Puri Jagannath Ratha (Odisha) and Aazhi Ther (Ratha) of Thiruvarur (TN) - How do they differ?

Jagannath rath yatra.freepik.com

Thruvarur Azhi Ther, Tamil nadu.southasianart.gallery

Among the large and exciting temple  festivals of India, the annual Ratha yatra of Jagannath of  Puri temple, Odisha and the annual Aazhi therottam  (chariot festival) of Thyagaraja Swami  (god Shiva), Thiruvarur of Tamil Nadu  can be marked out for their uniqueness.  The ratha yatra consisting of three rathas  from Jagannath temple to Gundicha temple is part of a 9-day spectacular event. The annual car festival of  Thiruvarur of Tamil Nadu  called Thiruvarur Therottam gets equal weightage and importance for some other reason. The temple car is one of the largest and heaviest  in Asia.  

Thiruvarur  (Cauvery delta dist.), Tamil Nadu, Indiamap.com

Puri town, Odisha, India.censusindia.co.in

Equally as grand as the Puri ratha yatra, the Aazhi Ther thiruvizha of Thiruvarur does not  get enough publicity as it deserves from the  state tourism department, hence the  awareness about this big festival and the huge chariot in other states is  very much limited.  Its popularity is mostly confined to Tamil Nadu.  In terms of grandeur and beauty both  Puri  and Thiruvarur chariots  are equally on par with each other. 

The ratha yatra, as it is widely known in states like West Bengal, Odisha or Jharkhand, have joyous and colorful celebrations. On that occasion the representatives of the deities (processional idols or utchavars) coming out of the temple accompanied by devotees  with music, dance, etc., will be mounted on a chariot to go on a journey through the Kshetra (region or streets; classified as Maada or Ratha veeyhis in TN) to another temple or to the river or the sea. In many cases as in South India,  festivities  come to an end upon the idols   returning to the sanctum  of the temple.

Ratha Yatra of Puri Jagannath, Odisha:

Puri Jangannath rath yatra, odisha. upload.wikimedia.org

.Puri jagannath rathas in the making, odisha.indiatimes.com

Puri ratha in the making, odisha.indiatvnews.com

Tradition has it God  lord Jagannath (god Vishnu), every year makes  journey to the  Gundicha temple - 3 km from the main temple before night fall  during the festival  along with his  brother Sri Balabhadra and sister  Subhadra, and his divine weapon Sri Sudarshana,  This rath yatra, historian say  has been around since 1230 CE.

Puri, early ratha yatra painting by J. Fergussion.upload.wikimedia.org

This festival is observed on the Shukla Paksha Dwitiya Tithi in the month of Aashadha. This year it took place on the first of July 2022 (Friday)

Rathas in the making, Puri, odisha..indiatimes.com

The Puri Rathas are huge wheeled wooden structures built anew every year. It takes roughly  2 to 3 months to construct them.  Logs derived from  trees like dhausa and phassi  are widely used in the making of ratha and the work begins with a simple religious ceremony on the temple premises  around four months before the Ratha Yatra. The wok will  begin on the auspicious occasion of Saraswati Puja or Basanta Panchami - in February. The trees are specially raised in two nearby forests- Dashpalla and Ranapur.

Every year, more than 1000 carpenters work voluntarily to  build the three  huge chariots as per specification  from scratch. No metal nail is allowed in the making of the chariots. The  rathas are  made from over 13,000 cubic feet of selected wood. As part of the procedure, the logs are set afloat as rafts in the Mahanadi and then transported to this place by road.

Wooden wheels, Balabhadra chariot, Puri, Odisha. twitter.com

Puri Jagannath temple, Chariot  made of wood. wheelrathyatra.net

Based on the color of the canopy on the chariot  you can identify the deity. The chariot of ''Jagannath'' has a yellow and red color canopy, largest among the three with a height of 45 feet having 16 wheels. 
The chariot of  ''Balabhadra''  with 14 wheels (ht. 43'.3'')   has  green and red  color canopy with black horses, whereas  the chariot of  ''Subadhra'' with 12 wheels (six feet and eight inches in diameter; height 43 feet and 3 inches) has  red and black canopy - black symbolizes Shakti, the Mother Goddess.

Deities of Jagannath temple, Puri.newsable.asianetnews.com

The construction of the chariots strictly starts on Akshaya Tritiya, in front of the palace of the King of Puri and opposite the main office of the Puri temple.

