Pradosham and Thanjavur Big temple - a great temple ritual

Nandi Pradosha worship, Big temple, Thanjavur. TN

Pradosha or Pradosham  closely connected with the worship of God Shiva, one of the trinity gods,  is a bimonthly event on the thirteenth day of every fortnight in Hindu calendar. The auspicious 3-hour period, 1.5 hours before and after the sunset, it is widely believed, is the optimum time for worship of Lord Shiva.  Lord Shiva  had danced on the Thithi of Thrayodashi, hence one and half hours on thrayodashi are being observed as the time of Pradosha in all the Shiva temples  irrespective  of locations. Please bear in mind that it is the most suitable time to pray to God Shiva.
pradhosham: devotees  at Brihadeeswarar Temple,Thanjavur, TN

Sani pradodham, Big temple, Thanjavur,

During the Pradosha time, in all well-known temples big or small,  devotees throng the shrine to worship God Shiva. There are five types of pradoshas known. They are:  Nithya pradosha (Daily), Paksha Pradosha (Every Thrayodashi), Maasa Pradosha (thrayodashi of Krishna paksha), Maha pradosha (when pradosha falls on a Saturday) and Pralaya Pradosha (total destruction of the universe - cataclysmic process -  the acts of creation and destruction will finally recede into Shakti and  Siva). There are true devotees of Shiva who observe pradosha every day too.
Big temple, Thanjavur.

People observe "Pradosha Vrata" by way of fasting  or taking a vow, strongly believing such religious observances will yield good results and their humble prayers will be rightly answered.  Pradosha vratha has a number of unique observances as preached by by Sandilya Maharishi. During the Prdosha kala, devotees witness special anointing of Lord's mount Rishabam / Nandi (bull) with milk, sandal water, etc. Same thing is done to the presiding deity - Shiva Linga. Besides,  special abisheka is done to the lord with Vilva leaves, food offerings (Naivaedyaas), etc. Finally Deepa  aradhana or aarti will be done by the temple priest.

Sadhaya Vizha.Thanjavur big temple, Abishekam being done big lingam .

Frankly speaking,  about 10 or 15 years ago, Pradosha puja was done on a low key and during that time, the temple was not crowded as it is to-day. But, in the last decade, Pradosha puja has assumed so much importance that there is no Shiva temple in Tamil Nadu where Pradosha is not observed. As for the big temple, Thanjavur, on the occasion of Pradosa, the entire space around the Nandi mantap is packed to the capacity. Besides, to have Dharsan of the main deity - huge lingam in the sanctum, devotees have to stand in the long line for a pretty long time.

It is to be borne in mind, among the Indian states, Tamil Nadu has the largest number of Hindu temples  across its land and, by the same token, a small section of Tamil people with rationalistic bend of mind would severely criticize the Hindus and their purported superstitious beliefs, idol worship etc., without  realizing that they are hurting the sentiments of tolerant Hindu community and their freedom of worship. They  makeblatantly   blasphemous and vulgar remarks publicly without any reservation.  Rationalists'  severe criticism and propaganda did not have any effect on the religiously minded people. 

Their acts and disparaging utterances  are visibly anti-national and anti- Hindu. Despite their tirade,  on the contrary, in the past more than  a decade, devotion / Bhakti among the Tamils has gone up manifold and I can see for myself  more people in the Hindu temples than ever before, a fact no body can deny. It means more and more people go to temples for peace of mind and to lead a quiet life. 

During the Pradosha time, the big temple at Thanjavur - Brihadeeswara temple built by Chola  king Raja Raja I in 1010 AD, comes alive with unmanageable crowd of devotees who come here for prayer and to be blessed by the lord.  Countless devotees come here from near-by villages and they participate in the pujas earnestly with religious fervor.  The Pradosha  vratas are quite similar  to normal vratas and include  Ahimsa (no perpetration of violence), Sathya (truthfulness), Daya (compassion), kshama (forgiveness) and brahmacharya (bachelorhood). Normally the vratha will be  ended in the evening with the visit to a Shiva temple during pradhosha kalam and observing the worship there. Over the one and half hours, the lord is anointed / bathed in the midst of recitation of certain mantras. For abishekam various substances and special pooja are offered. Lord's mount Nandi (also Nandidevar) gets special attention and is given  abhisheka in milk, sandal, water, fragrant fluids among others. He is offered a special dish made out of red rice (Puttarisi) and worshiped by everyone. Tradition has it that devotees are allowed to  whisper their wishes, prayers  into his ears to pass them onto God Shiva,  during pradhosha kala.  Nandi, being closest to the Lord, tradition has it, that devotees can have  a darshan of Shiva linga through and in between the horns of Nandi, just the way he had danced at the very first pradosha.

The highlight of every pradosha is what is called the Soma Sooktha Pradakshinam. wherein the Pradosha Nayakar,  a small statue of Shiva and Parvathi, standing on Nandi comes out only during the pradosha is carried in a procession around the temple three times, followed by  the devotees. This is called  the Somasooktha pradakshinam that starts from  the Kodimaram (flagpole or Dwajasthambam), close to Nandi.  After  darshan of the linga through Nandi’s horns, the procession, instead of going clock-wise, goes around the temple anti-clockwise until it reaches the Gomukhi (the spout from which the abhisheka waters come out). There the procession turns back and comes back to the Kodimaram and continues its clockwise procession until it reaches the Chandikeswara shrine. Once again the direction of travel is reversed and the procession ends up at the kodi maram (flag-mast). This weird circumambulation (pradakshanam) is repeated three times with the Pradosha Nayakar in the lead. This is called the Somasooktha pradakshinam because while doing it, the lord and the devotees form the shape of a crescent moon (Soma-moon). 

Somasooktha pradakshinam  is done to commemorate the circumambulation of the Devas around Mt Kailash when they came for help during the churning of the sea of milk and the emergence of poison from Serpent Vasuki. The Devas kept running between Nandidevar and the poison, and pleaded the lord to help. The Nandi mandapam and the gomukhi, represent the above.  The Somasooktha pradakshinam is in fact a re-enactment of the devas pleading to Shiva for help.

The pradosha vrata, it is strongly believed, is a highly potent one and effective, and the devotees will be bestowed with happiness, wealth, health and peace of mind, besides they get salvation -  free from the  birth cycle and attain Shiva Loka after their mortal life. This story above is a shortened version of “Pradhosha Mahimai” described by Sandilyar. The reading or listening of this story during pradhosha is said to have good effect on the devotees. It is equal to doing the entire  prescribed pooja and rituals.