Thanjavur (TN) Big temple ''Chithirai'' chariot festival of 2022 held to day after a gap of two years!
India is a land of festivals that evolve around gods' birthday (Janma Astami or navami), change of seasons like winter, spring, harvest time, etc. Such festivities promote harmony among people of different castes, tradition, etc., across India and they not only bring the people together for a common purpose to work in unison but also offer them a change, a sort of break from from mechanical and materialistic existence and much more. The various Indian festivals including the ones held in temples bear testimony to this vast country's vibrant and diverse culture, long-held tradition , etc., Examples Puri janganath temple of odisha, Thiruvarur (TN) Azhi Ther, Sri Andal temple chariot festival of Srivilliputhur (TN) Madurai Kallazhagar Thiruvizha, Durga Puja festival of W. Bengal, etc.
|Happy Tamil Puthondu 14th April 2022. mauritiustimes.com|
The Chithirai temple of Big temple, Thanjavur is a unique event that is held annually on a grand scale. It will normally last for 18 long days and as part of it, the deities will be taken out in a religious procession accompanied by drummers, music, etc. In the past two years between 2020 and 2021 the festivities were held on a low key level owing to COVID 19 Pandemic that had shaken up the people across the world. In the wake of it, temple festivals, puja protocols, etc., were held across India at famous shrines with very much restricted audiences. The Chithirai festival at Brigadeeshwar temple was held in a simple way in the last consecutive years, besides cancellation of yearly temple car festival. The rituals, etc were held within the four walls of the temple to avoid crowds.
|Big temple car festival 2022, Thanjavur. tamil.news18.com|
|Chithirai festival, Flag-hoisting at big temple, Thanjavur. .dtnext.in/News/|
| Ther(Chariot) mantap, West main st. Thanjavur. .mydigitalpublication.com|
The people of Thanjavur after a long gap participated in the temple car festival with enthusiasm and religious fervor. The festival began on the 30th of March with flag-hoisting ceremony on the temple premises right before the main shrine close to Nandi mantap. Flag-hoisting is a customary event in all Hindu temples before the beginning of major festivals. Until 12th of April there was a religious procession of deities mounted on special platform from the temple after 8 to 8.30 pm all along the main streets. The main deities were adorned on a special vahana each night accompanied by drummers and music.
Today - 13 April after special 'Deeparathana' was performed and the devotees, led by Collector Dinesh Ponraj Oliver, started pulling the car at the main venue Chariot mandapam. the hereditary trustee Babaji Raja Bhonsale was also present. The grand chariot procession with beautifully decorated chariot began moving along four raja veedhis - west, north, east and south main streets. Seated on the elevated platform on the wooden base of the ther are the bejeweled and decorated idols of deities
|Thanjavur city location map, TN. mapsofindia.com|
In the morning after completion of certain temple rituals on the big temple premises the various participating idols were taken to the Chariot mantap (Ther mandapam) right across the the branch of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti madam on the West main street. The processional idols (Utchavars) of Sri Tyagarajar and Sri Kamalmbal adorned the main big and tall chariot, those of Sri Ganesa, Sri Subramanya, Sri Chandikeswara and Sri Neelotamman were taken in chariots that accompanied the main car during the procession. In front of the chariots, groups of men and women participated in events like traditional 'Kummiyattam', 'Kolattam' and 'Thappattam'. Groups of people also played certain musical instruments often associated with Shiva temple - Thambai, Udumba, Kombu and other traditional instruments. Pots with sprouted seeds (Mulaippari) were taken in front of the car on a tractor.
