May 23, 2018

The Chariots of Nagarathars

If you call Madras as a historic city, I would say Black Town locality is more historic. And, the Coral Merchant Street (Pavalakkara Street) in Black Town is no less historic.

In this narrow street, the foundation for Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party was laid. It is said that the first synagogue was located in this street. During the 18th century CE, the Jews had a settlement here. They imported coral beads and hence the street is named as Coral Merchant Street.

Towards the end of the 19th century CE, the Nattukottai Chettiars a.k.a. Nagarathars started occupying the street. They built their mansions and chattirams, which are known for their unique style of architecture (Chettinad architecture). The street became the head quarters of this community, who were the private bankers or financiers.

Currently, there are three Nagarathar Chattirams and very few old Nagarathar houses alone survive in this street. The chattirams are called as Rangoon Chattiram, Karaikudi Chattiram and Devakottai Chattiram. The metal (utsav) images of Muthukumara Swami along with his consorts Valli and Devasena are found in Karaikudi and Devakottai chattirams. The ground floor in both the chattirams have the sanctum for these deities. Regular poojas are conducted throughout the year.

The chattirams have interesting Chettinad architectural features such as long thinnais, intricately carved wooden roofs, circular pillars, the open courtyard called Muttram, etc. Every year during Masi Maham (which falls in Feb or Mar), two chariots carry the deities from these two chattirams and travel for about 9 kms to reach the Chettiar Chattiram in Tiruvotriyur.

The chariots have notable wooden carvings that depict the girls in different postures and few paintings and small carvings of various deities. The upper portion of the chariots are covered with sliver shields. The deities that are kept in these well decorated chariots travel via Royapuram, Vannara Pettai, Tondaiyarpettai and Pudhu Vannarapettai to ultimately reach Tiruvottriyur Chattiram on the same day. Thousands of people accompany these chariots till the destination. Perhaps, no other chariot in any other site travels such a long distance.

In Tiruvottriyur, these deities take part in the ritual of the divine wedding of Tyagaraja and Vadivudai Amman. They are kept in Tiruvottriyur Chattiram for five days and then they come back to their original place.

This annual mega event conducted by Nagarathars is a not to be missed festival of Chennai.

Happy travelling.

Click here to view all the videos related to this festival.

Thanks to Mr. Venkatesh Ramakrishnan, the historian and author, who introduced me about this festival and also took me to Devakottai Chattiram during this event.

May 22, 2018

Mayana Kollai

They scream; they cry; they dance; And, they play loud music.

Crackers are fired; temple is decorated; Cocks and goats are sacrificed.

The girls are dressed like fierce Goddess; their faces are painted in bright colors; the boys too join them; they look like the deity who would destroy this universe; they shout; they stare at you and even scare you. They don't fear; they don't care about anything; they dance with full energy and rage on the roads.

Here comes the annual festival of Mayana Kollai, a ritual which is celebrated in grand manner. The word Mayana Kollai means looting of the burial ground. It is a festival celebrated on a day before the full moon day after Maha Shivaratri every year (February or March). It is celebrated in Angala Parameswari temples. Angala Parameswari is a female village deity who is worshiped all over the state of Tamil Nadu as well as in some parts of Kerala. However, her temples are mostly found in Chennai and other parts of northern Tamil Nadu. Hence, this annual festival is also celebrated mainly in this region.

(Click here to find all the videos of Mayana Kollai.)

It is a unique festival with a lot of interesting aspects. The festival starts with the poojas conducted in Angala Parameswari temple. Then, the procession of the deity starts in the late afternoon.

The palanquin is accompanied by hundreds of devotees. Some of them are dressed like Kali, Bhairava, Angalamman and other fierce forms. They dance and shout. Few people play the folk music. Few others fire crackers. Few sing folk songs narrating the stories of Angalamman. The devotees gather in front of the deity and offer the cooked food items in the middle of the road. The flowers and coins are thrown towards the deity. Few devotees fell at the feet of those who are dressed like the deities. Some people bring cock and goats and offer them to the temple.

