Ancient customs and festivals at Sri Skanda Temple ( Sri Kandswamy Kovil), Nallur, Jaffna, Sri Lanka.
P.Raghavan, MSc (Hons), PhD Australian National University at Canberra, Australia, Gayatri Pathmanathan, MSc , PhD Panjab University, Chandigarh, India
Lord Sri Karthikeya rides on his famous Mayil// Myur/Peacock called PARAVANI
There are 55 Utsavs followed by holy processions held annually. Six times poojas (holy services) ands are held during the English calendar month of July- August. The utsav murthis of Lord Sri Karthikeya and his Holy consorts, Sri Valli and Sri Devyani are carried on animal models( Vahans/ Vahanams) which are made out of Silver, Gold and Wood. The devotees of a particular caste carry the murthis on their shoulders. The Maha Utsav are divided into two catergories. They are – morning session or Subae Utsav Muhurt and night session or Rathri Utsav Muhurt.
According to Arumuga Navalar (1875), earlier the Maha Utsav was performed with mass drum (Parai) and oil lamps with long handles.The dance programs by the Dance ladies were conducted in front of the Basant Mandap (Vasantha Madapam – a place where the utsav murthis are kept). They were conducted during the intervening period of the evening and second pooja times. Many beautiful bejeweled young ladies danced in front of the Temple Rath. Miron Winslow (1835), also observed many male devotees performed Anga Pradaksai ( rolling on the ground around the Temple).
The Hindu Temple structural variations are found at various geographical zones. They are based on their ethnic and socio -cultural basis. The North Indian temple style is known as Nagara. Imperial Tamil Chola monuments have different architectural pattern from the rest. For example, Brihadeswara Temple at Tanjavore (Tamil Nadu) belongs to the 11th century. It shows a colossal structure with a towering vimanam or gopuram. Earlier part of the 2ndmillennium developed an unique style of architecture which differs from the Dravidian style at Bellur( Karnataka). It is known as Hoysala architecture. Karnataka Temple architecture was contributed by Chalukyas, the Gangas, the Hoysalasand the Vijaya Nagar rulers. Orissa Temple consists of Sanctum with one or several front porches including Jaga Mohana with pyramidal roofs, dancing hall (nata mandir) and a hall of offerings (bhog mandir). The temples at Andra Pradesh were constructured by combinations of styles drawn from Chalukyas, Rashtra kutas, Kakatiyas, Ganga kings of Orissa and Vijaya Nagar.
Compared to the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, the south Indian Temple architecture shows a lot of variations. The latter were designed by various kings and their siblings who governed the state. They include Pallavas (maritime kingdom found at Sri Maha Balipuram upto 900 C.E, the Cholas (900-1250 A.D).The Pandyas (upto 1350A.D), Vijaya Nagar style ( 1350 -1560 A.D) exhibits the decorated pillars. The Naik style is found in between the period of 1600- 1750 A.D. It is known for its large Prakaram or circumambulatory path and pillared halls.
Gopurams and Vimanams
The Tamil word “Goprum “means “Temple Tower”. It is unique and identical. Generally it is found at the entrance of any Hindu Temple in South India. This is a prominent structure which reflects the rich Hindu cultural heritage of the people who belong to the Dravidian linguistics. Each Gopuram contains a sikhara’s amalaka – a bulbous stone final. The Gupuram indicates the entrance and exit of the boundary wall of the Temple. Gopurams are of many types – The Raja Gopuram ( Giant Tower entrance arises from the ground), Vimanam ( The tower just above the Garba Graha), and Mani Gopuram ( The tower that also hosts the giant temple bell). Nallur Skanda Temple of Jaffna and nearly 90% of the Hindu Temples in Sri lanka have a Muga (face) or Mani Mandapam (hall) at the bottom part of the Raja Gopuram.
The Tamil maritime kings – Pallavas and the 12th century kings – Pandyas (Tamil Sangam) were the first ones to create Gopuram gateways. These are very dominant and important land marks of a Temple’s external appearance and they outshine the inner sanctuary, that is, the massive size/ornamentation/sculptures of the Gopuram overshadow the sanctuary. Most Hindu Temples are having multiple Gopurams/Vimanas which are constructed into several, square walls that are built in layers around the shrine with the outermost wall having four Gopurams/Vimanas, one each on every side, built exactly in the middle. The roof of the Sanctum is also known as Vimana which does not get much importance as compared to the outer Vimanas. However, there are few exceptions such as Ananda Nilayam of Sri Venkateshwara Temple of Thirupati.
