|Thanjavur Big temple chariot near the shed.thehindu.com|
|Srirangam temple chariot wooden base. Pintere|
Devotees, irrespective of their social obligation and caste get a chance to worship the deity in the chariot in the comforts of their place without having to visit the temple. As various communities are involved in the festival, it promotes social integration and unity. It is an amazing sight to see a huge chariot weighing as much as 50 to more than 300 tons trundling along the streets being pulled by hundreds of devotees. In the month of Chithrai- March -April, countless temples conduct chariot festivals with religious fervor and bhakti.
Though every year we have heard or seen the temple car / chariots, we are not aware of many facts related to them- it's concept and it's making. Since divinity is associated with temple chariots, special care is taken to make them by the learned Sthapathis. The concept of chariot has been explained in the Kathopanishad in the following words:
Buddhim tu saarathim viddhi marah pragrahameva cha". (Meaning: The body is the chariot and the soul is the deity installed in the chariot. The wisdom acts as the charioteer to control the mind and thoughts).
Tamil Nadu has the credit being home to more than 500 temple wooden chariots (as of 2004), out of which 79 needed repairs. Among them, the most famous one is Thiruvarur Ther (Azhi Ther) associated with Thiagarajar temple. The biggest in India (96 feet /29 m tall) weighing as much as 300 tons. This Azhi Ther festival has been around for centuries and is mentioned in devotional songs of the Nayanmars, Tamil saivite saints. The annual festival being a big one, lasts for 25 days in March- April. The second biggest chariot is Srivilliputhur Ther associated with Andal temple. Some popular temples like Arunachaleswarar Temple., Thiruvannamalai, Chidambaram Natarajar Temple are among the temples that possess huge wooden chariots for regular processions. In many temples car festival takes place twice a year. ex. The Natarajar Temple, Chidambaram - in the summer (Aani Thirumanjanam - June and July) and in winter (Marghazhi Thiruvaadhirai- December and January).
|Thiruvarur Chariot Thiyagarajaswamytemple.tnhrce.in|
01. The concept of chariot has been around since the time of the Vedas and the references made in them point out their presence in India in the 2nd millennium BCE.
02. In the Indus Valley civilization site, at Harappa (now in Pakistan), there are terracotta models of carts that date back to BC.
03. According to the Rigveda there are two types - the Ratha (chariot) and the Anas ("cart"). The former is made of wood of particular trees and the number of wheels may vary depending on the size.
04. In the Vedas, chariots are identified with all gods.
According to Vishnu Tattva Samhita and the Pancharatra Agama, temple chariots are sarvadevamaya- embodiment of all gods, and sarvayajnamaya- embodiment of all sacrifices.
05. In the Ramayana and Mahabharata, there are references to the use of chariots for various purposes including war.
06. Many of the deities in the Hindu Mythology are portrayed as riding the chariot. As to Vedic deities, mention may be made of Ushas - the dawn riding the chariot, so is Agni who rides the chariot.
07. Famous ruler King Bhoja (10th century C.E.) preferred broad streets to allow easy passage of military chariots.
08. In Tamil Sangam works – Aganaanooru and Pattinappalai - we find references describing Surya’s one wheel chariot. There is also a reference to the Puri Jagannath Ratha in the Skanda Puranam.
09. In the inscriptions in the Srirangam temple mention is made about the golden chariot gifted by Sundara Pandya (of Madurai) in the 13th century C.E.
10. In some literary work in Sangam period, the parts of the Ther (chariot) such as therkudam (wheel hub), therkodungai (roof), therkoombu (spire), etc., are mentioned
11. Besides above, an inscription (1670 C.E.) at the Venkataswamin temple in Ellanuru, Andhra reveals collection of a part of land tax that meant to meet the expenses of the ratha yatra.
12. The world famous Puri Jaganath Rathyatra is pretty old. Brahma Purana, Skanda Purana and Padma Purana mention about Puri Rathyatra.
Skanda Purana says:
"Gundicha mandapam namam yatrahamajanam pura
Ashwamedha sahasrasya mahabedi tadadvabat".(Meaning: Those who are fortunate to see the procession of the deities from Sri Mandira to the Gundicha Temple, derive the benefits of a thousand horse sacrifices, an immensely pious deed).
13. The above-mentioned information suggests that chariot run or Therottam is a temple festival event of great antiquity going back to several centuries.
14. When it comes to making temple chariots / rathas, certain principles laid down in the Sastras are meticulously followed. This is done because they carry the god's images and sanctity needs to be maintained as in a temple.
15. Silpa texts are available for making rathas. Quite well-known are as Mahaviswakarmeeyam, Rathalakshanam and Aparajitapruccha. These text books lay down certain norms and principles with respect to ratha-making for the exclusive purpose of carrying the idols of the lord.
16. Making rathas for the Vishnu temples requires time, skill and knowledge of Silpa Sastras. In the case of rathas for Vishnu temples, well-versed Sthapathis follow Purushottama Samhita, and Pancharatra agama.
