Thanjavur (TN) Big temple ''Chithirai'' chariot festival of 2022 held to day after a gap of two years!

India is a land of festivals that evolve around gods' birthday (Janma Ashtami or navami), change of seasons like winter, spring, harvest  time, etc. Such festivities promote harmony among people of different castes, tradition, etc.,   across India and  they not only bring the people together  for a common purpose to work in unison  but also offer them a change, a sort of break from  from  mechanical and materialistic  existence and much more. The various Indian festivals including the ones held in temples  bear testimony to this vast country's vibrant and diverse  culture, long-held tradition , etc., Examples Puri janganath temple of odisha, Thiruvarur (TN) Azhi Ther, Sri Andal temple chariot festival of Srivilliputhur (TN) Madurai Kallazhagar Thiruvizha, Durga  Puja festival of W. Bengal, etc.  

Happy Tamil Puthondu 14th April 2022.

The Chithirai temple of Big temple, Thanjavur   is a unique event that is held annually on a grand scale. It will normally last for 18 long days and as part of it, the deities will be taken out in a religious procession accompanied by drummers,  music, etc. In the past two years  between 2020 and 2021 the  festivities were held on a low key level owing to COVID 19 Pandemic that had shaken up  the people across the world.  In the wake of it, temple festivals, puja protocols, etc.,   were held  across India at famous shrines with very much restricted audiences. The Chithirai festival at Brigadeeshwar temple was held in a simple way in the last consecutive years, besides cancellation of yearly temple car festival. The rituals, etc were held  within the four walls of the temple  to avoid crowds. 

Big temple car festival 2022, Thanjavur.

Chithirai festival, Flag-hoisting  at big temple, Thanjavur.

 Ther(Chariot) mantap, West main st. Thanjavur.

The people of Thanjavur  after  a long gap participated in the temple car festival with enthusiasm and religious fervor. The festival began on the 30th of  March with flag-hoisting ceremony on the temple premises right before the main shrine close to Nandi mantap.  Flag-hoisting is a customary event in all Hindu  temples  before the beginning of major festivals. Until 12th of April there was  a religious procession of deities mounted on special platform  from the temple after 8 to 8.30 pm all along the main streets. The main deities were adorned on a special vahana each night accompanied by drummers and music. 

 Today - 13 April   after special 'Deeparathana' was performed and the devotees, led by Collector Dinesh Ponraj Oliver, started pulling the car at the main venue Chariot mandapam. the hereditary trustee  Babaji Raja Bhonsale  was also present.  The grand chariot procession  with   beautifully decorated chariot began moving  along  four raja veedhis - west, north, east and south main streets.   Seated on the elevated platform on the wooden base of the ther are the bejeweled and decorated idols of deities
Thanjavur city location map, TN.

In the morning after completion  of certain  temple  rituals on the big temple premises the  various participating idols were taken to the Chariot mantap (Ther mandapam)  right across the the branch of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti madam  on the West main street.  The processional  idols  (Uchavars) of Sri Tyagaraja and Sri Kamalmbal adorned the main big and tall  chariot, those of Sri Ganesa, Sri Subramanya, Sri Chandikeswarar and Sri Neelotamman were taken in chariots that accompanied the main car during the procession. In front of the chariots,  groups of men and women participated in events like   traditional 'Kummiyattam', 'Kolattam' and 'Thappattam'.  Groups of people also played certain musical instruments often associated with Shiva temple - Thambai, Udumba, Kombu and other traditional instruments.  Pots with sprouted seeds (Mulaippari) were taken in front of the car on a tractor.