A Gopuram is generally a rectangular structure with having ground-level wooden doors, and they are richly decorated, providing access. A gradual upward tapering takes place at each Gopuram, that is – the multiple stories decrease in size as the Gopuram tower narrows. Generally the tower is topped with a barrel vaulted roof with a finial.
Gopurams are exceptionally decorated with sculptures and carvings. They are beautifully painted with a variety of incidents or stories or plays derived from the Hindu epics, specifically those associated with the main deity of the Temple to which the Gopuram belongs.
Temple’s Holy pond /Dheertha Kerni
The Temple pond symbolizes purification processes of all sins committed during the human life time. Generally it is strictly prohibited for taking bath except during the Dheertha Utsav. Once the Utsav Murthis take a holy dip in this giant pond, it is purified. Then the devotees are allowed to take holy dips. The Idhihsa instructions indicate that sins which are being committed during the life time will get wasted away by this holy water/ Jalam.
Interior Structures or chambers
As there are three main branches of Hinduism which are represented by different main GODS at their Garbha Graha or Mulasthanam. The Garba Graha or the main Deity is the reigning Deity of the Temple. For example an exclusive Lord Shiva Temple will have the holy Shiva Lingam ( Shivling) or any form of Lord Shiva of Shiv Mutras at the Mulastanam. Sri Lok Mata or Sri Parvati// Sri Durga/ Sri Maha Kali Temple would have any form of the Goddess. Most of the Lord Shiva or Goddess Sri Parvati Amman (Amba) Temple would be having two Garbha Grahas located at an angle of 90% to each other. The main Garbha Graha is generally located, facing the East – that is the main entrance. The Ahamashastras explain that the early morning Sun rays should face the Garbha Graha of the Temple. The other Mulasthana Murthy or the second Garbha Graha faces the South.
Lord Sri Vigneshwar and the Temple guard and the son of Lord Shiva and Sri Maha Kali, Sri Bhairav Murthy have special status in the Shiva Temples. Whereas Lord Ganesh and Lord Hanuman enjoy special status in Vaishnav Temples.
Structure of the Nallur Sri Skanda Temple
The Nallur Temple has its unique appearance among the Shivalayas of the world. It has six Mani Gopurams(bell towers) containing giant bells. Their sound can be heard even beyond 15 miles. Therefore the entire Jaffna Penninsula can hear the holy sound produced by these bells during the pooja ceremonies..
The main central Gopuram has a large Cock. It has the crafted statues telling the Holy plays of Sri Karthikeya and other members of Lord Shiva Family. This central tower is known as Raja Gopuram. In front of it, there is an outer, giant, magnificent hall called Muga Madapam (Mu-Mandap). It is a unique feature of Nallur’s Madalaya. Apart from the Newly built Southern Raja Gopuram (King Tower) a new Raja Gopuram is also coming up at the Northern side of the Temple. Like any other Shivalayas, inside it has Kamana ( Kaman) Mandapam (Mandap) , Maha Mandapam ( Grand Hall) , Artha Mandapam and Garba Gragaha ( Mulasthanam). The Vasant or Vasantha Mandap or Mandapam is located on the North direction of the interior part of the Temple. The Mulasthana Murthy is represented by the holy weapon of Lord Murga – The Holy “Vel”. (Holy Spear). Sri Muthu Kumara Swamy with Sri Valli and Sri Devyani are kept on a special chamber which is facing the South direction and just after the Kodistambam. Next to it on the same direction, a grand chamber has the Sri Arumuga ( six faced ) Swamy – SriKarthikeya with Devis – Sri Valli and Sri Devyani. Just in front of the Sri Arumuga Swamy chamber, the Temple’s holy grand water pond is located.
