HOLY THER/ CHARIOT FESTIVAL /SRI RATHOTSAVAM OF OUR BELOVED PRINCE OF NALLUR
Dr. P. Raghavan (Canberra, Australia) & Dr. Gayatri Padmanathan (Chandigarh, India)
Our Prince of Nallur, Lord Sri Karthikeya, popularly called, Alankar Skanda (Alankara Kandan) or Sri Murugan is the Protector – The Guardian God. For the Jaffna Hindus, He is the Dynamic Might of their lives. He is the God of miracles and they pronounce His name hundreds of times daily. When all hopes are dead, He revives and provides a new lease of life for His beloved devotees. When one thinks of Jaffna, the first and foremost thought that comes is The Nallur Skanda Temple. It is not merely a rich cultural symbol or religious Temple of Northern Province, it is the heart of every Tamil Hindu of Jaffna where ever he lives. Our young, playful Lord Sri Muruga or Lord Shivgurunath (Shiva Guru Nathan) sits inside the Temple with a heartwarming smile and provides unending pleasure to His innumerable devotees. The Temple stands for countless miracles and eternal happiness to all who ask deliverance from Him. When any one enters inside His temple, the energy from The Almighty gets into his or her body like an electric charge. He cures one’s trauma in a very specific and pleasant manner. Besides the Tamil Hindus, a lot of Sinhalese Buddhists too visit this Temple with utmost love, faith, devotion and discipline.
Lord Sri Karthikeya and His Sacred Devis at Chandigarh Temple
The Holy Cart/ Car/ Ther/ Rath festival is the king i.e., the epitome of the Maha Brahmotsav. According to the Shiva Puram, the driver / Sharathi/Rattan of the Lord Shiva’s Rath/Ratham (warrior chariot) is the God of Creation, Sri Brahma/ Sri Brahma Dev. The two main wheels are the Sun and Moon. The four vedas are the horses which pull the cart. Eight nagas are comparable with the leashes of the horses. The sixteen kalai (astronomical episodes of the planetary movements: Amavasai to Purnima) represent 16 pillars of the Rath. The sky is the roof of the Ratham. Vayu Deva (God of Wind) symbolizes the flag of the Rath. Agni or the fire converts itself as an arrow of warrior Lord Shiva. Maha Vishnu is the point of the arrow. The bow of warrior Lord Shiva is a combination of Lord Indira (Curved part) and the naan/chord of the bow is the Snake Goddess Vasuki.
The types of Ratham/Rath are of two kinds.
1. Chitra (Victory/ Vetri Ther) (Rath)
2. Kattu Ther (Rath)
Nallur Temple’s giant sized Chitra Ther is a permanent structure made up of precious wood. It has three main structures such as the base with wheels and alignment, the body with the Holy platform and the large crown structure, the bright copula. The Ratham is philosophically comparable to the human heart and the Utsav Murthis / Holy Deities who sit on the platform represent the soul.
The Master Craftsman of the Holy Rath (Asari/ Stapathi) who also wears a special junoon/ poonool commands tremendous respect in the society.
Besides the crafted teak wood it has many structures made up of pure gold, silver, platinum and five amalgamated metal called “Panch log”. Nallur Temple’s Ther is an inimitable one – on the sides of the base of the Ther, the sculptured Statuettes represent the characters of Skanda and Shiva puranas. Many crafted plates of silver, gold and panchlog are fitted throughout the Ther.
The majestic seat of the Almighty has six windows to enable the devotees to see the Arumuga Swamy (Utsav murthi of the Ther in Nallur Skanda Temple) and His Divine Consorts from any direction. The Arumuga Utsav murthi has six faces, twelve shoulders and hands. So from any direction, the devotees can enjoy His Splendor and Blessing. Before the Rathotsavam, a special pooja is performed throughout the night to the giant platform or Peedam, of pure silver and crafted beautifully on which the Lord Muruga and Devis are seated and numerous pujas are performed.