The  temple chariot  was nicely decorated. The rich carved wooden base  of the chariot is 16 and 1/2 foot tall and the total height of the ther including the canopy over it is about 30 feet;  the  weight of wooden base is about 50 tons. The 30 foot tall chariot looked as if it had occupied 2/3rds of the width of the newly widened street.  As  the  chariot has not been taken out for a long period  special attention was made and the wooden parts consisting of 231 delicately carved wooden images of deities representing various puranic episodes  were given  fresh coat of  varnish. The wooden base was designed by Sthapati Varadarajan of Arumbavur and his men who did an excellent job with meticulous care.  The work was done as per scriptures in the Agama sastras  He and his team comprising about 30 trained workers handled roughly 1170 cubic feet of quality wood. it took one and half years for them to complete the work including the  four wooden wheels. The credit goes to late CM of  Tamil nadu  J. Jayalalitha who evinced keen interest in this  project and the big temple chariot for the first time moved along the four raja streets in April 2015 after a pretty long hiatus roughly 100 years!!  Chola ruler Raja Raja built the temple  (made entirely of granite related  rock) in 1010 CE and it is a UNESCO recognized world heritage site.  

COVID being on the decline, the devotees in thousands gave a big sigh of relief and participated in the festivities without any hesitation and and mental agony by way of  pulling the  long and big ropes  tied to the ther.  Pulling the Ther Vadam (ropes tied to the chariot) is  part of  paying respect  to the deities and participation in it, it is believed,  will  give peace of mind and prosperity to the  devotees. 

The temple authorities and  local administration including the police took care of this grand event without any untoward incidents. A large posse of police stood near the main chariot. Under the direction from IG Balakrishnan, local DIG Kayalvizhi and  DSP Ms. Ravali Priya  made adequate protection (banthobasthu) with a huge contingent of police - roughly 600 to 700  police men and women.   An interesting aspect is  widening of four main   streets is going on as part of SMART CITY project initiated by the central govt.  along with the state administration.   Certain places on the streets where structures are either under repair or demolition were carefully barricaded to avoid mishaps.  The ''Therrottam'' took place in the midst of several hurdles  midway  in these places. Kudos to TMC and other officials. 

2022 Chariot festival, Thanjavur

Above image: Chithrai Car festival, Thanjavur 2022. The chariot event took place on 13 April 2022 after corona pandemic. Only in 2019 this event took place. The main streets where the Chariots ran are being widened on both sides by the municipal corporation as part of Smart City project. The Municipal commissioner, being honest and upright, removed countless structures in many places in the city as they were built on Govt. land  and the occupants never paid the yearly taxes. ............... 

The huge ther had 14 pre-planned scheduled stops for the benefits of   people . The car stopped for several minutes  and the the following places worth mentioning:  Konganeswarar temple on west main street, Moolai Hanuman temple,  Rathnabureeswarar temple Gurukula Sanjivi temple on  North main street,  Kodimarathu Moolai Vittaobha temple, Manikarikeswara temple on the  East main street and on the South main street at kaliyuga  Varadharaja Perumal temple, Ganesha temple (at the entrance of  Manojiappa street, Kasi Viswanathar temple and  Kaliamman temple close to  Canara bank. At all these places Deepa Aradhara, etc were  done  for the benefit of a large gathering of devotees, mostly women.  The chanting of Om Namachivaya ranted the air all along the streets.  In all four streets charitable people distributed free food, cool drinks, etc to the devotees and to those who pulled the ropes (ther vadam). 

The chariots  started moving along the starting point  in the morning around  6-15  and  the devotees, led by Collector Dinesh Ponraj Oliver  started pulling the giant chariot.   After   moving through the four main  streets and halting at 14 important locations they  returned to the base just past noon. Till such a time, the entire event was marked by devotion, dedication and religious fervor and this year, the crowd  was unexpectedly a big one; particularly, the children had a swell time buying toys and candies, etc.    For the people of Thanjavur, it was a memorable and joyous occasion,  a change from mundane life  because the people went through a  difficult ad painful phase of their lives in the last two consecutive years. The TMC for the smooth  ride of the chariots, temporarily jerry built  asphalt cover on the four streets and further several cross sterns and lanes  joining the arterial roads were blocked with traffic barricades. Numerous tanks with potable tanks were also  arranged for the devotees as the days become warmer nowadays.

The big temple chariot festival of Chithirai  has been a legacy of Chola,  Nayak and Maratha  reign in this part of present  day Tamil  Nadu and the tradition continues even today though there were breaks in the past. During the Chola period the festival  was called  Uttama- Mahotsava, a 17-day festival event.