17. If metal is used, the ratha should be gold plated - swarnagata and studded with precious gems -Navaratnakacita.
18. The Vishnu Tilak Samhita mentions about invocation of Vayu on the wheel and Garuda on the entire chariot.
19. The Vishnu Tilak Samhita recommends ”elaborate sculpturing of the ratha (the wooden base), showing various incarnations of Vishnu.
20. In some rathas for the Vishnu temples , there will be a rich representation of various aspects of Narashmha - from Skambha Narasimha to Lakshmi Narasimha. Example: Sarangapani temple chariot, Kumbakonam.
21. As for the rathas for the Shiva temples, one can see wooden sculpturing of some episodes of the Ramayana and Mahabarata and some aspects of Shiva and Parvati. Also commonly included is the form of Narasimha in many Shiva temple chariots.
22. In the case of Shiva temples, irrespective of the wooden base, the top - pinnacle and other parts are covered with decorative clothes carrying the images of Nandi, Lingam, ganapathy, etc.
23. As to the size of the chariot, it depends on the size of garbagraha / sanctum of the temple.
24. Yet another interesting fact is a particular vedic mantra has to be chanted when cutting the selected wood for the purpose of making rathas.
25. At most of the Hindu temples, the chariot is kept for a long period of time in running conditions by doing period repairs, decorations, etc.
26. They will be kept in a specially made shed near the temple, In Tamil such a place is called Thermutti.
27. In the case of Puri Jaganath rathas, all the three of them are made afresh every year from selected neem wood. Once the Rathyatra festival is over, they will be reverentially dismantled and the discorded wood will be used for making divine toys., etc.
28. The word Ratha or Rath refers to a chariot or car made from wood with wheels. It may be pulled manually using specially-made rope, or by horses or elephants. Nowadays bulldozers or heavy tractors are used from behind to give extra push to the giant chariot.
29. During the festival, the temple procession deities (Utchavars) are reverentially kept inside the chariots and driven through the streets around the temple, accompanied by chanting of mantra, divine hymns and also traditional music and folk dances.
30. At predetermined places, pujas are conducted to the deities. The word Rath yatra is synonymous with the annual car festival of Lord Jagannath held at Puri in the state of Orissa, India during the months of June or July. Personifying Puri yatra, some temples across India.
31. Prior to the major events, lot of preparations need to to taken care of for the success of the chariot run.The condition of the chariot has to be checked first. It takes a few days to do the decoration above the wooden base.
32. Tradition has been that temple car is to be pulled along the four streets clock-wise around the temple. These streets are called car street (in Tamil 'Ratha Veethi'; East Car street meaning in Tamil Kezha ratha veethi, etc)). Prior to the yatra, these streets need to be kept clean for the smooth run of the ratha.
33. The idols are kept at the center of the Chariots. These idols (Urchavar) are representation or replica of the deities in the garbagraha (sanctum) of the associated temple.
34. Special Pujas are performed on the temple premises when the 'procession deities' are taken out of the temple and when they are brought back to the temple. Additional pujas will be performed while installing the idol on the chariot and at the start of the chariot procession.
35. It is believed that participating in the pulling of the chariot that is connected to the big rope is considered auspicious and is good for the welfare and prosperity of the devotees, besides it will help them get salvation (no rebirth and reundergoing all the troubles and tribulation in the next Jenma (next birth)!!.
36. The chariot run or ther ootum (rathyatra) implies that the temple chariot carrying divinity will crush all negative and evil elements, thus removing the impediments on the path so that we can stride forward armed with confidence and trust in the almighty.
(The Hindu article mentioned here under is quite useful and is well researched)
Below are posted the images of chariots (rathas) of some of the important Hindu temples:
|Srivilliputhur, Andal temple chariot festival.thehindu.com|
|Sarangapani temple Kumbakonam chariot. thehindu.com|
|Thanjavur Big temple chariot, near the ther shed. hindu.com|
Kalpathy,Palakad, Sree Vishwanathaswami templehehindu.com
|Temple car (decorated), Udupi, Karnataka,wikipedia.org|
|Nellaiappar (Shiva) car festival,Tn thehindu.com|
|Inside Nellaiappar temple, Sangili mandapam. en.wikipedia.org|
|Thiruvarur Chariot Thiyagarajaswamytemple.tnhrce.in|
Above'image: Thiagarajaswami (Lord Shiva) Temple chariot, Tiruvarur, TN. Her his consort is Parvati. Perhaps, the largest and heaviest chariot in India as tall as 10 story building and weighing 300 plus tons. The height of the base (made in 1930) is 35feet (35 feet H X 31feet W). Specially made hydraulic break system is in place to stop the car. Also heavy duty bulldozers are used to push the Chariot forward. The festival falls in the Chithirai month - March - April and will be for 25 days. This temple is a huge temple complex and has the largest temple tank in India covering 15 acres. Besides, there are 4 large thers - chariots for various deities - lord's consort, Ganapathi, Subramanya snd Sandikeswerer. In 1922, the huge chariot was accidentally burnt by the agitating Justice party members and later, it was replaced. It is pulled by four huge ropes, each measuring 144 feet long.......................
|Temple chariot, wooden base,www.alamy.com|
|Chdambaram Nataraja temple, TN chariot Shutterstock|
|Tamil Nadu, intricate wood carvings.Temple chariot,alamy.com|