- beauty of these combined Deities is indescribable. They are beautifully adorned with red velvet, silk and jewels of gold and diamonds. One needs multiple eyes to imbibe the splendor when the devotees who carry the peedam/stage swings it to left and right according to the music performed by the Nathaswara – Thavil vidwans (experts) amidst the shower of flower petals that is being poured from the helicopters and the roof top of the Temple. As a mass hysteria grips the Devotees they overcome by awe, start reciting happy and emotional slogans. A battery of Temple priests recites the mantras along with the divine reverberations of Shunk (Shell), Thiruchinam (similar to Trumpet) together with the jingle of a huge movable Bell which moves along with the Holy Rath.
The beginning of the Rath utsav is known as Rath Arohanam and its end is called Rath Avarohanam.
Kattu Ther/ Temporary Ratham: In this kind of Rath only the base is permanent and rest of the structures are made of long wooden logs and mega printed cloth .These temporary Raths are found in village Temples.
Vedic interpretation Ther /Rath festival at Nallur:
The famous Sri Arumuga Swamy (Sri Karthikeya with one body, six faces and twelve shoulders and hands) and his sacred Consorts present the blessed appearance to the devotees. The Divines in red and bejeweled superbly are carried out by the devotees with tender dance and swings. This appearance is described in the Hindu Ahamas as “triple energy filling episode”. A combination of Icha Shakti – Power of liking/ love, Griya /Kriya Shakti – Power of Hindu Rights, and Gna Shakti (/ Gnam means Gyan in Hindi) – Power of Wisdom.
To a Skanda devotee, looking at the hallowed appearance of Lord Sri Arumuga or Shanmuga Swamy of Nallur Temple is considered as an important and life time triumph. The Blessed interpretation of the six faces of Lord Sri Karthikeya is as follows:-
The five faces represent the five different characteristics such as Eshaanam, Thatprusham, Vamanam, Ahoram, and Satyoshaathanam and the sixth face is the one which controls all of them. This epitome of the festival i.e. the Holy Rath/Ther falls on the 24th Day of the Maha utsav. The entire festival takes place at an auspicious time called in Sanskrit as Subha Muhoortham/Subh Muhurth.
Structure of Nallur Ther/ Rath
The present permanent Ratham of Nallur Skada came into action since 1964. It took almost 12 months to make this Ratham. Many artisans including gold smiths, carpenters and handicraftsmen took part in the making. Artisans came all the way from various parts of South India to work along with the local specialists.
The entire structure of Ratham can be divided into three parts. The beautifully crafted with animals from Shiva & Skanda Puranas especially leaping horses, the base or bottom contains the four wheels and it is followed by six faced roof which is supported by crafted pillars. A silver crown is fitted on the top.The Peedam where the main Deity Sri Arumuga / Sri Shunmugeswar sits along with Devis is well decorated with multi colored lotus flower sketches.
The six faced windows of the Ther have crafted brass frames all along and the upper portion has skillfully made small bells which are made of top quality amalgamated gold color metal. All six red colored ornamented pillars contain six ancient, very aggressive looking Dragon like Lions called “Yali (s)”. The fire mouthed appearance of the fearful Yali is also referred in Vedic Puranas. The Hexagon shaped skillfully, crafted wooden roof of the Holy chariot also contains a number of small flags and a statue of Lord Karthikeya‘s wild Cock statue. The Ther Mudi/ Crown or Copula is an important structure of the Chariot/ Ther. This silver structure is the highest point of the Rath. It plays a very important role among the Hindus. According to the Ahama – Shastras, those who see this structure gets the ultimate “Mukti” (Solace and Salvation) of his/her life and all the sins committed get vanished.
The heavy Rath is pulled by the male devotees at Nallur Skanda Temple. There are specially made two giant ropes on the left and the right sides of the front of the Ratham. There are also specialists who are responsible for the direction and turnings of the Rath throughout its yatra/ holy journey. Very heavy giant triangular wooden structures (Mundu) are used as breaks to stop the movement of the Rath at appropriate points and they are also responsible for the turning the direction of the Rath. It is a very risky job and one needs ample years of experience to do this job in a very successful manner.
