Annabishekam, unique temple ritual at Thanjavur big temple

Annabishekam at the Big temple, Thanjavur, Tamil nadu.

Thanjavur big temple, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. Edutour

When it comes to the  Hindu temples, almost every month there will be a festival or two, each lasting a day or two, sometimes more than seven days. Almost all  such festivals have been  followed for centuries and  some  of them  are of recent origin. With some exceptions, temple festivals as prescribed by the religion, have some relevance and significance. Annabishekam,  an annual temple ritual of Shiva temples, has been around for the past few decades, particularly in southern India.

Annabishekam (annam means food; abishekam means anointing  or pouring or bathing)  of cooked rice, dal, jaggery fruits has been part of a temple ritual in all Shiva temples. This ritual  has two fold purposes: When followed, there will be  an abundance of food available for the people in the ensuing year and at home there will be plenty  of food and prosperity and all family  problems will disappear like the morning dew. The food used for Annabishekam  will be distributed as  prasadam among the poor and also other people. It is a way of expressing our gratitude to the god almighty.

In Southern  India Annabishekam  is performed every year in the Tamil month of  Aippasi (October-November) Purnima (in local language Pournami) - full moon day.  People generously contribute  raw rice, dal, Jaggery, vegetables, etc to the temples  for this ritual. The ingredients are collected in large quantities from wealthy people. On that day  in the evening at the auspicious time, Abishekam is performed amidst of chanting mantas by the temple priests with  devotion. The presiding deity - lingam (3.7m tall)  is decoratively covered with  cooked rice, different kinds of vegetables, fruits, etc. Devotees normally throng the temple on this day and taste the prasadam in the belief  that the lord will take care of the welfare of their families. 

Shiva temple Gangaikonda Cholapuram

This year on 15 November 2016 annabishekam was performed for lord Bragadeshwara, the presiding deity of the big temple (1000 plus years old),

Thanjavur Shiva linga in natural form. Divya Darisanam

Thanjavur city, Tamil Nadu, a UNESCO heritage site in the presence of thousands of people. The huge Shiva Linga at this temple is  one of the largest in India. Annabishekam  was done in the evening by the Shivacharyas - temple priests with bakthi and religious zeal. Earlier special abishekams and pujas had been  held since morning as per temple Agama sastras. The amount of ingredients  used for this annual ritual is just mind-blowing. The innumerable  volunteers had to cook 600 kgs of rice, 100 kg of vegetables, several kilos of other items, during a particular time and make the food available well before the beginning of the decorative  work on the idol. The decorative  work needs  quite a bit of time and patience. The  abisheka food - prasad was distributed among the gathering only after Maha Deepa Arathanai.

Likewise,  Annabishekam was done at the same time at other Saivite temples such as  Aadi Kumbeswarar temple, Kumbakonam, Mahalingeswarar temple, Thiruvidaimaruthur, etc.
A large number of people witnessed Annabishkam of Bragadeswarar temple (built by Rajenrad Chola) at Gangaikonda Cholapuram in Ariyalur district. The Kanchi Sankaracharya mutt, Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu  provided 100 bags of rice every year for this purpose, a tradition that has been followed since 1986. Annabishekam is  also considered as a way of sanctifying the presiding deity, so that it will absorb more positive energy.