Thursday, 12 December 2019

A blend of yoga and aerobic exercises will improve heart condition and risk factors


Yoga ( Sanskrit)  denotes  a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practises or disciplines that are done on a regular basis. Originated in ancient India, it dates back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions  and, it is mentioned in the Rigveda, but most likely yoga developed around 5th and 6th centuries BCE as part of ancient India's ascetic and śramaṇa movements. Yoga is widely mentioned in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. As for the western society,  it  follows  a modern form of Hatha yoga (origin: 9th and 11th century with roots  in tantra), as exercise, consisting largely of various  postures called asanas.  The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali  that dates from the first half of the 1st millennium CE had  gained prominence in the West in the 20th century. In the last three decades Cardiac researchers  in the west , upon various studies of yoga and its impact on human health have found that that there exists  a close link among heart condition, meditation and yoga. According to a study undertaken in 2017 in India yoga and aerobic exercise together may improve heart disease risk factors and the study  has pointed out significant improvement in heart health when patients practice both activities without fail. 

Patients who practise yoga in addition to aerobic exercise  report
twice the reduction in blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol levels when comparing with those who neither practice yoga nor do aerobic exercises. 
According to research presented at the 8th Emirates Cardiac Society Congress in collaboration with the American College of Cardiology Middle East Conference October 19-21, 2017 in Dubai, it was shown that change of life style could aid in  reducing the risk of death  due to  heart disease  when yoga was used  alongside medical management.  It is to be emphasized that yoga originated in ancient India is a blend of  whole exercise of body, mind and soul.  Researchers in this study,  particularly, studied  the effect of Indian yoga and aerobic exercise on the coronary risk factors of obese patients with heart condition and  type 2 diabetes.

The research study  covered a huge sample of  750 patients who had some kind of heart condition.  One group of 225 patients took part  in aerobic exercise activities, another group of 240 patients practiced   Indian yoga, and a third group of 285 did both  that yoga and aerobic exercise. Each group did three, six-month sessions of yoga and/or aerobic exercise.

The researchers found out that 'aerobic exercise only' and 'yoga only groups' showed similar reductions in blood pressure, total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, weight and waist circumference. In the case of the 'combined yoga and aerobic exercise group'  it showed a two times greater reduction in comparison to  the other groups. Besides,  it also  also showed significant improvement in left ventricular ejection fraction, diastolic function and exercise capacity.

The research study showed the following results according to Sonal Tanwar, PhD, a scholar in preventative cardiology, and Naresh Sen, DM, PhD, a consultant cardiologist, both at HG SMS Hospital, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India: "Combined Indian yoga and aerobic exercise reduce mental, physical and vascular stress and can lead to decreased cardiovascular mortality and morbidity,"  It is imperative patients  with heart condition could benefit from doing  Indian yoga on a regular basis along with aerobic exercise They should make them both as part of daily life. 
Story Source: 

American College of Cardiology. "Yoga and aerobic exercise together may improve heart disease risk factors: Study shows significant improvement.

People gain weight as they grow older - Why?

Obese elderly people.

That many people gain weight as they grow older has been a medical issue for a long time and the researchers have difficulty   in coming up with a reasonable answer. It is true many elderly people struggle hard to keep their weight in control. Now, medical research has solved the mystery.  What has made them gain weight when they cross middle age? The culprit is  lipid and when its  turnover in the fat tissue decreases  as part of  ageing,  weight gain occurs. People tend to put on weight no matter whether  they are on diet and do more or exercise less than before.  
Now new research at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden has come up with the relevant  answer for the weight gain among elders. The decline of  lipid turnover in the fat tissue  during ageing triggers weight gain. Neither exercise nor diet will retard the weight gain. The study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Obese elderly people.
The scientists  chose 
54 men and women  and  studied the fat cells in them over an average period of 13 years. In that period  all people no matter whether they gained or lost weight, showed slowing down  in lipid turnover in the fat tissue; this is the rate at which lipid (or fat) in the fat cells is removed and stored.  Compensation of this is a must and those who failed to  compensate for the gain  by eating less calories  put on  weight on  an average of 20 percent, the research  study points out. This research was   done in collaboration with researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden and University of Lyon in France.

The researchers also covered women 41   and examined  their lipid turnover; these women underwent bariatric surgery. They studied how the lipid turnover rate affected their ability to keep the weight off four to seven years after surgery. The result  revealed that only those who had a low rate before the surgery  some how managed to increase their lipid turnover and maintain their weight loss. The researchers  are of the opinion that  these people might have  had more room to increase their lipid turnover than those who already had a high-level  before surgery.

