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Festivals


Vasantha Utsavam


Vasantha Utsavam is a ten day Festival observed at Arunachaleswarar Temple, Tiruvannamalai which celebrates the arrival of the spring season and depicts the blossoming of love. It also re-enacts the famed legend of the burning into ashes of Kama, the God of Love and the resurrection of Kama out of the burnt ashes. This festival is celebrated just after the vernal equinox which corresponds to midday of the Gods day. The 10th and final day of the festival coincides with the full moon of Chithirai in conjunction with the Chaithra constellation.

The Gods between Lord Ganesha and the flagpost
The Gods between Lord Ganesha and the flagpost


Lord Somaskanda
Lord Somaskanda


The deity of this festival is Lord Somaskanda, a form of Siva and Parvati, whose shrine is located in the south-west corner, second prakaram of the Arunachaleswarar Temple. After coming out of his shrine, Somaskanda is installed on the first pandal in front of the golden flag pole facing the main shrine. Here the Gods are placed under a canopy of fragrant cooling roots called Vilamichaiver Vimanam (vilamichai root canopy) hand-made by artisans and worshipped with offerings of flowers, waving of lights and burning of camphor to the accompaniment of temple musicians.

Paneer Mandapam before decorations
Paneer Mandapam before decorations


Next the Lord is brought to the second pandal, the Panneer Mandapam, where He is greeted at first with the fragrance of Panneer (rose-water) which is sprinkled downwards, from the top. An offering of light is made and a priest climbs on the pedestal and sits at the feet of the Gods who are decorated with garlands.

Festively ornamented Paneer Mandapam
Festively ornamented Paneer Mandapam


Paneer Mandapam
Paneer Mandapam


The Gods then perform a ritual-dance in front of the mirror placed on the adjacent gallery, with musicians playing in accompaniment. Then the Gods settle under the panneer mandapam to witness a series of elaborate rituals.

Dancing in front of mirror
Dancing in front of mirror


Flowers are showered by a Gandharva Kanni (virgin-nymph) and this is enacted by a puppet activated with strings attached at a adjacent gallery. The Gandharva Kanni puppet comes many times and showers buckets of rose and jasmine flowers onto the Gods. After which a priest pours a pot of water with five vilva leaves in front of the deities and makes an offering of lights.

Pulley system on top of adjacent gallery
Pulley system on top of adjacent gallery


Gandharva Kanni (virgin-nymph)
Gandharva Kanni (virgin-nymph)


Gandharva Kanni showering flowers on the Gods
Gandharva Kanni showering flowers on the Gods


Bucket full of fragrant flowers
Bucket full of fragrant flowers


Close-up of Gandharva Kanni
Close-up of Gandharva Kanni


After these rituals, ten processional rounds take place and the gods are borne on their palanquin ten times around the Makila trees accompanied by musicians and singers and followed by devotees. At the completion of each round, the gods dance in front of the mirror and then remain seated under the panneer mandapam where they receive two floral showers by the Gandharva Kanni and a light offering.

Makila Trees
Makila Trees


This mahapradakshina i.e. round the sacred Makila Maram (trees) within the Third Prakaram - occurs ten times every night for ten days = 100 times. The significance of the 'Makila Maram' comes from the Tamil word which means to enjoy and denotes joy and exultation. In addition the word 'makila' is often pronounced 'makuta' which means crown and refers to the coronation of Lord Siva as the sovereign of the universe.

The third day of Vasantha Utsavam is designated as the birth-date of Manmatha, also known as Kama the God of love. At 9 p.m. on the fifth and eighth days the Temple lights are switched off so that the procession is in the dark. After going around the sacred Makila Maram ten times the lights are switched back on to great rejoicing.

During this sacred Festival the Jumbo Keswara Lingam, that is set in stone on the raised platform in the midst of the sacred trees is filled to capacity with water. Plants and flowers are placed to float inside the recess of the Lingam, appearing to make the Lingam levitate and blossom.

Jumbo Keswara Lingam
Jumbo Keswara Lingam


Kama also known as Manmatha
"When Shakti became Parvati, daughter of the king of Himalayas, She was doing tapas for Lord Siva. At the same time the great sages, the four sons of Brahma, Sanakar, Sanandanar, Santanar, Sanatkumarar came to Lord Siva for enlightenment. The Lord gave them enlightenment in the form of Lord Dakshinamurti.

Meanwhile the Devas, who were tortured by Surapadma and his brothers Taraka, Simhamukha, knew that the demons could be killed only by the son of Lord Siva and Shakti. Disappointed that both the God and Goddess were doing yoga instead of marrying, they asked Kamadeva to disturb the meditating Lord Siva with his arrows in order to induce lust for Parvati.

Kama God of Love shooting arrow at Lord Siva
Kama God of Love shooting arrow at Lord Siva


Kama went to the desolate forest where Siva was deep in meditation. He was accompanied by spring, and in an instant the entire forest was transformed into a beautiful garden. The time was ripe and Kama fitted one of his flower-arrows into his bow of sugarcane and let the arrow fly, aiming at the heart of Lord Siva. The arrow struck its target and Siva opened his eyes. He instantly fell in love with Parvati. However, his anger rose when he realized that Kama had interfered. Siva then opened his third-eye, and gazed with blazing anger at Kama, the God of love. Such was the potent power of Siva's gaze that Kama was instantly reduced to ashes.

