Azhi Ther (chariot) of Thiruvarur, Tamil Nadu - countless unknown facts!!

Tyagaraja swami temple,Thiruvarur big ratha,

Among the temple cars or chariots of India, the Thiruvarur Azhi Ther (big ratham) of  Sri Thyagaraja Swamy (Lord Shiva) temple holds a prominent place. It is part of Panguni Uthiram festivities in April or May.  There is an old saying in Tamil about the chariot: "Thiruvarur Ther Azagu". It is one a few heaviest  (weighing more than 400 tons) and tallest rathams (96 feet tall; roughly nine story building) - chariots in India. The base of the chariot is 36 feet tall; dimension 31 feet by 31 feet with a tare weight of 300 tons.  It used to have four sturdy wooden wheels. After 1988, it was fitted with steel wheels to bear the enormous weight, while rolling on the street. What is so special about it this time? The car festival took place last month after a brief hiatus during which time the chariot underwent renovation and major replacements at a cost of more than two crore rupees. Befitting the size of the huge temple complex, covering about 21 acres and its largest water tank in India (pushkarani) Kamalalayam (covering about 15 acres) in the center of this district capital, the mammoth chariot is a major attraction. It is  an amazing sight to watch the giant chariot mildly swaying and passing by the water tank, being pulled  by devotees in thousands and pushed  from behind  it by heavy duty bulldozers.

Last month on June 16, 2016 this ratha / ther was ceremoniously taken around the four streets and thousands of people pulled the rope to keep the majestic ther moving. This chariot festival of Sri Thyagaraja Swamy temple took place after a long hiatus. 

Location Thiruvarur, TN

The following are the interesting facts about the Azhi Ther of thiruvarur:

01. After the chariot festival in 2010, the temple car was dismantled for refit, overhauling of brakes, etc., and renovation.

02. A sum of  Rs. 2.17 crore was spent  recently on repair work and the trial run was held last in October last year. The ratham is fitted with hydraulic break., it is believed in the 1990s and  prior to that period  a few hundred logs of wood were kept to be used as break to stop the   giant chariot.

03. This  huge ratha was not in service for a long time prior to 1988 for various reasons.  It was in 1988 a major restoration  work was undertaken under the skilled Sthapathis (skilled artisans who design, make images in wood and stones). The work involved 50 decorators to look after paintings and adornment of the car. The entire work cost around Rs.600,000.00 only. Now the cost will be prohibitive - ten times more.

04. Carpenters made four large 3m tall and 7m long wooden horses, representing four Vedas, besides several small horses. They are not made every year, however, if necessity arises new wooden horses are made mostly in the temple town of Kumbakonam. 

05. In this major restoration work 60 tons of bamboo, 10 tons of Casuarina wood and 2 tons of other wood were used, besides 3000 meters of cloth and gum worth Rs. 5000.00 for various pasting work.

Tiruvarur thyagaraja  swamy temple, kamalalayam -kulam

05. The wooden base of the car (ther) built in 1930 was retained along with 400 amazingly beautiful  icons that adorn all sides. It alone weighs 220 tons. Its height is 31 feet so is the width.

06. Four big ropes  each 144 meter long were specially made  from coconut fiber obtained from the husk of roughly 100,000 coconuts.

07. According to Marathi Modi scripts available at Thanjavur Saraswathi Mahal Library, details of the chariot festival of 1748 held at Tyagaraja swamy temple, Tiruvarur  were given.  Yet another record mentioned the participation of the then Maratha ruler of Thanjavur Raja Thulaja II in the chariot festival of 1765 (prior to the American war of independence!!)

08. On account of unexpected fire accident that totally damaged the chariot in 1727, the car festival was stopped for years. and the car festival was back on the track on March 03, 1930. New chariot was made through public donations; thanks to the munificence of rich land lords and philanthropists in the Delta district. 

09, After 1948 the Azhi Ther did not see the light for unknown reasons and the festival was not conducted until 1970. 

10. Consistently there has been no continuity in Azhi Ther festival until now since last century and various reasons are offered,

11. After a long gap and major restoration work in 1988, the chariot was on the Mada Streets and the devotees covered 1.5 km route in 12 hours, indeed a great task in those days. Normally 10,000 to 15000 people wold be required to pull the 'ther'. 

12. Being a delta region with lots of cultivable lands, the landlords and Zamindars, in the by-gone years, used to supply their farm hands to pull the giant  ther on festival days. In those days more than 10000 people needed to pull the giant ratha forward.

 13. The number of of rope pullers has come down considerably over a period of time, as  heavy duty bulldozers do the major pushing from behind the temple car. presently 3000 to 4000 people are needed to move the ther. They are divided into four rows. 

14.  Next to Jagannath Temple (Puri, Odisha)'s Rath Yatra, Tiruvarur Azhi Ther attracts more than 2 lakh devotees.

15, The processional deities Tyagaraja and his consort Parvati/Kondi  will arrive at the Devasiriya Mandapam in the Thyagaraja Swami temple two weeks before the main event. Following Urchavars' arrival,  the decoration of the magnificent chariot will commence.

16. The temple car  and the festival were back in 2010 after a long gap of 20 long years. Ex CM of Tamil Nadu took the initiative and put the giant Azhi Ther back on the Mada Streets around the temple. 

17. Besides Azhi Ther, there are four  well-decorated  rathas for other deities - lord's consort Kamalambika, Ganapathy, lord Subramanya and Chandikeswarar.

The temple ratha festivals across India have been taking place despite the negative aspects of the modern life where every body is lost in the mechanical mundane life.  At stake are our  happiness  and peace of mind. Everybody is chasing things that are transient in nature. Such great temple events are a good  opportunity for the people to improve their public participation, loosen their stressed lives and  experience the spiritual happiness. Indeed, the festival time is the blessed one.