|Aaraattu” ritual, Kerala adotrip.com|
Among them, the most common features of Kerala festivals are the ''flag-hoisting'' ceremony (each Hindu temple across India has a flag-pole called ''dwjasthambam'' and a specific flag to be used on festive occasions). The flag is hoisted on the first day of the festival and is brought down on the final day toward the end of the festival. Yet another important ritual is “Aaraattu”, giving a ritual
bath to the procession idol (Utchavar) in the river or any other water body before taking the idol back to the sanctum.
In most of the temple festivals in Kerala you can see the participation of well-decorated, caparisoned elephants specifically trained for this purpose. Decorated male elephant normally carries the idol on its back along with three priests escorted by two elephants before and the small procession goes around the temple court yard (prathkshana path), a common ritual in the evening as part of evening puja.
|Decorated elephants, male carrying the idol of god. Kerala thebetterindia.com|
In this post we are mainly focused on the festivals of Evoor Major Srikrishna Swamy temple, near Alappuzha, the annual temple Utchavam is quite interesting. In this temple God Sri Krishna himself had installed the idol in the Srikovil (sanctum)
The annual festival at Evoor Major Srikrishna Swamy temple is so popular it draws thousands of Hindus to this temple set in the midst of a wooded area of Kerala close to the world famous Serpent temple Haripad. The most inspiring aspect of this kind of festival is participation of various Hindu communities who themselves follow their own tradition of worship and puja rituals.
According to Vedic scholars the idol in the sanctum which is in a ferocious form has a unique divinity '' in-resistible aura'' with high intensity. Normally, in all Hindu temples following Vedic tradition Jeeva Chaithanyam (living aura) radiating in and around the deity in the sanctum (garbagriha or Srikovil) plays a crucial role. This is because of chanting of certain relevant mantra during the consecration ceremony and during daily regular puja protocol invoking the deity's blessing. The deity is energized now and this helps the devotees standing close to the sanctum get positive vibration from the main idol, displacing negative aspects in our mind and body. This is the reason many true devotees come out of the temple calm and composed with better confidence level than before.
Consecration of idols amidst chanting of certain mantras plays no less role in Vedic temples where the prime deity is instilled with aura/divinity. When great Yogis like Bogar, Agasthiyar and Rishis installed idols of god, they took special care to create mystical power in them and it was done to benefit the humanity. At Evoor, it was God Sri Krishna had himself energized the deity. Naturally the God's aura - a bundle of positive energy permeates in all places around the temple. Tantric meditation, chanting of Vedas, ‘Pushpaanjali’ and ‘Abhishekam’ with Vedic mantra, besides the priest's discipline all add up to the sanctity of this place.Besides, special festivals “Utsavams ” (annual festivals), annadhanam (distribution of free food), etc further increase the power of the moolavar in the sanctum. “Utsavam” or temple festival is held with a view to rejuvenating the divine power “Chaithanyam” of Deity, by way of conducting specified purification, anointing of the deity.
At Evoor Sri Krishna temple it is a 10-day long “Utsavam” and during that period the entire place comes alive filled with lots of devotees who actively take part in it with religious fervor. It begins on the first day of the Malayalam month of ‘Makaram’ (January) and ends on the 10 day with a ritual bath in the nearby water tank commonly referred to as “Aaaraattu” (Holy Bath). During the festivities, this place is nicely decorated with colorful arches and thoranas, etc. As for houses, etc., cut plantain trees, bunches of coconut and arecanuts and light illumination invite the visitors. As in many Hindu temples of Kerala, the temple tower and the lamp (Villakku) madam/deepa sthambam are illuminated. Oil lamps are used in the Villakku madam, etc.
Th utchavam covers the whole gamete of rituals and among them "Prasaada Sudhhi" (purification of Murthy), " various homams associated with "Abhishekams" "Kotiyettu" (Flag hoisting), "Pallivetta" (Holy Hunting), "Aaraattu" (Holy bath), "Kotiyirakku", "Pallikkuruppu are worthy of mention. The festival comes to a close on the 10th day with Aaraattu" (Holy bath) and "Pallikkuruppu"- reverentially carrying the idol to the holy bed room (in Tamil Palliarai) for slumber with his consort.
Kotiyettam is a symbolic beginning of a temple festival with hoisting of a specified flag of that temple. It involves invocation of the deity by tantric rituals such as ‘ Kalasam ’ and other poojas ; and then infusing divinity to the flag bearing ‘Garuda’ emblem in this case”. It has been a tradition that the Travancore Devaswom board and specific groups of devotees sponsor first five days of events. With respect to 7, 8 and 9th day events, three villages (called‘Karas’) such as Evoor South, Evoor North and Evoor North-West conduct them respectively. Each ‘village competes with the other to make the best out of the “ Utsavam”.