"The results indicate for the first time that processes in our fat tissue regulate changes in body weight during ageing in a way that is independent of other factors," according to  Peter Arner, professor at the Department of Medicine in Huddinge at Karolinska Institute  and one of the main authors in this study on age related weight gain. "This could open up new ways to treat obesity."
Early researchers  pointed out that   more physical exercise is an important step to speed up the lipid turnover in the fat tissue. This important research  throws light on  the long-term result of weight-loss surgery  and how it could be improved if combined with increased physical activity.

All over the world "Obesity''  is a major problem and the  obesity-related diseases have gone up due to many factors, one being due to sedentary life and the other one is caused by fatty, Carbohydrate rich fast food. According to Kirsty Spalding, senior researcher at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at Karolinska Institute and another  co researcher in this study,  ''Obesity is a global problem and "understanding lipid dynamics and what regulates the size of the fat mass in humans has never been more relevant." A strange fact is it is estimated that the number of people suffering from obesity and overweight is significantly higher than the number of people who are underweight. Ageing  is a reality of life and no body can escape from it. As people get older, they become more at risk of developing complications like  cardiac  problems, diabetes, osteoporosis, respiratory diseases than the average middle aged adult. These are common health issues that the average elderly persons  need  to face as they continue to get older. Adding weight just due to ageing is an added problem for the senior citizens, particularly women. This medical issue needs further scrutiny.

The Stockholm County Council, the Swedish Research Council, the Strategic Research Program for Diabetes at Karolinska Institutet, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the Swedish Diabetes Foundation, Karolinska Institutet-Astra Zeneca Integrated Cardiometabolic Center, the Vallee Foundation, the Swedish Society of Medicine, the Erling-Persson Family foundation and IXXI gave grants for this significant research.
Story Source and Journal Ref:  
P. Arner, S. Bernard, L. Appelsved, K.-Y. Fu, D. P. Andersson, M. Salehpour, A. Thorell, M. Rydén, K. L. Spalding. Adipose lipid turnover and long-term changes in body weight. Nature Medicine, 2019; 25 (9): 1385 DOI: 10.1038/s41591-019-0565-5
Karolinska Institutet. "Why people gain weight as they get older." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 September 2019. <>.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Karthigai Deepam at Tiruchy rock fort temple, Tamil Nadu, 2019

Kathigai deepam, rockfort temple, Tiruchy city, TN
Kathigai deepam, rockfort temple, Tiruchy city, TN
Kathigai Deepam festival at Thayumana Swamy temple in the rock fort complex of Tiruchirapalli city, TN  was celebrated with gaiety and religious fervor on the 10th of December, 2019.  Devotees in tens of thousands climbed the hill and visited the temple that is on the way to the Uttchi Pilliyar (God Ganesa) temple. The tallest rock outcrop in this  region from where the Cauvery delta begins, the granitic rocks of this area belong to Archean group, the oldest rock formation on earth, more than three billion years old. This is similar to the Canadian Shield, Canada,  geologically speaking.

Placing of Wick vessel, etc,Krthigai Deepam, Tiruchi rock fort, 2019.
Here, at a height of 272 feet atop the hill, Maha deepam was lit on the Karhigai day around 6.15 pm. Soon, in the Hindu households in this city and neighboring places Maha Deepam was lit  with devotion  by the people to invoke God's blessings. One has to climb physically 472 stone steps to get to the top of rock fort temple. Preparations were underway a week before the main event and, as part of it, a huge copper cauldron/ vessel that could contain 900 liters of oil and a huge wick made from  300 to 400 meter of cotton cloth. Gigely oil and 'Illupennai' were used to keep the flame going. The temple employees made special arrangements to take the vessel and the wick to  the hill top as there are no roads to the top. The employees used big ropes to take the vessel, etc to the top.  The wick had to absorb the oil  as much  possible so it was a slow process to mix oil in the vessel. The state owned HR & CE  made all the necessary arrangements far before the main event.
Tiruchy, TN  Thyaumana swamy and uttchi pilliyar temples tripadvisor com
This Shiva temple in this part of Tiruchy is a popular one and here the god in the swampu form (self-manifested) - west facing Lingam. According to the temple legend  God Shiva helped a pregnant woman by the name of Rathnavathy, his ardent devotee  deliver the baby in the guise of  a mother,  hence the God is referred to as Thayyum Aanavar in local parlance (acting as a  real mother).
pillared hall inside the
This historic temple that has columned structure,  was built by Pallava king Mahendravarman I in the 6th century AD. It is one of the popular rock-cut temples in South India. Tirugnana Sambandar, a 7th-century Tamil Saivite poet, sang the glory of Thayumanavar in eleven verses in Tevaram, a famous devotional hymn.

