Deepam 2009 – First Day Chariots


Karthigai Deepam is the oldest festival of South India, and is the most elaborate and the most important. Karthigai Deepam falls in the Tamil month of Karthigai when the star Krithigai is on the ascendant and usually occurs on a full moon day. This festival is also called as “the Festival of Lights”. Ancient Tamil works, written 2500 years ago, talk about this festival, so its roots are ancient.

Deepam is centered in Tiruvannamalai, next to the holy mountain, Arunachala, which is the focal point of the festival.

As a part of Deepam, the temple gods from the big temple, Arunachaleswarar Temple, are put into chariots and paraded through the streets of Tiruvannamalai. This post shows the chariots and gods from the first day of Deepam, 2009, Sunday, November 22. Deepam will culminate with the lighting of the lamp on the Arunachala peak in ten more days.

Three major elements of the Deepam festival are the daily parades of the gods, walking pradakshina (or girivalam in Tamil) – circumambulation of  Arunachala, and the lighting of the Deepam torch. They are preparing for 20 Lakhs of people to visit this year (two million). This in a city with a population just over 100,000. I  have heard it said that for a Tamil, visiting Tiruvannamalai during Deepam is like a Moslem visiting Mecca, something that should be done in one’s lifetime. Here is a link to the wikipedia page on Deepam for more description.

We looked for the procession out the East gate of the big temple, on Car Street. This is where it starts.


There was no parade of gods, just the big chariots, parked by the street (as they usually are) and the regular throng of people. We were late.


So we backtracked along the route to find the procession. We finally caught up to it, on the backside of the big temple.

Leading the way is Ganesh. This is just what you would expect. The gods are all dressed in gold today.

The crowd is small, just a few hundred are at this spot.


Tractors pull the gods today. On the final day, they are pulled by thousands of devotees. The West gopuram (gate) can be seen in the background.

Next follows Ganesh’s brother, Murugan, particularly revered and loved in South India. He is with his two consorts. He is quite a man. Murugan (or Skanda, or Subramaniam as alternate names) is seen as the most manly of men, handsome and a courageous warrior.

Behind Murugan’s chariot are a group of boys carrying colorful parasols and symbolic spears.



Walking in front of Murugan is a group of musicians.


The drummer has brass pieces on his fingers. I guess to get a louder sound.


Then come the masters of the Temple, Lord Annamalai and his consort, Unnamalai.


The flowers decorating the murtis are just gorgeous.


A priest rides with this chariot.



The top is quite ornate, decorated with mirror tiles and paintings. It  looks like the top of a gopuram.


The last three chariots coming up the street. The West gopuram is behind them.


There are many policemen around, some with guns.


Then comes a goddess. I think this is Meenakshi, holding a parrot. She was an incarnation of Parvati, and Siva’s wife.


She carries a bird, a parrot,  on her right hand.


The chariots all have extra riders, groups of local boys.


And a last god, completing the procession.


Again I do not know who this is. I see what looks like a club. Maybe this is Hanuman?

More boys.


This was the procession on the first day. There will be more processions each day until the final day when the big chariots and maybe a million people are here watching. Today was a small start to a big event. Stay tuned for more …

Related Posts

Deepam 2008

Deepam Scenes
Deepam Scenes – Part Two
Deepam – Preparing the Flame

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4 Responses to “Deepam 2009 – First Day Chariots”

  1. manchitra Says:

    I have read your blog on Arunchaleshwara temple before I made my trip there. That was quite informative. But staying there and and providing a day to day account is something great. I think I should spend some more time reading your other posts. Visiting temples is a passion for me and I love to read similar posts which helps me to learn more and more about our own culture.

  2. Anu Says:

    I came upon your site while searching for videos and pix of this year’s karthikai festival.. thanks so much for your detailed posts… thanks to you, we have enjoyed a visual tour of the festival…..

    and the idol you werent able to recognise is Chandikeswara, not hanuman….he is the record keeper of devotees who visit a shiva temple, and is considered part of shiva’s family…. hence he is included in the procession…


    • richardclarke Says:

      Thank you so much for the information and the story. We are still very much learning our way here in India.

      Love your blog.

  3. drpvssnraju Says:


    Thank you so much Richards.

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