The movement of the Rath is well directed by the sound of Shunk and Thiruchinnam. Hundreds of devotees follow the Rath by singing the devotional Songs of Lord Muruga. They are accompanied by the traditional musical instruments. A number of male devotees perform the Angaprathakshai (Rolling on the floor with the bare chest). Some of them start Angaprathakshai as far as 50 odd km. away from the Temple. The female devotees perform Adiyalathal behind the Blessed Chariot.
Sacred services at the temple during the Ther festival:
Poojas at Vasantha Mandapam / Basant Madap;
The kinds of Pooja or Holy services to Deities – Utsav Murthis / Eluntharilis before the holy procession are very sophisticated and philosophically oriented. They are divided into two main categories such as Aarthi/ Arti and Jothandam /Jotand. Soon after the pooja at Vasantha Mandapam, the Kodisthamba/Dwaja Stabam pooja known as Sri Subramania Pooja begins.
During the process of Aarthi / Arti or welcoming the almighty by using various types of holy fire lamps / greetings as per the following sequences.
1. Using the camphor
2. Using fire made by camphor on the Holy Ash (Vipoothi)
3. Tissa Arti- Aduku Deepam (multiple lamps)
4. Utrayasha Maha Deepam (number of lamps in odd numbers)
5. Alankara / Alankar Deepam/ Alankar Deep– decorative lamps
6. Naga Deep/ Naga Deepam
7. Pancha Deepam/ Panch Deep
8. Thirya Deepam / Teen Deep/Triple lamps
9. Eka Deepam/ Eak Deep/ Single lamp
After the Deepa Alankaram /Holy reception by sacred lamps Jodanda Upachar /Sodana Upasaram is being held. The chief or maha Pandit / Priest performs this in the following order:-
Mirror, small golden umbrella, samarai, hand fan, golden flag, and allavattam
Soon after the Dwaja Stamba pooja, Sri Arumuga Swamy and his Sacred Devis Sri Valli and Sri Deivayanai, draped in red and countless fabulous ornaments, seated on a Silver Peedam, are lifted by the devotees on their shoulders. While going to the Rath, an overhead large silver crafted umbrella covers the deities. The traditional Nathaswara – Thavil groups will start playing the specific Ragas meant for welcoming the Deities. The two sets of Ragas, Mallari 1 and 2 are played throughout the procession, both, the inner and outer premises, till they reach the Holy Rath. The devotees are well trained to carry the Deities with perfect rhythmic foot work in coordination with the Temple music and timing – a performance especially the precise time keeping is unique to Nallur Skanda Temple. The Divines and the entire paraphernalia move few steps forward and a few steps backwards. Often it takes a full swing of 360 degrees through right side. At the end of the inner circle, Homam/Yaag is completed and the Chief Pandit decorates the Sacred Murthis with “Vetri Thilagam”, known as “Rakshai”.
We have witnessed that the crowd of devotees often goes uproarious when they witness their beloved Prince of Nallur starts towards His Grand Holy Chariot. One never forgets the reaction of the massive crowd gathered outside the Temple to witness the “Scared Swing” movements of the Deities amidst of flower showers from atop of the Blessed Temple and helicopter. They become fascinated, triumph over by the Heavenly beauty of the Arumuga Swamy and His Devine Consorts. The instant the Heavenly Deities appear at the eastern entrance of the Holy Temple, the massive gathering of the devotees numbering in lakhs go emotional and the massive crowd recite ‘Ara Hare Murga!, Skanda Ara Hare!, Kaliyug Vardha ‘ bless us! together. This recitation pierces the firmament to reach the Kingdom of Heaven from where Lord Karthikeya watches them with His ever smiling Face.
Once the Deities are placed inside the Rath, many artis and archanas are performed. Finally the two sets of Vadam/ massive ropes are distributed to the devotees for pulling the Sacred Chariot. Sixteen (16) versions of the Temple Katiyam (Thanks Giving) are recited by the Temple’s head priest, Shiva Shree Vykunthavasa Gurukal.