Karthigai Deepam festival - some additional facts that we need to know!!

karthigai deepam, Tiruvannmalai temple, TN maalaimalar
 Invariably Hindu festivals and celebrations prevalent in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere  are said to be as sacred as religion itself  and have been around for centuries, promoting harmony among various communities following different cultures. There is not even an iota of doubt about their spiritual and moral connotations. The festivals and morals behind them enrich  our understanding of our life and how it is important to lead a life with integrity and commitments. They are a source of character building. There are numerous temples  in the country and almost  every temple has its own history/legend  - sthalapurana  and festivity related to it.
''Karthigai Deepam festival''  that is held in the Tamil month of Karthigai -Nov to mid December is mostly associated with Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and also  Karthikaya (God Muruga/Subramanya) in Tamil Nadu, in particular.
Arunachaleswarer temple, Tiruvannamalai, TN, Karthigai Deepam maalaimalat

01. At Murugan temples God Kartikaya's birth is celebrated with fanfare and devotion; hence the six abodes of God Muruga (''Aarupadai Veedu''  mentioned in Tamil sangam literature, "Thirumurugatrupadai'') in Tamil Nadu such as Tiruchendur, Swamimalai, Tiruparamkundram, Palani, Pazhamuthisolai and Tiruthani near Chennai come alive on this occasion. Along with Maha Deepam god's birth day is celebrated on a grand scale at the above temples. Lots of devotees throng the temples on this auspicious occasion after observing fasting, etc. At some Karhikaya temples, there will be chariot festival associated with his birth anniversary. 
According to the Hindu mythology Lord Karthikeya, was  brought up by the Karthigai nymphs. This constellation that consists of  a group of six stars and these are considered as the six celestial nymphs who reared the six babies  (created by God Shiva through his third eye) from the Saravana tank (Saravana Poigai) which later were joined together to form Lord Muruga with six faces (here the six faces imply six gunas).  The six nymphs  are worshiped by way of  lighting up rows of oil lamps (Deepam) in the evening of the festival day around the houses and streets as God Shiva bestowed them with immortality.
Rangoli/Kolam at home  Karthigai Deepam.
02. At Tiruvannamalai Arunachaleswarer temple, where Lord Shiva is an embodiment of Agni, this year more than one and half million  people visited the temple town during the ten-day event  and, in particular, on the 10th of December,  it was a sea of humanity close to the sprawling temple complex which is a pretty old one.

03. Lakhs of devotees thronged Tiruvannamalai to witness the lighting of  Karthigai Deepam on Tuesday - symbolic of prosperity and welfare and dispelling darkness and negativity in us.

04. Tradition has been that at this temple Akanda Deepam will be lit only after the idol of Arthanareeswarer (a half man and woman form of God Shiva) is emerged in a palanquin in the evening. He comes out of the shrine once a year. Rest of the year the shrine is closed. 

05. Besides, prior to the lighting of  Maha Deepam, an idol of Vinayakar was taken out in a procession followed by those of Murugar (Karthikaya), Arunachaleswarar, Unnamulai Amman (Parvati), Chandikeswarar and Ardhanareeswarar.

 06. Only 4000 to 5000 devotees are allowed inside the temple to witness the evening ritual of Akanda Deepam and worship of Arthanareeswarer.

07. When Akanda Deepam is lit on the temple premises, simultaneously  at 6 pm atop the holy Arunachala temple Maha Deepam is lit by a select group of devotees.

08. There are no proper roads to access the top (the hill being a sacred one, there are restrictions to disturb its nature and topography). Mind you only up to 2500 people are allowed by the District Administration  to ascend the 2668 foot hill  after getting the entry passes to witness the lighting of Maha Deepam as per Court order.

09. In the five-foot-tall copper  cauldron/ vessel  (locally called ‘Kopparai’),  filled with ghee, a big lump of camphor is also  mixed to get the huge flame going. 

10. This year 2019, the state government, official report says, close to 10,000 police personnel were deployed for crowd management (bandobast), in view of terror threats, etc by fanatics. 

11. The convention has been that soon after Maha deepam  ardent devotees undertake  barefoot walk around the holy hill called Girivalam believed to be an auspicious occasion to do it on this particular day. This year more than 100000 devotees undertook this strenuous religious undertaking with no food, chanting Shiva Nama.