The temple chariot was nicely decorated. The rich carved wooden base of the chariot is 16 and 1/2 foot tall and the total height of the ther including the canopy over it is about 30 feet; the weight of wooden base is about 50 tons. The 30 foot tall chariot looked as if it had occupied 2/3rds of the width of the newly widened street. As the chariot has not been taken out for a long period special attention was made and the wooden parts consisting of 231 delicately carved wooden images of deities representing various puranic episodes were given fresh coat of varnish. The wooden base was designed by Sthapati Varadarajan of Arumbavur and his men who did an excellent job with meticulous care. The work was done as per scriptures in the Agama sastras He and his team comprising about 30 trained workers handled roughly 1170 cubic feet of quality wood. it took one and half years for them to complete the work including the four wooden wheels. The credit goes to late CM of Tamil nadu J. Jayalalitha who evinced keen interest in this project and the big temple chariot for the first time moved along the four raja streets in April 2015 after a pretty long hiatus roughly 100 years!! Chola ruler Raja Raja built the temple (made entirely of granite related rock) in 1010 CE and it is a UNESCO recognized world heritage site.
COVID being on the decline, the devotees in thousands gave a big sigh of relief and participated in the festivities without any hesitation and and mental agony by way of pulling the long and big ropes tied to the ther. Pulling the Ther Vadam (ropes tied to the chariot) is part of paying respect to the deities and participation in it, it is believed, will give peace of mind and prosperity to the devotees.
The temple authorities and local administration including the police took care of this grand event without any untoward incidents. A large posse of police stood near the main chariot. Under the direction from IG Balakrishnan, local DIG Kayalvizhi and DSP Ms. Ravali Priya made adequate protection (banthobasthu) with a huge contingent of police - roughly 600 to 700 police men and women. An interesting aspect is widening of four main streets is going on as part of SMART CITY project initiated by the central govt. along with the state administration. Certain places on the streets where structures are either under repair or demolition were carefully barricaded to avoid mishaps. The ''Therrottam'' took place in the midst of several hurdles midway in these places. Kudos to TMC and other officials.
Above image: Chithrai Car festival, Thanjavur 2022. The chariot event took place on 13 April 2022 after corona pandemic. Only in 2019 this event took place. The main streets where the Chariots ran are being widened on both sides by the municipal corporation as part of Smart City project. The Municipal commissioner, being honest and upright, removed countless structures in many places in the city as they were built on Govt. land and the occupants never paid the yearly taxes. ...............
The huge ther had 14 pre-planned scheduled stops for the benefits of people . The car stopped for several minutes and the the following places worth mentioning: Konganeswarar temple on west main street, Moolai Hanuman temple, Rathnabureeswarar temple Gurukula Sanjivi temple on North main street, Kodimarathu Moolai Vittaobha temple, Manikarikeswara temple on the East main street and on the South main street at kaliyuga Varadharaja Perumal temple, Ganesha temple (at the entrance of Manojiappa street, Kasi Viswanathar temple and Kaliamman temple close to Canara bank. At all these places Deepa Aradhara, etc were done for the benefit of a large gathering of devotees, mostly women. The chanting of Om Namachivaya ranted the air all along the streets. In all four streets charitable people distributed free food, cool drinks, etc to the devotees and to those who pulled the ropes (ther vadam).
The chariots started moving along the starting point in the morning around 6-15 and the devotees, led by Collector Dinesh Ponraj Oliver started pulling the giant chariot. After moving through the four main streets and halting at 14 important locations they returned to the base just past noon. Till such a time, the entire event was marked by devotion, dedication and religious fervor and this year, the crowd was unexpectedly a big one; particularly, the children had a swell time buying toys and candies, etc. For the people of Thanjavur, it was a memorable and joyous occasion, a change from mundane life because the people went through a difficult ad painful phase of their lives in the last two consecutive years. The TMC for the smooth ride of the chariots, temporarily jerry built asphalt cover on the four streets and further several cross sterns and lanes joining the arterial roads were blocked with traffic barricades. Numerous tanks with potable tanks were also arranged for the devotees as the days become warmer nowadays.
The big temple chariot festival of Chithirai has been a legacy of Chola, Nayak and Maratha reign in this part of present day Tamil Nadu and the tradition continues even today though there were breaks in the past. During the Chola period the festival was called Uttama- Mahotsava, a 17-day festival event.