Katiyam 2 is considered to be an important one as it is devoted to the founder of the Temple Shriman Raghunatha Mapana Mudaliyar family. This honor has been rightfully dedicated to them as they stood against all adverse conditions including very hostile political climax during the Portuguese & Dutch periods Katiyam -2 is as follows:
“Sriman Maha Rajathi Raja Ahanda Poomandala Rathiyathigentha Vishraatha Kirti Sri Gaja Valli Maha Valli Sameda Sri Subramanya Bathara Ventha Jana Thiruda Shivagore Diroth Bhawaha Ragunatha Maapana Mudaliar Samuga “
Soon after the Katiyam is recited, thousands of devotees break fresh coconuts in front of the Holy Chariot. It symbolizes the destruction of all three main hurdles (Anavam– Arrogance, Kanmam/Karma – Conduct and Maya –illusion) which prevent the humans to reach their salvation and solace from the GOD. It is a kind of submission of oneself to the GOD.
Finally, the Rath starts its journey at sharp 9’0 clock. It covers all four outer lanes of the Temple and frequently stops at many points for archana. Finally the Sacred Rath comes into its shelter (Ther Mooti) for the final halt at sharp 10.00am and it is welcomed by a great applause by lakhs of devotees. It is an awe-inspiring sight to cherish and keep etched in one’s mind permanently, when the God and the Goddesses, after going around the Temple grounds to listen and grant the devotees’ petitions, the They move into the Temple’s Basant Mandap for Arti draped in green and being swung ever so slowly side to side while going in to the Temple. Even the Pandits go green during this ceremony.
Till early eighties, returning of the Deities back to Temple was started at sharp 4.00pm. Till that time special archanas for the devotees were held at the Rath. There were well organized traditional concert of Nathaswaram and Tavil by experts; they performed in the majestic shelter (Ther Mooty) of the Divine Chariot. Experts from all over Sri Lanka and India took part in the concerts. However, the returning ceremony these days is advanced; it takes place in the morning itself.
Ananda Kawadi (Pleasant Holy Dances) commitments:
Kawadi is a kind of folk dance and it is exclusively devoted to Lord Karthikeya. They are usually performed during the grand festival periods. There are many types of Kawadis including Paneer Kawadi – perfumed water is kept in two little silver pots are fitted on wooden structure .This structure is decorated with feathers of peacock and held across the shoulders. Pushpa Kawadi is decorated with flowers. Milk or Paal Kawadi is another important one. Here the silver pots are filled with boiled milk. The above mentioned Kawadis are known as Ananda Kawadis. They indicate the happiness. The devotees dance according to the harmonious (ananda) tune of the music produced by combination of Nathaswaram, Thavil and other music instruments.
- and Parawai (Bird) Kawadis are performed by the devotees who have a higher degree of willpower, determination and commitment. This is performed by those who are driven by their conscious for some sins and mistakes they might have committed in their life thus they want to find a remedy/measure by pleasing the God by inflecting self punishments. Muscles of the back part of the shoulders (near Scapula region) are hooked by giant iron hooks, and the entire upper the body is inserted by small silver Vels. Large sized Vel and nag (cobra) made up of silver are also inserted through their cheeks and upper lip. In Thula or pulley Kawadi the performer is pulled by the ropes which are tied with the hooks. The ropes are pulled time and again by someone who accompanies the performer. He is the one who direct the performer’s movements. In Parawai or Bird Kawadi, the performer is suspended in the air by the hooks. The giant wooden structure which is fixed on a moving vehicle swings up and down.
Katpura Deepam /Katpur Deep/ Holy fire of camphor: Mainly elderly ladies carry a clay pot of fire made of camphor on their head and follow the holy procession along with the Deities.