Sending cracker on string to ignite Manmatha effigy
Sending cracker on string to ignite Manmatha effigy


Manmatha effigy
Manmatha effigy


Manmatha effigy aflame
Manmatha effigy aflame


Shocked by the death of Kama, the Lord of Love, the Devas realised further plans would not work. They understood that only sincerity wins the Lord's grace and thus surrendered in front of Him and pleaded for mercy. The Lord forgave them and Subrahmanya was brought into life for the destruction of the demons.

On their request the Lord also brought back to life Kama, however with the stipulation that Kama would be visible only to his wife. Because of this Kamadeva is called 'ananga' (one without limbs). From that day on, Manmatha has not had a physical form. Neither Gods nor mortals can perceive him. He does his work unobserved, aided by his flower tipped arrows of love.

The death and resurrection of Kama represent the spiritual truth of how after the ego is destroyed, one is reborn as pure eternal Being. The fact that the flames from the third eye of Siva burn Kama signifies that the third eye of Jnana (knowledge) in one's heart must be opened in order for the ego (ignorance) to be destroyed for no darkness can prevail when the light of knowledge shines.


Kama the God of Love
Kama the God of Love, also known as Manmatha, is one of the mind-born sons of Lord Brahma. Some accounts say he was mind-born son of Lord Vishnu. Rati was his consort.

Manmatha effigy aflame
Kama, God of Love


Kamadeva is represented as a young, handsome winged man with green skin who wields a bow and arrows with a parrot as his vehicle. His bow is made of sugarcane with a string of honeybees, and his arrows are decorated with five kinds of fragrant flowers.

The flowers on his arrows are: Aravinda (White Lotus), Ashoka, Cuta (Mango Flower), Navamalika (Jasmine) and Nilotpala (Blue Lotus). Also known as Unmada, Tapana, Shoshana, Stambhana and Sammohana.

Kamadeva has five arrows which are sometimes associated with five effects that desire has on one afflicted by it. Kamadeva's five arrows are said to be fascination, disturbance, burning, desiccation and destruction.

White Lotus
White Lotus


Ashoka Flower
Ashoka Flower


Mango Flower
Mango Flower


Jasmine Flower
Jasmine Flower


Blue Lotus
Blue Lotus


Chitra Poornima
The 10th and final day of the Vasantha Utsavam festival coincides with the full moon of Chithirai in conjunction with the Chaithra constellation.

Devotees performing Chitra girivalam
Devotees performing Chitra girivalam


Crowds - evening of Chitra girivalam
Crowds - evening of Chitra girivalam


Chitra Poornima is dedicated to Chitragupta, the keeper of deeds in the house of Yama, (God of death) and to Indra, the leader of the Devas. This full moon observance of girivalam at Arunachala, is usually the most heavily attended of the year (other than Karthigai Mahadeepam Poornima).

Chitragupta is the creation of Lord Brahma and the younger brother of the god of death, Yama. According to Hindu mythology, Brahma is the creator of the whole world. He first created sixteen sons from different parts of his body. Then Lord Brahma created his seventeenth son Chitragupta from his belly. Chitragupta is also called `Kayastha` as he was created from the body of Lord Brahma. Chitragupta (Chitra means picture, Gupta means hidden) represents the hidden picture of life that is vital, yet unknown.

Chitragupta
Chitragupta


Chitragupta keeps the good and bad registry of every birth and according to ancestral belief, it is he who tallies a person's positive karma against their negative karma and declares the result to the Judge on High. When the full moon of Chithirai is in conjunction with the Chaithra constellation, is believed to be the right time to gain blessings to wash away sin and gain virtue.

It is a general belief that on this night, any religious act of absolution like bathing in sacred waters or pradakshina around a holy mountain will propitiate Chitragupta who may obliterate the records of one's bad deeds as a result. Hence millions come to Tiruvannamalai on this night to do giripradakshina.


Legend of Chitra Poornima
Brihaspati was the Guru of Indra, the King of the Gods. When Indra disobeyed Brihaspati, Brihaspati relinquished his role of instructing and guiding Indra. Consequently during the period of the Guru's absence, Indra committed many evil acts. When the compassionate Guru resumed his role, Indra wanted to know what he should do to expiate the wrongs he had done in his Master's absence. Brihaspati asked Indra to undertake a pilgrimage.

One day during this pilgrimage, Indra had the sudden realisation that he had been redeemed from his sins. He looked around and noticed a Siva Lingam under a Kadamba tree. Feeling sure that it was Lord Siva who had helped him alleviate his sins, he worshipped the Lingam. Suddenly golden lotuses appeared in a nearby pond as a manifestation of God's pleasure and blessing. This legend is ascribed to have occurred on the day of Chitra Poornima, at Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

This special day has come to be known in Tamil Nadu as Chitra Poornima. It is advised that during Chitra Poornima one should remember this story. With intense faith and a contrite heart it is believed that if one admits to one's sins and resolves never to commit such errors in the future and also pledges to always obey the Guru, then one's previous sins will be forgiven.