''Anna Abhishekam'' - an important Shiva temple ritual done at the Big Temple Thanjavur!

Thanjavur big temple,youtube.com

Anna Abhishekam at Thanjavur big temple 2013.  thehindu.com

Above image: In 2013 Anna Abhishekam was done on the Pournami day of the Tamil month Aippasi with 800 kg of cooked rice and 300 kg of vegetables. The Prasadam was distributed among the devotees......

Among the Shiva temples,  abhishekam  is part of daily puja ritual  before decorating the deity and doing Aarti.  It is also true of many other temples including those dedicated to  goddesses.  On the other hand in the case of Sri Vishnu temples, it is done rarely. ''Thailakkappu'' is a common ritual and  it involves applying herbal oil on the moolavar idol  before decoration of the deity with flowers, jewels, etc.

Gangaikondacholapuram Templecommons.wikimedia.org

Anna Abhishekam  is an important  annual ritual of  bathing the deity with cooked rice. Quite common in the Shiva temples of south India  where the deity is in the form of  ''linga''  (the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva’s energy) it is done on  the Full Moon day (pournami) in the Tamil month of Aippasi (mid-Oct to mid-Nov). This ritual is also called  Maha Anna Abhishekam 

UNESCO recognized Big temple, Thanjavur, TN. flicker.com

Generally speaking Abhishekam is done with sacred items like  holy water, cow’s milk, ghee (clarified butter), coconut water, sugarcane juice, sandalwood paste, Vibhuti (sacred ash), curd, panchamirtam (made of  5 items including bananas, dates, honey, crystal sugar, etc.), mango powder, rice and turmeric powder.  Cooked rice is commonly used followed by sandalwood paste or turmeric water. 

The ritual of Anna Abhishekam  is done reverentially as a way of expressing our  gratitude to Lord Shiva, who  is an embodiment of pancha boothas - five essential elements  needed for survival and sustenance.  The raising of food grains is the result of the acts of 5 natural elements in unison   When the seed that is sown in the land, is nourished by water from the sky (in the form of rain),  energy from the Sun and is transformed into paddy with the help of wind. Rice from the  paddy is cooked and eaten  by  all living  creatures. 

The idol of Shiva is covered with cooked rice, along with an assortment of vegetables decorating the upper part of the Lingam. Aarti is done (Deepa Aradhana)  at the end of the ritual and the cooked  rice on the deity  is normally distributed as Prasadam  (offering) to the devotees.   

 The ritual is  famous at the  Brahadeeswarar temple of Thanjavur where the huge lingam (13.6 feet tall and 60 feet in diameter) is enshrined in the garbagriha/sanctun or srikovil. The presiding deity  is covered entirely with cooked rice and boiled vegetables form the garland. Tradition has been that “Sri Rudram” is  being chanted continuously throughout the ceremony. This ritual is done at many Shiva temples  in Thruchirapalli, Thiruvarur, Kumbakonam, etc. 

As to the benefits of  Anna Abhishekam it promotes peace of mind, family welfare, success in business  and promotes memory and retention. 

Anna  Abhishekam  ritual was done today  20 October 2021 at the famous Sri  Brahadeeswarar temple, Thanjavur. Locally called  Peruvudaiyar the main deity   tall Sivalingam  was covered with cooked rice. In accordance with  age old tradition being followed at Shiva temples,  the  Moolavar idol  will be anointed with a specific items t on every full moon day.  The ‘Siva lingam’ will be  normally covered with cooked rice.  About 750 kg of rice and 600 kg of vegetables and sweets were used to decorate the Sivalingam at the Big Temple. As for the Shiva linga at the  Gangaikondachola Puram, annabishekam was done with hundred kg of cooked rice right from the morning to evening at the temple. and the prasadam was distributed among the devotees. 

After Maha abishekam and deeparadhana (Aarti) in the noon, the Sivalingam was adorned with cooked rice in the afternoon. A large number of devotees thronged the temple on the occasion.

The Kanchi Sankaracharia Mutt in the past 3 decades or so  has been making special arrangement and provide 100kg of rice for Anna abhisehekam.