Prior to 1986, the ritual of Annabishekam at Shiva temples was unheard of. It is likely that it was done on a low key level before 1986. It is done not only to propitiate the god, but also reverentially pray to him for copious rain fall to benefit the farms
in the coming season, plenty of food for all people and overall welfare of the people. People owe a lot to the late H.H. Senior Sankaracharyar of Kanchi Mutt (Periyava) who was instrumental in introducing the annual Annabishekam ritual at the Shiva temples. Community participation, distribution of food among the poor are the salient features of this ritual.
|H.H.late Sr. Sankaracharya of kanchi Mutt, Kanchipuram. Pinterest|
|Gangaikonda Cholapuram Shiva temple, Tamil Nau flicker com|
On Kanchi seer's orders, the two devotees performed abishekam with the Ganga water. A few months later Kanchi Mahaswamikal again asked them to perform Annabisekham to Bragadeswara lingam at the same temple so that there would be copious rain for that region that had become parched because of lack of rain for sometime. On Paramacharya's advice in 1986, for the first time, annabishekam was performed in this historical temple under Mattur Swamikal and Kuvalaigal Swamikal (the two devotees who brought the holy water from Haridhwar). It was attended by lots of people from the surrounding areas. According to Perur Puranam written by sage Kashyapa that a darshan of Sivalinga swathed with cooked rice on the full moon day in the month of Tula (Tamil month Aippasi; October-November) bestows immense benefits on the devotees.
|Annabhisekam being performed for Sri Brahadeeswarar, Thanjavur.The Hindu|
Thus this ritual that had a small beginning at the initiative of Kanchi seer in 1986, over a period of time, gained popularity and religious significance and is now being celebrated every year at numerous Shiva temples in the month of November. After a few years, the responsibility of conducting this ritual at the temple in Gangaikonda Cholapuram was given to Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam Annabishekam Committee that that not only takes care of this annual ritual by providing large quantity of rice, etc., but also makes available necessary materials for Nithya puja.
Since this temple ritual first began here, even to day it is performed with unparalleled religious fervor and fanfare at Gangaikonda Cholapuram. The two day event begins with Mahabisekam to the main deity and cleaning and bathing of other deities in the temple in accordance with temple Agama Sastras. At the end of the first day's ritual, the Shiva linga is decorated with lots of flowers. When different kinds of abishekam are being done on the deity, lots of Vada Patasala students chant Rudra mantra. On the second day, students continuously chant Rudra mantra till 5 pm when Sivacharyas, with the help of innumerable volunteers, do annabishekam on the idol that is tied with steel mesh all around to hold the rice. The idol is bathed with cooked rice. Roughly 75 to 100 bags of rice (each weighing roughly 75 to 100 kg is cooked on a large scale for this event. Mantra Om Namashivaya rents the air. Maha Deepa Aarti is performed upon completion of the ritual and later, food is offered to the devotees as prasadam. People in thousands attend this function amidst tight police security. All the expenses for this grand annual ritual are borne by the public through donations.
It was Paramacharya's wish that the practice should continue and now it is fulfilled by the devotees and the Sankara Math in Kanchipuram, Kumbakonam and Chennai.
Annabhishekam is performed everyday at Chidambaram Sri. Nataraja temple to Sri Chandramouleeswara, the Lingam kept near Sri Nataraja. Vegetables such as brinjal, okra, pumpkin, cucumber, banana, etc., are also offered to the deity as part of Annabhishekam for better farm yields.