12. The administration issued passes to devotees to avail themselves of free food (Anna Dhanam) available on the Prathkshana path. At selected points free food was distributed for elderly people and others.

13. At this temple town,  non -vegetarian restaurants are ordered by the authorities not to serve NV food during the festive period, in particular,  on Maha Deepam day and on the Girivalam path. Normally, NV restaurants are not allowed to function  in the vicinity of  Hindu temples.  The administration of Vishnu temples has serious restriction on NV food - eating the flesh of dead animals within a certain limit. Unfortunately,  at certain temples dedicated to Kartikaya and Shiva, NV hotels serve NV food. 

14. At Tiruvannamalai,  Maha Depam is followed by  three day float festival (Teppam in Tamil) in the near-by Ayyankulam (water tank) and  well-decorated gods and goddess Parvati will go around the tank in a  floral float.  

15. This year the Indian Railways - SR/Southern Zone ran a  Super Fast train from Ernakulam  Junction. Kerala  to Chennai Central  and Chennai Central to  Tiruvannamalai  and back - called  Karthigai Deepam Train, covering a distance of 700 km It has 12 halts to help devotees from Kerala and southern districts of Tamil Nadu to visit the grand annual festival at the holy town.
 This deepam festival is celebrated with bhati  at Thayumana Swamy, rock fort, Tiruchi city and Tiruparankundram Karthikaya temple near Madurai city.

16. This festival emphases that the God is formless. omnipresent and unfathomable.

17. This festival symbolizes  positivity and elimination of bad elements in us. It is more famous in Southern India than in the north.

18. The essence of this unique grand festival is 01. choose the path of righteousness, 02. shed arrogance, selfishness and ego and 03. Once you attain humility and contentment, you will enjoy the  true meaning of happiness. Loads of money will neither give you happiness  nor peace of mind. 

19. This year due to excess visitors to the temple town, the district administration declared a couple of days as holidays for schools, etc.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Lighting of Maha (Karthikai) Deepam, Tiruvannamalai, TN

Arunachaleswarer temple, Tiruvannamalai,

Lighting of Maha Deepam at the auspicious time  on the final day of Karthigai Deepam festival is a great event to be taken place this year on the evening of 10 December.  This important Hindu festival is held  on the day when the moon is in alignment  with the constellation ''Karthigai'' (Pleiades) and pournami. This constellation appears as a group of six stars in the firmament in the shape of a pendant from the ear. This day is celebrated as the birth day of God Karthikaya ( commonly known as God Muruga, son of Parvati). In  Kerala, this festival is known as 'Thrikkarthika'' and  it is said the festival is not dedicated to any god in the Hindu pantheon and most of the Hindus do believe it is dedicated to Goddess Sakthi (Bhagavathy). According to some it represents God Shiva and Goddesss Parvati. Anyway, this festival is celebrated on a grand scale in Kerala.

No other Siva temple in India assumes as much attention as the  Arunachaleswarar temple  at Tiruvannamalai Town, Tamil  Nadu  does. This being due to the fact this temple represents one of the 5 important elements (pancha boothams) that sustain our life on the earth - Agni.  Hence it is celebrated here with pomp and gaiety.  On the  early morning of 10 December (10 th day of the festival
period), Bharani Deepam will be lit on the temple premises as per temple tradition and  on  the same day Maha Deepam is lit on the

Karthigi Deepam on the Arunachala hill, Thruvannamalai.
sacred  hill.  On the Karthikai Deepam day, lakhs of devotees are eagerly waiting to see the lighting of Maha Deepam atop the Arunachala hills behind the temple. Little do we know that the devotees and authorities associated with this special event in the evening have to make elaborate  preparations before hand. The items that are essential for lighting the  sacred  Deepam have to reach  2668 feet tall hill without any delay so that the deepam will be lit right at the auspicious time. The most important item being the giant cauldron that weighs  roughly 200 kg.  This cauldron made of copper will be taken up hill after special puja and prayers This is done by nine workers from the Savalpoondi village who lug it with care to the peak. No roads are available to access the top.  Additional items are 3500 liters of ghee (made from butter) and 1000 meter of wick made from gada  cloth. This particular cloth will absorb the ghee  and give study flame and can not be put out by heavy winds. The temple officials to meet the cost of ghee, wick, etc receive donations from the public. 

