"Aazhi Therottam" of Thiruvarur is to be held on the first of April, 2023 - preparations are underway!

Thiruvarur Sri Thyagaraja temple and Aazhi ther, alamy.com 

The temple administration of  the popular Thiruvarur Sri Thyagaraja temple of Tamil Nadu has announced the annual Aazhi Therrotam (rath yatra) will be held on the first of come April, 2023 (marking the birth of Ahilya nakshatra) and in this regard the temple flag  with the image of Nandi (bull/rishabam), Thirusuli (trident) and other holy images was hoisted in a special ritual held on the morning of  9th of March by the priests in the midst of  chanting holy  Veda mantras  in the presence of select people and officials associated with the temple. Devotees in thousands visited the temple and offered their prayer to the primary deity God - Shiva. 

Thiruvarur Sri Thyagaraja temple and Aazhi ther, news18.com

Thiruvarur Sri Thyagaraja temple and Azhi ther, alamy.com 

Aazhi Ther (also spelled Azhi ) of Thiruvarur is the tallest and heaviest one in Asia and the total weight including the canopy over the wooden ther is about 350 tons.  Tradition has been that  every year toward the end of Panguni Uthiram ThiruvizhaAazhi Therottam will be held. With breaks in the recent past and in the late 20th century, the Rath yatra around the Mada  streets has been held with great pomp and devotion for centuries. According to the Modi (Marathi language) scripts of the Thanjavur Mahratta Ruler Shahaji (1684-1712 CE) at the famous Saraswathi Mahal Library in Thanjavur,  this festival was a popular one and   documentary evidences available in the  library confirm  that this Ther  festival  had been held  continuously since 1748 CE  till the middle of 20th century. It was held in June 2016 after a gap of 6 long years primarily due to restoration of the old chariot. Earlier the ther festival was held last in 2010 after a huge hiatus of 20 years.

2018 Indian special postal cover Aazhi ther. Tiruvarur) coins and more

Thiruvarur Sri Thyagaraja temple and Aazhi ther, alamy.com

Historical records also  mention that the chariot festival was held under the guidance of great Tamil saints like Thirunavukkarasar and Thirugnana Sambandar  and another Tamil saint Sundarar was overwhelmed by the sight of the grand festival  that was held with religious fervor. 

Thiruvarur Sri Thyagaraja temple and Aazhi ther tamil.news18.com

wooden base of Aazhi ther with more than 400 carvings

wooden base of Aazhi Ther tamil.news18.com

 The huge ratha  rises to a height of 66 feet (total height 96 ft) from the base of the bottom wooden ther and  the canopy over the it has four tiers (adukku)  supported by specially selected sturdy Bamboo poles and Casuarina poles (genus belongs to  the family Casuarinaceae, native to Australia, the Indian subcontinent etc). Palm tree poles are also used. The poles are covered  with  thatches (dry palm branches) and onto them are stitched decorative cotton clothes covering roughly 7500 sq.ft.  As the workers will be taking care of the decoration of the canopy at a dizzy height of 80 to 90 feet, without any support, special care has to be taken by the group in charge of Aazhi ther preparation. 

Thiruvarur Sri Thyagaraja temple and huge chariot (ther), tamil.news18.com

Thiruvarur Sri Thyagaraja temple Aazhi ther wheel,thehindu.com

Thiruvarur Sri Thyagaraja temple Aazhi ther canopy work
The huge 4 decorative wooden horses (representing four vedas)  set at four corners are made in Kumbakonam so are the cotton clothes, etc.,  at different places. The entire chariot carries  64  specially made dolls (representing 64 arts; in Tamil Aaya kalaigal) such as 8 bulls, 2 dwarapalakas, Rajarani, sword and shield, etc. With devotees chanting ‘Arooraa, Tyagesa’ besides reciting the Thevaram hymns and the rendition of the Vedas by scholars, the religious procession of four chariots including Azhi Ther will be pulled along the four Mada  streets around the temple. Deities such as Ganesha, Subramanya, lord's consort Kamalambika and Chandikewara in separate small chariots will accompany the lord. 

Hydraulic break, Thiruvarur Azhi ther, tamil.news18.com

The four huge steel wheels each weighing more than 1 ton and the axile that weighs higher than the wheels are provided with special hydraulic brakes  (made by BHEL, Tiruchi) to stop the giant Ther. The steel wheels  were made during the DMK regime in 1970, replacing the old teak wood wheels. Apart,  numerous wooden Aapoos or Muttu kattaikal (slender long wooden pieces) are made by the carpenters to be used while the Ther is about to stop. Specially trained people are allowed to use the Aapoos to be put under the moving wheel with caution before the stop; it is a risky job that has to be done with extra precaution. Bulldozers and JPCs are used to gently push the chariot  which is being pulled forward by 5000 devotees on both sides in the front. The giant ropes are more than 450 meters long and one foot in diameter.  Specially made ropes (vadams) are used for this purpose and they alone weigh 15 to 20 tons. Centuries ago 12000 people were required to pull the decorated Aazhi Ther.

What is special about Sri Thyagaraja temple of Thiruvarur, one of the largest temples in India?  Year round  one can have the darshan of only the face of lord enshrined in the garbhagriha unlike other Shiva temples. 

On the day of Thiruvathirai in the Tamil month Margazhi  (December-January) devotees can have  Patha darshan of  the left holy foot (patham) of the lord and on the day of Panguni Uttira   one can enjoy the darshan of right holy foot. This year Panguni Uttiram falls on the 5th of April and on this day from the early morning till the late night devotees can have patha darshan  right patham). The other parts of the lord is covered with flowers, etc.  I am yet find find suitable answer to this tradition of patha worship twice in a year. 

Other interesting aspects of this temple are  it has the largest number of shrines on the temple premises in India and also the biggest temple tank covering more than 25 acres of land. The nine planets Navagraha  idols are placed in a straight line unlike at other temples where they face different directions. 

Lakhs of devotees in this delta region descend on Thiruvarur to get enthralled catch a glimpse of the majestic sight of Veedhividangar  (Shiva) with His consort ‘Kondi’ (Parvathi) on the grand tantalizing richly decorated ratha.