When the normal rituals and pujas are over , it is time for cultural programs such as “Ottanthullal” etc, In the evening thousands of oil lamps on the temple premises are lit and after Deeparadhana”, two hour long ‘Seva” starting at 7.15 PM draws lots of people. It is the depiction of direct manifestation (Thidambu) of the deity and the temple priest atop the male elephant sits with the utchavar idol. After the last puja protocol is over. colorful cultural programs take place such as ‘Kathakali', velakali etc., traditional dances of Kerala.
The 9th day event is marked by the inclusion of “Kala-kali ” (decorated effigies of Bulls); people carry the small ones and big ones are mounted on wheels for easy mobility. It is a sort of thanks giving offering to the deity for the welfare of the society and successful agricultural season. Kala-kettu goes around the temple or prathakshana patha thee times.
Upon regular seva and “Deeparadhana” , Pallivetta ” (Holy Hunting) is held at midnight before a huge gathering. This cultural program is symbolic of god hunting the evil forces in the bygone era close to a Banyan tree near-by. The lord atop the the gold caparisoned elephant, to the accompaniment of servants and devotees, go on a hunting trip -Pallivetta. Trdition ("Jeevatha Ezunnallathus'') has it upon his successful hunting trip back to home, the god is accorded a ceremonial welcome by his sisters from the nearby Bhagavathy temples - Kannamballil and Kalloorath. Dancers hailing from priestly section of the Brahmin community, wearing the traditional dress and holding the heavy "Jeevatha "on shoulders, perform the divine dance. The rhythmic dance goes through many phases expressing various emotions in unison with the beats by the drummers. God's sisters Bhagavathys also dance with ecstasy before God Krishna. Upon reaching the temple, the sisters quickly complete ‘pradakshina’ around the temple, bow down again before the sanctum and run outside. Bhagavan Sri Krishna bids goodbye to his sisters with sad countenance and gets back to Srikovil (sanctum).
The 10th day event is an interesting one and the long-drawn festival utchavam comes to an end with a grand “Aaraattu” procession. The utchava murthy is taken atop the elephant to “ Aaraattu palace tank at “ Muttam'' 3 Km away - purported to be the place where sage Kanva-Maharshi used to worship the lord before. “Aaraattu” is a ritual bath in the water, a sort of sacramental ablution of the utchava murthi in the sacred tank.
Afternoon, marks the “Kettukazhcha” procession conducted by communities from three villages -“ Karas “ around the temple and Decorated effigies of bulls, etc go around the temple three times.
In the night after this event, thousands of oil lamps are lit all around the temple. Now an important event takes place that is transfer of divinity / aura from principal deity to the “Utsava deity” to be mounted on the “Thidambu “ that is carried by the chief priest Melsanti and other three priests. Atop the decorated elephant covered with ornamental silk umbrella escorted by
two other elephants (Poojaris carrying “Muthukkutas” atop them), the Aaarattu procession consisting of people in thousand will move on. There will be display of thunderous fireworks on the way at some points.
At the sacred tank, the final destination, after conducting poojas by 1 am, the Tantri and Melsanti bring the “Utsava murthy” to the tank platform and perform more poojas. Next, they carry the deity in their hands, take three dips in the water and complete the ritualistic “Aaraattu”. Afterwards, the “Utsava Deity” is seated at the palace for Darshan.“Kotiyirakkam” (Lowering of Flag) is yet another event before the end of the festival. The Aaaraattu “ the procession returns to Evoor temple and by 5 am “Kotiyirakkam” starts around 5.00 AM. After the transfer of divinity in the flag by the priest, the flag is lowered to complete “Kotiyirakkam”ritual.
Soon the “Utsava murthy ” is shifted to the “Ardha mandap” before the sanctum inside temple for “Pallikkuruppu” (sleep) where the deity sleeps after a busy day. Tradition has it a small calf (young cow) is tied to the pillar and the main temple is closed. The lord would wake up only after hearing the cry of the calf. Till such a time the temple priests and others wait in anxiety. When the calf cries, the main priest melsanti gets into the temple and will be busy transferring the divinity. aura from the “Utsava murthi ” to the principal “ deity”. Then the temple door is opened, to allow ‘darshan’ to the devotees.
|Sri Villiputhur rath yatra, Tamil Nadu. srivilliputtur.co.in|
The same tradition is followed in many temples of Kerala and as for other Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu, etc, the rituals are more or less similar except the “Aaraattu” ritual. In Tamil Nadu, normally processional deities are not carried on the elephant's back, but are mounted on a nicely decorated huge wooden ratha (chariot) and go around the four Mada streets (close to the temple