Saturday, 2 May 2020

Azhi Ther (chariot) of Tiruvarur and 1926 fire mishap; the Azhi Therottam has not been a continuous one since then

Azhi Ther and Thygaraja temple. Tiruvarur. TN
Tiruvarur Azhither wooden base.deccan herald com.
In my early post I mentioned that the famous Tiruvarur Azhi ther -temple car festival  to be held between March and April was cancelled for the reason of  Covid -19 virus infection threat. This 25 day long-drawn  festivities that include various temple ceremonies, puja protocols, musical events, etc  would spell disaster in this crucial time because lakhs of people would be converging in this small town. Covid-19 being highly contagious, at stake will be the lives of thousands of pilgrims in the mass gathering. Just imagine the repercussions and the ensuing chain reaction and medical emergency. The people of this town missed  the Panguni festival that would have given them a chance to have a glimpse of Lord Thyagarajaswamy and His Consort mounted in the temple car. After this event float festival (Theppam) will be held and it was also cancelled. The busy temple and the adjacent areas look deserted because of lock-down. 
kalalayam, temple water tank, largest in India
 This Tiruvarur chariot -the Asia's biggest and largest  one is  part of an ancient festival   that  is mentioned in the devotional hymns of Tamil saints like  Appar, Tirugnanasambandar and Sundara and many Tamil literature  including Sillappathikaram written by Ilango Adikal.   This festival is also mentioned in the Modi script (Maratha language) kept in the Thanjavur Sarawati Mahal library. It was recorded during the period of Maratha ruler  Shahaji (1684-1712 AD).
Wooden base of Azhi ther, Tiruvarur. thehinducom. Add caption

Above image:  Base of present ‘Aazhi Ther’- temple car, Tiruvarur Thyagararaja swami temple.  Utchavars will be mounted atop the wide platform  that will be covered with a huge canopy, decoration, etc. Total weight of the wooden base of the ther is about 250 tons. Azhi ther Ootum refers to the conduct of  car festival.............. 

If you briefly go back on the history of Azhi ther Ootum, it was not run without any break. From 1748 till early part of the 20th century, it  had been a continuous one and in those days the Thygarajaswami temple was managed by  a committee of private parties who ran  the temple affairs and festivals well within the purview of Agama sastras, according to old timers. 
Thyagarajaswamy Temple: Ther (Car) festival of Thiruvarur TripAdvisor
It was in 1926 there was a big fire mishap during the chariot festival and the huge chariot caught fire when it was slowly moving along  the street close to the Kamalalayam  temple water tank. The reason was while lighting  fire crackers, some sparks fell on the  chariot. The utchava murthy idols on the car had to be rescued. The fire was engulfing quickly as the canopy was made of cloth and ordinary wooden  poles. Surprisingly, the idols were saved from the towering inferno by  one Muthu Kothanar, Chief master craftsman of the temple. He played a key role in building part of the temple in 1920s. Driven by firm determination to save the idol, paying little attention to his own safety, he in a jiff, climbed to the top of the base of the wooden ther
Tiruvarur, TN locaton map.
. The panicked crowd on the ground was watching his brave act with anxiety and tension. With presence of mind  and courage, he immediately cut   loose the rope tied to the Panchaloka  idols of the deities. Without hesitation, he removed his dhoti and converted into a long rope with which he carefully tied the idols and lowed them to the people on the ground.. The Utchavars were  miraculously saved from  this unexpected fire accident. The priests and others immediately took the idols into the main temple through the west Gopuram entrance. The agama tadition has it that the idols should not be taken inside the temple through the west tower gate/ entrance. 

Tiruvarur temple and the water tank.
In the next four years there was no car festival . As the base of the chariot was damaged heavily, the talented carpenters of the temple took four long years to have a new  chariot base  made and this one was more beautiful than the early one with nice carvings  and nicely made wooden images of gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon. Till 1948 the car festival of Thiyagarajaswami temple, had taken place without any break.  Subsequently, the festival was not held for more than two decades.

The credit goes to two people for revival of Azhi ther festival, the then government led by the late CM Kalaingar Karunanidhi ( native of Tiruvarur) and well-known  philanthropist, industrialist and sugar baron V.S.Thyagaraja Mudaliar.  In 1970 they took efforts and decided to run the huge chariot with modifications to bear 
the heavy weight - roughly 300 tons. The chariot was fixed 
with hydraulic wheels and break system specially made by the engineers at the central govt. owned BHEL, Tiruchirapalli works.  The car festival was held with great pomp and gala in 1975. 
After breaks, the festival took place in 1978,1982 and 1989.

Since 2010, the festival has been held without any break. The unique feature of this ther - chariot is the kalasam  to be fixed atop  ( it is itself 6 foot tall) Yet another interesting fact is the 30  foot tall wooden base continues to remain heavy with giant wheels 
(weighing 250 tons,  with a wide platform where the idols will be  kept. The  entire base is made of quality wood
The massive  Thygarajaswami  temple was built in the 12th century by King Vikrama Chola. 
At valluvar kottam, Chennai there is a huge temple car made of brick and cement/ concrete mix. It is on the model of Azhi ther, Tiruvarur.