An interesting aspect of deepam festival is at the Arunachaleswarar temple the shrine of Arthanareeswarer (Shiva in half-woman and half-man form symbolic of gender equality) will be open only once a year and his idol will be brought out of the shrine carried by the devotees to bless the devotees assembled on the temple premises. The carriers of the palanquin sway gently  and keep moving forward. This is followed by  lighting Aganda deepam  in the temple. Simultaneously up on the hill  the Maha Deepam will be lit around 6 pm. Immediately, after this event  in all  Hindu households and at temples across the state  sacred deepam will be lit reverentially. Devotees normally use earthen lamps/ agal villakku  on this occasion and keep them in rows in front of their home and inside their house close to the puja room.  When Bharani Deepam is lit in the morning in the midst of chanting mantras by the temple priests only 4,000 to 5,000 people would be allowed inside the temple to see the event.

The Deepam in the 5 foot tall cauldron on the hill top will be kept going for 11 consecutive days.  As for ghee, it is procured from Avin, owned by the state government. People in thousands will undertake Girivalam - going around the Arunachala hill along  the Prathakshapath clock wise - a stretch of 14 km. Devotees walk barefoot and many of them do it without taking food. Karthikai festival comes to an end after 3-day float festival in Ayyankulam.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

''Karthigai Brahmotsavam'', 2019 at Tiruvannamalai Sri Arunachaleswarer temple, Tamil Nadu

Arunalchaleswarar temple, TN
Arunalchaleswarar temple, TN/
Among the Hindu temple festivals of Tamil Nadu,  Karthigai Deepam (Karthigai Brahmotsavam) that falls on the 10th of December this year  is the most important one at temples dedicated to God Shiva.  It is held in the Tamil month of  Karthigai (mid-Nov to mid-Dec) - in the star Krittika or Kirthigai.  No other Shiva temple celebrates this festival on a grand scale with significant religious fervor  as at the Arunachaleswara temple at Tiruvannamalai, a pancha bootha's sthalam where Lord Shiva represents ''Agni'' (fire).
Arunalchaleswarar temple, Tituvannamalai, TN
Here at this temple town, it is a 10-day event  packed with many rituals and each day  the festival is celebrated with passion and utter devotion. During the long festival period  more than a million devotees  from Tamil Nadu and other adjacent  states visit this famous temple to get the Lord's blessings and participate on a long barefoot walk
clock-wise  around the holy hill of Arunachala - what is called ''Girivalam''- a strenuous religious undertaking with clean mind, body and heart.  Lighting of oil lamps forms an integral ritual of this popular festival that is also celebrated across India, particularly in South India. it is more popular.  Lighting of oil lamps is the fore most important  ritual that has  spiritual connotation  on this day. It is symbolic of getting rid of ego and arrogance, and inviting positive elements  for our well being. The oil lamp symbolizes this spiritual revelation. The wick in the lamp represents our ego, oil in the lamp  our inborn nature that nurtures the ego (the root cause of our miseries); the flame symbolizes  the spiritual wisdom that will do away with  ego (wick) and consumes the innate unwanted behavior (oil). Thus Karthigai Deepam - the lighting of the oil lamps is symbolic of  the victory of good over the  evil, dispelling darkness  and bringing in rays of light - positive elements that help  us  progress in our arduous  lives.  This is the reason why at Hindu households on Karthigai Deepam day, people light up lamps inside and outside the house  to welcome  prosperity, sanctity  and humility in  their lives,  getting rid of  negative elements  and dark  forces that stand as a road block in our progress.
Arunalchaleswarar temple, TN thiruvannamalai.i
Tiruvannamalai, TN, Girivalam map.
The ten-day ''Deepam'' celebrations at Tiruvannamalai are as follows:

1st Day – Marks flag hoisting on the temple flag-pole  heralding the  commencement of the grand festival at the temple.  Known as Dwajaroghanam, on this day, the presiding deity (utchavar) Lord Arunachaleswara is taken on a silver vahana (mount) in  a procession, in the morning and night. Also taken out on different vahanas in the procession after Deeparadhana (displaying agni before the deities) are five murthis (idols) called Panchamurthigal (in Tamil) such as  Lord Arunachaleswara, goddess Parvati  god Ganesha, god Muruga and god  Chandigeswarar (an integral part of  Shiva temples of Tamil Nadu) 

2nd Day– Markes the procession of five murthis (idols)  on Indira Vimanam (mount of Indira).

3rd Day – The third day event assumes importance at night  with the Panchamurthis  (5 idols mentioned above) taken in a procession on the Simha Vahana (mount of lion).