Many devotees fell in the state of trance. Some devotees carry kavedi. Some have pierced lemons or others have pierced sharp hooks into their bodies. Few devotees even pierce small Vel into their tongues.

After travelling through all the streets for few hours, the procession along with hundreds of devotees enter the burial ground. There are many legends that talk about Angalamman and this ritual. The popular one states that she was asked by Shiva to destroy a Rakshasa. The Goddess entered the burial ground, where the Rakshasa was hiding. She went on feasting on the corpses till she could identify him. Ultimately, he was killed by her. To symbolize this event, the devotees enter the burial ground. The image of the Rakshasa made with mud is kept there. The women dressed like Angalamman reenact the process of killing the Rakshasa. In some places, the animal sacrifice is done. In few places, even the devotees dressed in fierce forms bite the chicken violently. Food cooked over there and the ashes were brought by the devotees as the prasad.

If you are in Chennai, you can find this ritual celebrated in various areas such as Choolai, Saidapet and Mylapore.

Happy travelling.

May 21, 2018

Gangai Konda Choleeswara of Kanchipuram - Koozhampandal

If you are residing in Chennai or Kanchipuram, you need not travel for about 300 kms to visit Gangai Konda Cholapuram. There is another Gangai Konda Cholapuram very near to your city. Koozhampandal (often written as Kulambandal) is a village located at a distance of just 30 kms from Kanchipuram and about 95 kms from Chennai. The ancient Shiva temple of the village is called as Gangai Konda Choleeswara temple. It also belongs to the period of Rajendra Chola I (r. 1014 - 1044 CE).

This village called Koozhampandal has few other remnants of ancient temples/sculptures. But, the notable one is this Shiva temple. The temple is called as Choleeswara or Jagannatheswara. The temple was built by Isana Shiva Pandit, the Raja Guru of Rajendra Chola I. As per the inscriptions, the temple was called as "Gangai Konda Cholapuram" as well as "Vikrama Cholapuram". The deity was referred as "Gangai Konda Choleswara" or "Iswaramudaiya Mahadevar".

The inscriptions dated 12th year and 22nd year of the reign of Rajendra Chola I, 33rd year of Rajadiraja Chola I and later period Vijayanagara are found in the temple. It can be assumed that the temple was probably built sometime around the 12th year of reign of Rajendra Chola I (1025-1026 CE).

The temple faces the east direction. It is fully a stone temple. It has sanctum, ardha mandap and mukha mandap. The sanctum enshrines Shiv Linga. The entrance of the shrine is on the side at the south direction. In the Mukha Mandap, there is a separate shrine for the Goddess, which is a later addition.

The vimana has three tiers (talas). Each tala has many small niches and miniature sculptures. The sikhara is decorated with a mahapadma on top. The circular greeva has four niche icons such as Dakshinamurti, Sukasana and Brahma. The third tala has karna kutas in the corner and each surrounded by pair of Nandis. The second tala too has karna kutas. The icons of Ashtha Dik Palas, but not in the correct order or direction, are also found on the vimana.

The three sides of the exterior walls have totally eleven Koshtams. The adhistana has kumudam and padmam mouldings with the yazhi frieze on the top. In addition, so many miniature sculptures are also found here.

The south wall has Ganapati, Bhikshatana, Dakshinamurti and Harihara as the Koshta images. The west wall has Vishnu, Lingodbhava and Harihara. The north wall has Subramanya, Brahma, an empty niche and Durga.

The entrance faces the south direction and not the east direction. There are Dwarapalas found at the entrance.

Nandi is found facing towards the sanctum. The 16 pillared mandap is located behind Nandi. Only the pillars are remaining and the mandap has no roof.

Few excavated sculptures such as Durga and others are kept in the prakara.

Happy travelling.