Temple car festival - Thanjavur Big temple

 Newly decorated car of the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur,TN, April, 2015. www.thehindu.com

Big temple car trial, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. April 20th,2015 www.thehindu.com
The 1,000-year-old Hindu temple,  also  known  as the  Big  Temple  dedicated  to  Lord  Shiva - Bragadeshwar,  is located  in  Thanajvur  city  of  Tamil  Nadu, South India.  Built by  Chola  King  Raja  Raja- I, this  incredible temple  is  a  UNESCO  world  heritage  site,  now an awe-inspiring  rock  temple of wonders.  The entire temple is made of hard rocks of Precambrian age (oldest rocks on Earth)

 The vast inscriptions on the temple walls bring out  details of  temple administration - donations, duties of employees, rituals and festivals followed during the Chola period. According to the temple history, during the  Chitrai  Brahmotsavam  on the 15th day  of  the celebrations, the chariot festival was conducted with great devotion and fanfare. As  many  as  five chariots, on  several  occasions, were  taken  out along  the  streets  during  that  period. For  unknown  reasons, coupled  with  changing  political scenario, the  chariot  festival  lost  its  significance.

In  the later period, the Nayaks  and the Maratha rulers, who  were  devout  Hindus  and  patrons  of the big  temple,  somehow,  well managed  the affairs of the big  temple and its protocols governing poojas, festivals, etc.

It  was  Raja  Serfoji II  who  had  five new chariots   made for the 
Big Temple festivals and  built  chariot  Mandapams (halls) on the  four  main streets  to park the chariots. Records point out that the  last chariot festival of the Big Temple was held in 1818. After the Marathas, the  big  temple  chariot  festival  and  its great tradition  became  a  thing  of  the  past. The  Car  festival  of  the  big temple  was, unfortunately,  stopped 100 years  ago - during  the  British  period  because  the  temple  car (in Tamil Ther)  was  damaged  due to passage  of  time, poor maintenance and lack of adequate funds to repair it.

Thanks  to  the  contributions  from  the Tamil Nadu  government and  the Thanjavur Palace  Devasthanam,  the great tradition of Big temple chariot festival  was brought  back  to  life. The new chariot  has a height of 16 1/2 feet and  weighs  40  tonnes with 231 wooden  icons  and  245 bell. The trial run was conducted on April 20, 2015.

More  than  30  well  trained  sculptors  worked  hard around 15 plus  long  months  to  give  shape  to  the  chariot. Special  woods  were  used  to  create  delicate  images  of  gods  and  goddesses in proper geometrical  fashion. tradition has been that only eluppa maram (eluppa wood) is used for the construction of temple chariots, according to an old carpenter. Special  care  was  taken  to design  and  fix  huge  wheels  to bear  40  plus ton weight  for  easy  mobility  and  maneuverability. The chariot waa provided with a special break system to stop it in case of an emergency.    The Tamil  Nadu  state  government  allotted special funds  as  far  back  as  2012  to  restore the chariot festival  that  was  stopped  during the British  period.

Yearly  car  festival  is  part  of  many  well  known  temple  rituals  such  as  Srirangam, Thiruvarur, Madurai, Thiruvannamalai, etc in Tamil Nadu.

The  chariot  festival  of  the  ancient  Bragadeshwarar  temple  was  held  with  great fanfare  on  Wednesday - 29th  April, 2015  at  Thanjavur  in  Tamil  Nadu  after  a gap of nearly 100 years. It  was  a  great  spectacle  of  a  tall, big 45  ton  temple  car  being  pulled  by  hundreds  of  devotees around  the  main  four  Raja  Veedhis (streets). The  entire  atmosphere   was  charged  with  devotion, religious fervor  and  bakthi.

It  was  a  great  honor  to  Chola  King  Raja  Raja I  and  his dynasty, ardent  and devout Hindus rulers and  builders of  great rock temples. It is  a golden chapter  in  the long history of Thanjavur big temple.


Temple car festival in brief:
Temple car,  Sri Andal temple in Srivilliputtur, Tamil Nadu, August, 2013..www.thehindu.com

 Above image: Thousands of devotees pulling the temple car of Sri Andal temple in Srivilliputtur, Tamil Nadu, August, 2013. the car festival had been taking place for more than 162 years; consecutively for the past 29 years since 1985.....

India  is  a  land  of  numerous  festivals, particularly, the Hindu  festivals  are  numerous, and  they signify  offerings  to  deities, fasting, feasting, fairs and  celebrations.  Utsavam or Utsav in Sanskrit  means  removal  of "worldly sorrows" or "grief.'' It  is  a  great  occasion  for  rejoice  and often  these  festivals  coincide  with  seasonal changes. 
Almost  all  Hindu  temples have   some  regular  temple  rituals  and  festivals  unique  to  them  and   this  age-old  tradition  is  being  followed  even  today. Car festival  is  part  of  temple  rituals. Temple  cars  are  chariots (in Tamil Ther) mostly  made of  superior quality  wood  with images  of deities, scenes from the Hindu mythology  and  other ornate works. They  carry procession deities (Urchavars)  on  the  four streets  around  the temple. The  temple car  is  commonly  used  on festival  days  called  in Tamil ''Ther Thiruvizha '' and is usually  held once in a year. Ardent devotees  in hundreds  gathered around  and  pull  the  specially  made huge  ropes  tied  to  the  car  along  the  streets. Some cars are  provided with high tech hydraulic  break system  to stop  the huge  car as tall as 3 to 5 story building.  Heavy-duty  vehicles  are used  to  pull  the car  along  with people. Thiruvarur, Srivilliputhur, Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu and Puri, in Odisha, Kadiri in Andhra Pradesh  host  some  of  the largest  annual  temple  car  festivals  
Puri Jaganath, Odisa,  Ratha-Yatra,en.wikipedia.org
that attract thousands of people, especially children. 

Tiruvarur temple car, the largest in Tamil Nadu, 
The  great  temple  car  of  Thiruvarur  (in Tamil: Azhi ther))  is  quite famous.  This  great  chariot  is  said  to  be the  biggest  one of  its  type  in  size  and  height in India. It is  96 feet (29 m) in height, almost  as  tall  as an eight-story  building  and weights more than 300 tons.  Puri  Jaganath  temple (Odhisa) car festivals are quite well-known. Here the cars are also huge  and  have unique  design.  Unlike other temples,  the tradition here is  the  cars  are  dismantled  after the festival is over  and  new cars are made afresh in the following  year. The  size  of  the  largest  temple  cars  gave  inspiration  to  the  English  to  coin  a  new  Anglo-Indian  word ''Juggernaut'' (from Jagganath), signifying  a  tremendous, virtually unstoppable  force  or  phenomenon.