4th Day – Marks the Kamadhenu Vahanam (mount  of  wish-fulfilling holy cow Kamadhenu) and the all five idols are taken out  along with the wish-fulfilling tree – Karpavruksha (placed on the side of the lord) .

5th Day –Rishaba Vahanam is the major event and the idols are mounted on the huge  silver Rishaba Vahanam (chariot is 25 feet tall). A unique feature is a giant  umbrella of about 17 feet in diameter is also carried along during the procession.
6th Day – The nightly procession includes  five idols in a  nicely carved   silver plated chariot  which is an awe-inspiring vision.

7th Day – The main event is  ‘Maha Ratham, a beautifully carved big wooden chariot  and all the five idols are taken out in a procession  around the four Mada streets. The chariot is pulled by a large number of people.  The big ratha is so wide it almost covers the entire width of the road. 

8th  Day – Marks the Kuthirai vahana (the mount is horse). The fascinating sight is all the legs of  the  horse are off the base not touching it.

9th  Day – The five deities -utchavars are mounted on the Kailasa Vahana (mount  of heaven) and  are taken out at night in a procession all around the Mada street close to the temple, often accompanied by playing of Nadaswaram, drums, fanfare, etc as on other festive days.  

10th  Day – The final day is the most important one and marks the end of the long-drawn festival - Karthigai Deepam. The festival begins in the early morning  around 4 am and a huge oil lamp called   Bharani Deepam is lit  reverentially in the temple in the midst of chanting of mantras by the priests. In the same evening atop the hill of Arunachala at 6 pm, the Maha Deepam (huge oil  lamp) is lit  which is visible at far off distance . In this temple town and across Tamil Nadu in all Hindu households and Shiva and other temples oil lamp is lit with devotion. The belief has been that Lord Shiva who is sn embodiment of Agni (fire) in this temple at Tiruvannamalai  blesses the people for their peace of mind and welfare. Here, at the temple Shiva is referred to as Lord Arunachaleswara.The legend has it Shiva appeared as a huge column of fire whose crown and  bottom can not be fathomed.  Hence, according to the core of  Hindu philosophy  ''God has neither beginning (Aathi) nor end (Antham);  he is formless and is present in Pancha boothas'' (five elements that sustain life on the earth). Therefore, He is omnipresent and omnipotent

The procession of Lord Periyanayagar on Rishaba Vahana (gold plated  bull mount), is billed as a great event. In the float festival Lord Chandrasekarar, Goddess Parvati  and Lord Subramaniar are taken in a boat called ‘Theppam’ in the holy tank. The float festival will be for three days, Lord Arunachaleswara is taken out in a procession around the hill, which is known as Girivalam or pradhakshina. Karthigai Deepam festival at this temple is a great annual event and many VIPs attend this grand function on the final day.  The government makes elaborate security arrangements and travel restrictions close to the temple premises. The state government makes a few hundred buses available to ply the devotees  to the temple town and back.
Tiruvannamalai location map, TN
Worshiping Lord Shiva and god Muruga (Karthikaya) on Karthigai Deepam day  is significant: It symbolizes removal of darkness, bestowing  peace of mind, happiness, infusing positivity in us. Most importantly it enhances our confidence and gets rid of pride, presumption and ego that will retard our life's journey.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Fascinating temple festival at Evoor Major Srikrishna Swamy temple, Kerala

Aaraattu” ritual, Kerala
Rich in culture and tradition,  Often referred to as the God's own country because of its breath-taking geography and picturesque scenery,   Kerala state has lots of Hindu temples where the temple festivals  are unique, colorful and quite fascinating.  They are held on specified days for a particular reason and the age old tradition is being observed even today. Many of them held for a long time to propitiate the Gods that have bestowed them with the best land with lots of greenery and water bodies. Among the Hindu temple festivals of Kerala,  Vrishchikolsavam of Tripunithura sree poornathrayeesa temple and the Thrissur Pooram, Vaddakunathan temple are most people, drawing a sea of people. Equally famous are the Utchavams of Padmanabha swami temple at Trivandrum Guruvayoor Anayottam (Elephant race; Spreme Court of India banned it in the recent past), Chottanikkara Makam and Sivarathri festival in Aluva temple, Padanilam temple at Mavelikkara, Maradu Thalappoli at Maradu, and Kalpathy Ratholsavam Palakkad, etc. 
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

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.      

tiyettam 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.

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
) for ''Pothu Darshan''  and it is of immense help to senior citizens and physically-handicapped devotees.