lamp
Now it is almost time.
In the west, the sun is setting.
In the east, the moon has risen.
Rajan sits, waiting for the lighting of the Depam lamp so he can light his own.
Now from up on the mountain, we see a light!
People everywhere around Arunachala light their own fires.
The Deepam light glows more brightly now. You can even see a column of smoke blowing to the left.
In the photo below, the ghee lamps glow nicely, while the Deepam Lamp burns on the top of the hill.
These lamps are set out around houses all over Tiruvannamalai.
Inside houses, altars are set out, with the food offering that becomes the prasadam to be eaten for the evening meal.
People bow to their household altars.
Then go outside. It is time for fireworks!
Though many fireworks are used for Deepam, none are available for sale. We bought some during Divali and saved them so we would have them now.
Carol is lighting some kind of ‘star’ firework.
It explodes, high above our head.
Nearby other people see what we are doing and stop to watch the show. Too quickly it is over.
So we go inside to eat. Here are Carol and Rajan waiting for Rajan’s wife, Janaki, to serve us.
After we eat, we have to leave pretty quickly. Janaki cannot eat until the guests have gone.
When we got home, we went up to our roof to sit, and look at Arunachala. Now, besides the fire at the top, we see three separate fires on the mountain. How are they going to put them out? It has rained a lot over the last weeks, so the hill is not very flammable right now. Maybe this will help.
In front of our house usually it is very quiet. We are on a small dirt road that is really, in places, only wide enough for a cycle. But all day today and tonight hundreds of rickshaws have gone down the road. The main road into town is blocked, and the other usual route around back roads is still flooded. So today we get more traffic than we have seen in the previous year.
In the photo below, you see the rickshaws as a line of light. I was taking these at night in available light, so it has a slow shutter speed. Also I am not using a tripod, so it is had to hold the camera perfectly still.
We went out again on the scooter the next morning. There were still many thousands of people walking around the hill. Many of the food and trinket booths were still open. Many more had shut down, and were packing up to leave.
Just another couple of days with Arunachala.
Quick Note: Just as I was getting ready to post this, I got a phone call. A man had my wallet and wanted to give it back. I met him at Ramanasramam where he gave it back (without any cash), and when I offered him a reward for returning it, he refused. It is reasons like this that we love living here in Tiruvannamalai. Thank you Arunachala.