According to the religious tradition here, the rath yatra begins after Gajapati Maharaja, the King of Puri, wearing the dress of a sweeper,  sweeps the ground around all three rathas with idols using fragrant water.  He uses  specially made golden broom, implying the king is a servant of the lord. The ex-ruler, also known as the first servitor of the Lords, does 'Chhera Pahanra' (the holy cleaning of the chariots).  The idols of God Jagannath and others  will be back to their abode- garbagriha  after a stay of 9 days at the Gundicha Temple. the festival comes to an end upon reaching the main temple. 

After the Rath Yatra, the chariots are dismantled and the wood is used in the kitchen of Jagannath Temple to cook Mahaprasad (offering to the deities).
Aazhi Ther/ Ratha of Thyagaraja Swami, Thiruvarur, TN

Azhi ther Thiruvarur, wooden base. flickr.com

The festival falls in the Chithirai month - March - April and will be for 25 days. Besides, there are 4 large thers - chariots for other  deities - lord's consort, Ganapathi, Subramanya and Sandikeswerer , they will be back to the base in the evening. 

Azhi Ther (ratha), Thruvarur, TN othibalaji.wordpress.com

In the case of Aazhi ther/ ratha  that carries God Shiva and his consort, the richly decorated wooden base is a permanent one and the decoration of canopy may vary from time to time. The wooden base has intricate carvings of themes taken from the  Hindu epics of  Mahabharata or Ramayana. There are countless  fascinating wooden carvings in the rently made ratha. 

Azhi ther, Thiruvarur, TN.elevation.maplogs.com

Thiruvarur chariot festival, is of  great antiquity much older than Puri rath yatra. About 7th century  it  is mentioned in the devotional hymns of  saints Appar, Sundarar and Manikkavasagar in Thevaram. The Panguni Uttiram festival of Tiruvarur finds a mention in the seventh regnal year (1140 CE) inscription of Kulottunga Chola. In the ancient  Sangam literature   Silapathikaram, reference to Azhi ther is mentioned. 
Azhi ther, Thiruvarur, TN.thehindu.com

Wooden base, Azhi ther, Thiruvarur, TN tamil.news18.com

Thiruvarur Ther is the  largest and heaviest  one in Asia - as tall as 10 story building with decorations;  the kalasam alone accounts for six feet, thus making the chariot’s overall weight  up to 300 to 350 tons.  The height of the  nicely carved wooden base (made in 1930) as per shilpa shastra  alone  is 35 feet (width: 31feet) and  is made from teak wood.  The car is so huge it has be pulled forward  by roughly 3000 to 5000  devotees holding the four huge ropes, each measuring 144 feet long and one foot diameter. Specially made hydraulic braking  system is in place to stop the car. Also heavy duty bulldozers are used to push the Chariot forward. 

Unfortunately the festival was not held continuously at Thiruvarur unlike the  ratha yatra of Puri. In 1922, the wooden base of the Aazhi ther was set on fire by  the  agitating members of  Justice party (a political party in the Madras Presidency of British India founded in  in November 1916). Fortunately, the panchaloha idol on the burning chariot was retrieved  by a master craftsman of the temple construction.   The Aazhi ther has been running every year since 2010. In 2020 and 2021, it did not run due to covid-19. 

Aazhi therottam is part of  the culture of this delta district. Unlike Puri ratha yatra where the deities are taken from the main temple  to another temple  for 9 day stay and then back to the base, at Thiruvarur the  giant chariot  procession will move around all the four Maada veethis - streets in the midst of  recitation of Thevaram devotional  hymns and rendition of Vedas by pundits and finally will be back to the abode before sun down. 
Tit bits: 
Brief note on Puri and Thiruvarur Temples:

Thiagaraja Swami Temple Tiruvarur, TN:

Thyagaraja swami temple, Thiruvarur, TN.gosthala.com

Above image: Thyagarajaswami (Lord Shiva) Temple chariot, Tiruvarur, TN.  One of the biggest temples in India dedicated to God Shiva, the  temple complex alone covers 17 acres of land  and the famous  temple tank Kamalayayam almost covers about 25  acres and the water won't dry up in the hot summer.  So  massive, the temple has nine gateway towers (gopurams) in all cardinal directions, 80 vimanas, twelve temple walls, 13 halls, fifteen large temple water bodies, three gardens, and three large prakaras. (prathakshana path) around the sanctum. This temple has the largest number shines (sannidhis) in India.  Likewise the temple tank with natural springs in the tank bed is the largest one in this country. 
Thyagaraja swami temple, Thiruvarur, bharattemples.com