Other Grand /Majestic car/cart festivals – various kinds of Raths at Nallur Skanda Temple and their concepts:
The sacred Manjam festival takes place twice a year. The 10th day of the Maha Brahmostavam, Lord Sri Muthukumara Swamy (Lord Karthikeya) and his two Devis give darshan (holy appearance) to the devotees. Sri Manjam means Holy and comfortable bed. It also refers the yellow color in ancient Sanskrit and Tamil. Another meaning for Manjam is “Controller or Protector of Area” According to the Hindus, the yellow color indicates pleasant or mangalam or holy color for married ladies or Sumangalis. It protects their husbands from evil and disease and provides them a long life. Sri Manjam has three parts such as base, middle and tower. The base contains the seats, lower support unit with four wooden wheels. It also has two giant pulling wooden horse models. The middle or the main body structure has crafted pillars. It looks like a small palace.
It is also having a flag carrying ancient mythological fire emitting dragon like animals called Yaali supporting the four pillars. The roof or upper portion is known as the tower / gopuram. It is comparable to the Temple tower with five copulas. It has the crafted wooden statues of sacred peacocks, wild cocks, winged – angels and stories from Sri Skanda Puranam. This Sri Manjam represents the holy blessings, sacred association of Lord Karthikeya with his devotees, and rising level of confidence among the people in the form of re-affirm/ assurance of their protection.
Sri Karthikai / Kritika Maha Utsav/ Poochaparam /Phool Chaparam:
18th Day of the Maha Utsav coincides with the star Kritika. It is considered as a very auspicious star of Lord Muruga. Both, morning as well as the evening festivals is celebrated in a grand manner. The Utsav murthis of Lord Sri Karthikeya (Sri Muthukumara Swamy) and Goddesses Sri Valli and Sri Devyani. A triple grand palatial structure on wheels, decorated with flowers and electric bulbs has three chambers. It symbolizes the blessings and protection for the Lord’s devotees.
Plenty of fire balls are burnt with the help of coconut oil and pure ghee are carried by male devotees. The female devotees / Bhakts carry the fire pots on their heads ahead of the procession. The fire is made of camphor.
Great Kailash Vahan:
More than half a century old movable replica of Mt.Everest or Himalayas. It narrates one of the Shiva Purana vedic stories of Lord Shiva and his priest King Ravana. When Lord Shiva was meditating on Mount Everest, King Ravana unintentionally lifted the Himalayas with his shoulders to test his muscle power.
The entire living organisms of the mountain got scared. Goddess Parvati hugged Lord Shiva out of fear. He pressed the mountain with his right big toe. King Ravana was crushed in between the mountain and the earth. The Saint Narath who was passing by suggested to the King to play melodious notes to please The Lord. So he broke his head and took parts of his intestine and nerves and made a chord instrument called Veenai/ Veena. He played very soothing Ragas called Neelambari and Kambothi. He also recited a special Mantra called “Samagam”. This was composed by King Ravana. Lord Shiva was very pleased with his music, gradually released the pressure and blessed King Ravana by conceding many super powers and varams/vardans. This chariot represents this episode as the entire mythological story has been depicted. This vahanam carries the Lord and Goddess twice a year around the temple. They are on 20th Day of Maha utsav and Sri Kritika day during the month of December (Tamil – Kritika month). A similar but smaller chariot is also being driven through the inner corridors of the Temple on the morning of the 10th day festival.
The mountain like mobile structure fitted with wooden giant wheels. The model of Mt. Everest is carved on the sub-base and middle positions. Many crafted statues of saints/ angels, experts of various fields and animals are found on the great mountain. The God’s guards at the entrance (Dwara Balagar/ Dwar Balak) are also found at the main entrance of the Mountain. The Holy procession of Kailash Vahan indicates the God’s supremacy over evil and control of the galaxy.
Holy Vel Vimanam
It is a new addition in the recent times. Probably might have introduced two- three decades ago. It is a small golden castle like cart with six opened windows facing the platform where the Deities are kept. Two medium sized wooden horses are fixed in the front. Iron wheels carry the entire small castle. This golden Vale viman/vimanam symbolizes the power of Lord Sri Kathikeya’s strength and abilities.