The most popular form of Lord Karthikeya’s renounced stage (a holy Sanyasi) called Sri Palani Aandawar chamber is at the extreme Southern end which is connected with the Western interior path. This is the form Lord Karthikeya who showed His displeasure over the distribution of the Holy Mango to his elder brother Sri Ganesh. The mango was presented by St.Narath Muni to Lord Shiva. A special bed room for Sri Karthikeya is kept next to it called “Palli Arai”. Every night Lord Murga is kept with one of his wives in an alternate manner. The interior western path has Lord Ganesh’s chamber, followed by Goddesses Sri Valli and Sri Devyani chambers. Next to them are the Chambers of Lord Sri Krishna and the mother Goddess or Lok Mata, Sri Parvati. The interior path of North direction has the beautiful art gallery containing the holy plays of the members of Lord Shiva family including 108 dancing postures or saranas of Bharatnatyam performed by Lord Natraj, Artha-Nathishwar (a form that exhibits the equality in sharing status and power between man and woman) – half Lord Shiva and half Goddess Sri Parvati), the episode of preaching the meaning of pranav mantra, “Om” to Lord Shiva by little baby God Lord Sri Karthikeya, thus the name, Shiv Guru Nath ( Guru of Lord Shiva), episodes from Sri Skanda Puranam including the killing of the demon king of Tharaka Ashur and his two brothers, wedding of Sri Karthikeya with Sri Devyani and the tribal princess Sri Valli and Lord Ganesh’s role as an elephant in Sri Valli’s love affair is beautifully sketched. The northern interior path has the opening for the Temple garden.
It has the lotus ponds and other most important flowers designated to each Shaiva and Vaishnava gods and goddesses. For example Jasmine, lotus, Marukollunthu, Thulsi, Rose, Chevanthi (chrysanthemum), Hibiscus and many species of water flowers including Aryaliya, Neerotpalam, Potthamarai etc are grown. Hindu Temples prefer to have only the flowers which spread holy odor / scent. Thalampoo is not used in Shivalayas.
The northern interior path ends at the most powerful and destroyer of evil, Lord Sri Bhairav’s chamber. He is also known as Shiv Kumar or Kal Bairav and brother of Lord Ganesh and Sri Karthikeya. The current Nallur Temple is surrounded by many Temples which are devoted to various gods. The eastern outer path has Sri Manonmani (Sri Parvati) Temple, Lord Shiva‘s grand Temple is located at the extension of Southern path, Lord Ganesh’s Temple – known as Sri Manik Vinayak is located at the Western path and there are also many small Temples located along the vicinities of the Nallur Temple.
During the annual Maha utsav period /the Alankar festival periods the utsav murthis or deities ride various wooden models or vahans/ vahanams. Some of these models are made of pure Silver or Gold and they were presented by various devotees many years or even centuries ago. The craftsmen who made these models are called “Aasaris”. They maintain strict discipline and devotion. During the processes of making these models, they can not have any social contacts with their wives or any other females. They are strict vegetarians and shun smoking and liquor consumption. They also avoid shaving their body hairs and change their dresses at least twice a day during their commitment. They also perform poojas and take bath twice a day in the Temple pond.
Kodistampam and the pooja
Kodi Maram or Kodistambam is a tall and straight structure which is erected in front of the Garbagarha. The height of this structure is measured according to Vatsu- Shastram and it has a height which is equivalent to the height of the Temple’s sanctum – height from the base of the Garbha Graha / Mulasthanam to the tip of the roof or maximum point. The measurement is done by the Stapathi who makes the structure. This structure is also known as Dhwajasthampam. The interior part of the structure is made of Teak wood and covered by any of the following metals such as Brass, Copper, Pure Silver and Pure Gold. At some places it is covered by an amalgamated five metals called Pancha Log or Punch Log or Impon
Kodistampam or Kodimaram signifies the three major components of Hindu philosophical elements called Pati (Pathi– Leader or God), Pasu ( Atma/or Ahangar or Anavam-pride) and Passam – attachments or likings. During the annual Maha Utsav, there is a white long cloth called grand flag is wrapped around the Kodistambam and opened up or spread at the top most branch of the structure which contains bells and grills.
The process is called “Kodietrum ceremony”. It occurs only once in a year at specific month and at a particular auspicious time according to the Hindu astrological calendar. Nallur’s Sri Karthikeya Temple’s Maha Utsav falls on the sixth day after the Aadi Ammavasai day. At some Temples if there are two Kodimarams that are devoted to two different Hindu gods or goddess, then there can be two annual Maha Utsavs held for two different main deities.