The main gopuram of the temple is seven-tiered and raises to a height of 118 ft (36 m). The two main Shiva  shrines of the temple are for Vanmikinathar (Shiva) and ThyagarajaVanmikinathar shrine is older than the other and the deity in the form of a linga  swayambhu murti/ self-manifested) is believed to have grown from an ancient anthill (molehill; in Tamil Puttru). Hence no abhishekam is done to him.
Some parts of the temple are dated to 9th CE.  The temple has numerous shrines, with those of Veedhi Vidangar (Thiyagarajar) and Alliyankothai (Neelothbalambal) being the most prominent.  As no  Abhishekam is   performed to Valmika Nathar,  instead it  is done to the Maragatha Lingam (Emerald lingam)  kept in this temple.  As part of puja ritual   Maragatha Linga  (known as Veedhi Vidanga Linga) believed to have been worshipped earlier by Indira)  worship  takes place at 8.30 a.m., 11.00 a.m. and at 7.00 p.m. each day.

idols of Thiagarajar and kamalambigai, Thiruvarur, TNmaalaimalar.com/

Above image: The idols of Sri Thygaraja and his consort Kamalamba.  In the sanctum almost year around their pathm ( holy feet) are not  visible except on two occasions. Here their patha darshan is considered very essential. This ancient  Sri Thyagaraja temple is dedicated to the Somaskanda aspect of Shiva.

Largest   temple tank kamalalayam, Thiruvarur, flicker.com

The unusual  temple tradition here is the pathams (holy feet; patha darshan) of Thyagaraja are shown twice a year and  rest of the period  they are  covered with flowers. The idol of Thiagarajar is covered with a piece of cloth and flowers, so that only his and amman's face is visible. His right foot and Parvati's (consort's other name Kondi) right foot are revealed for darshan on Arudra Dharshan in the month of Margazhi, while his left foot and amman's left foot are revealed on Panguni Uthiram.

A rare feature is unlike other temples, here there are two shrines dedicated to navagrahas. The location of  two nine Navagraha idols   (planetary deities):  one toward the south  in straight line  and also in northwest corner of 1st prakaram - pradakshina path. Legend has it here all planetary deities  are free from curses and they came here to worship him. 
Jagannath temple of  Puri, Odisha: 

Coastal Puri,Jagannath temple complex, Odisha.upload.wikimedia.org

Jagannath temple, Puri, Odisha.jansatta.com

Jagannath temple deities, Jagannath and others.opindia.com

Above image: Three deities of Jagannath temple - Jagannath, Shri Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra, Representational image of  Jagannath is worshipped even today as Neela Madhab. here Jagannath was a tribal deity, adorned by the Sabar people as a symbol of Narayan. This being due to the fact the three images in the sanctum predate the construction of this temple (completed in 1226 CE). Unlike other temples, devotees can go near the images (idols) or go around them and pray........

Main gate puri temple, Odisha, upload.wikimedia.org

The present temple of Jagannath of Puri,  was rebuilt on the old pre-existing site from the 10th century onwards within the enclosure. Thee main temple came up later; last builder: Anantavarman Chodaganga, the first king of the Eastern Ganga dynasty.  The three  wooden images in the sanctum are made of wood - daru (neem wood) and they will be ceremoniously replaced every 12 o 19 years. The sanctified images are mounted on the jewelry-encrusted platform or ratnabedi, (throne of pearls) along with statues of Sudarshana Chakra, Madanmohan, Sridevi and Vishwadhatr. Here, one can see a fusion of Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism.. The deities are also looked upon as Bhairava and Vimala (Devi as the consort of Shiva).

One of the Char Dham pilgrimage sites (four divine sites) - including Rameswaram, Badrinath, Puri and Dwarka,  Puri Jagannath is one of the holiest sites for the Hindus who visit from all over the world. and is widely patronized by ISKON. It is an important pilgrimage center for  followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism,  founded by saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who lived in Puri for some time., 

The huge temple complex covers over 400,000 square feet and is surrounded by a high fortified wall. Centuries ago the temple faced raids from Delhi rulers in particular Aurangzeb  There are as many as 120 temples and shrines within the confines of this temple. The temple kitchen where Mahaprasad is prepared is the largest in India, perhaps in the world and can feed thousands of people a day. Tasty Food is cooked in earthen pots on  fire-wood hearths.