Grand Old Majestic Saparam:
The Sanskrit word “Saparam” means “Emotions”, “Grand’ or “Majestic”. The Nallur Temple’s mega “Saparam” is one of the tallest castles like structure. It is a replica of a Temple with a very tall tower. The Grand structure’s height is almost equivalent to the height of the Temple. On move it gives an impression as if a Grand Temple is on move. It is fully decorated with bulbs. The wooden models of giant sized oxen (Risheb/Rishebams) are placed in each chamber. The two thick and long ropes called “Vadam” are pulled by thousands of male devotees. This also called the giant fire display festival as many temple helper/sewaks dance with large fire balls. A large generator provides the electric supply to the Holy Chariot. The festival re-affirms the faith and guarantees peace to the people. The vedaandam or philosophy says that it shows the generosity of caring attitude of the Lord as He visits on a moving Temple to His devotees who are unable to go to his Temple for some reason.
The newly installed Utsav murthis Lord Surya and his twin wives had a special ceremony on 11th of August, 2012. The Hindu Dravidian God, Surya & his Devis had a ceremonial & spiritual Holy ride in and around the temple at 7.00am. Lord Surya is known as Vivasvat has three Devis (Wives). They are Saranyu (also called Saraniya, Saranya, Sanjna, or Sangya), Ragyi, and Prabha. Saranyu was the mother of Vaivasvata Manu or Sraddhadeva Manu (the seventh, i.e. present Manu) and the twins Lord Yama Raj (the Lord of Death) and his sister Princess Yami. She also bore him the twins known as the Ashwins, divine horsemen and physicians to the Devas. Saranyu, being unable to bear the extreme radiance of Surya, created a superficial entity from her shadow called Chhaya and instructed her to act as Surya’s wife in her absence. Chhaya mothered two sons – Savarni Manu (the eighth, i.e. next Manu) and Shani Bhagwan (the planet Saturn), and two daughters – Tapti and Vishti. He also has a son, Revanta, or Raivata, by Ragyi. Shani Bhagvan and Yam Raj who are responsible for Human Life, Karma and Death
In Ramayana, Surya is described as father of the King Sugriva. In Mahabharat , King Karna/ Karan was the son of Surya and born to Virgin Queen Kunti Devi. The Seven Horses which pull the Ratham of Lord Surya are the Colors of the Rainbow.
“I do not wish to dwell in this illusory body,
built of the sky, water, earth, air, fire and desires.
Enlighten me, that I may praise the glory of your holy name
in the wise, beautiful Tamil tongue,
O Lord of the celestial heavens
who protects the Kurava woman of the sweet, child-like words
who wields the spear which destroyed the majestic hill
and wears a garland of scarlet flowers
where bees dance seeking honey.”
English Version of Thirupugal Song 1304. Sri Arunagirinathar (14th -15th Century A.D ) appeals for salvation and praises Lord Sri Murga by recollecting his holy love towards Sri Valli
“The definitions of the spiritual and practical world are different. For the practical world, wealth is the treasure. But for a spiritualist goOd qualities are the treasure. Good qualities lead towards divinity and bad lead to down fall. Worldly treasures are perishable and they beget one desires and more desires which end up in disenchantment. But the treasures of good qualities lead only towards nobility and final salvation” – Daivasursampadvibhag Yoga
Scenes from Lord Sri Krishna’s Srimath Bhagavad Gita Updesh to Prince Arjun
LORD KRISHNA WAS THE DRIVER (known as Vijay Rattan / Parthasharathi) OF THE WARRIOR CHARIOT OF PRINCE ARJUN IN MAHA BHARAT DURING THE GREAT BATTLE AT KURUKSKESTRA.
Certain parts of this article have been referred from our upcoming book entitled
“Essence of Hinduism “
A sculpture of Lord Krishna & Prince Arjun on their warrior Chariot at the entrance of Kurukshestra (Haryana , India) THE WORLD FAMOUS CELESTRIAL SONG OF SRIMATH BAGAVAD GITA WAS RECITED FROM THIS CHARIOT BY LORD SRI KRISHNA
Sri Om Saravana Bawa Namaha!