In South Indian Temples, Kodistambams are built outside of the interior hall or mandap or mandapams. But in Sri Lanka it is kept inside the inner hall with a see through opening covered by glass sheets to allow the Sun light to fall on it. The long pure white cotton grand flag measured in many meters and it contains Lord Karthikeya’s sketch on it.
Nallur’s Holy Flag is traditionally woven by a warrior clan called Senguthas and brought one day earlier to Sri Karthikeya Temple in a procession. It is brought in a medium sized wooden beautifully decorated rath/cart. Many Brahmins recite the mantras and traditional musicians play their musical instruments. Many devotees who accompany the procession perform Ananda Thandavam– Dance of Happiness. The Holy flag is brought from the historically famous Lord Shiva Temple called “Satta Nathar“ ( God of Justice).
During the Kodiyetrum (The Holy Flag Hoisting) ceremony of this Temple, Sri Subramania pooja is held. A Senior Shivite Pandit or Brahmin Vidwan or Head priest conducts the entire ceremony with many other Brahmin colleagues. This Pandit is called Gurrukkal.
Special Abishek and pooja are held for Sri Ganesh– the first GOD of Hindus also known as God of success or Siddi Vinayagar. Followed by this many mantras, Vedas, religious hymns are recited for almost an hour and a half. Each Hindu god, Devas, Nakshatras- stars and Planets, are given due respect and offering during the ceremony.
Concepts of Maha or Brahma Utsav
Each Hindu Temple is mainly devoted to a single GOD but in some Temples equal importance is attributed to two male gods or one male god and one female goddess. Generally the Lord Shiva Temples in Southern region and Sri lanka have equal importance to Lok Mata Sri Parvati or Sri Maha Vishnu. Normally Sri Parvati Temple would have another grabagraha of Lord Maha Vishnu. Hindu historical documentations illustrate combined holy plays of Goddess MahaParvati/ Sri Durga / Sri Kali with her elder brother Sri Maha Vishnu. They both together destroyed many evil spirits. Therefore, such temples have two separate Kodistambams or Dhwajasthampams. They also have two annual Maha utsavs devoted to the main two deities separately. The brahmoutsav interprets many important facts based on Hindu Shastras.
Hindu rights and practices prohibit the blood relatives of the any dead person from visiting the temple for first 30 days after the death ceremony. Similarly it also advises to keep away the devotees for 30 days whose house is blessed with a newly born baby. The people of a house who experienced any untimely death also avoid going to the Temple for one year. Pregnant ladies also avoid going inside the Temples. The patients who are in immovable conditions, infants and old aged devotees also cannot move freely inside the Temples. Newly married couple avoids attending the Holy Rath festival. To shower his or her blessings the god or goddess come out and reach out the devotees and bless them.
A general notification of entire important festivals is published in a Hindu calendar year which general falls in the month of April. There are approximately 55 annual festivals are listed in each year at Nallur Skanda Temple.This official notification is called “Vingnapanam”.
Poojas during the annual festival or maha utsav period
There are many kinds of holy baths or Abisheka ceremonies are performed to Mulava murthis (Garba Graha) as well as to the Utsav Murthis. The Abisheka (Abishek) liquids include king coconut water, un-boiled milk, Kheer or sweet Payasam, Panchaamirtham ( a special dish made of five fruits, nuts, jaggery and honey), Paneer – scented liquid made of kewada family fruit, pure honey , pure ghee, sandalwood ( Chandana/ Chandan ) water, curd and sweet lassi water.
The dry Abhishekam is performed by Vipoothi (holy ash made out cow dung), sandalwood powder, and red kunkumam (Sentur/ Kumkum)
Special Nivedya / Nivedayam and Prasad/ Prasadam at Lord Karthikeya Temples
A special kind of Nivedyam called Maavellakku made of grinded powder of Thinai / Kankani milet, jaggery and honey. The thick dough of these three combinations is made in the form of small diyas/ lamps. At the centre pure ghee is being poured and lit as a lamp by using a cloth mantle/ dhoop/ thiri. The baking process is done by ladies in front of the Lord Pallani ‘s chamber ( Sri Baba Balaknath). At the end the Nivedya is distributed among the devotees in the form of Prasad/Prasadam. Generally Nivedya / Nivedyam is made at the special Temple kitchen known as Madapalli by Brahmins and offered to the Deities. Later on it is given to the devotees and the Upayakars (one who sponsors the festival).