'Aluntharali' - Appears and Blesses

"The Utsava in me known as the embodied form is of two varieties - the stationery and the mobile" (Vidyesvarasamhita v 19 - Sivapurana)
The Granite Utsava, a fixed personified image of the Divine, blesses us all and never leaves the temple.

The Aluntharali Utsava, the mobile personified deity, appears from out of the temple to bless us all.

Many years ago, on the final day of Karthigai Deepam, one of the special holy days of the Hindu calendar, a small child visited the Temple of Lord Arunachaleswarar. He walked around the vast Temple watching the ceremony and sat for many hours in front of the holy Garbagraha Shrine. From that time onwards the child's tender soul grew in the light and joy of what he had first perceived on that holy day.

Thus, it came to pass, when the child had grown to manhood, he would sometimes be asked to recall the impressions of his early life. It was on one such occasion, when he was sitting with his disciples and he was asked the reason for his great affection for the Maha Ther Thiruvizha, that I had the great pleasure of sitting nearby and listening to his words.This is what the wise master told his disciples:

"One day, as if by chance, I came to an out-of-the-way room in my parent's house, in which all sorts of books and papers were piled up. On top of one these piles there was a large heavy book bound in dark blue velvet with beaten silver corners and silver clasps. I was very young, about six years old at the time, but I managed to stand on a stool, stretch up and take the book. I then took the book into my room, where I gently loosened the clasps and opened the pages. Those broad, black letters and wonderful pictures of far away places stared up at me, new and yet not as strangers to my soul. I tell you, the book was like a deep lake of memories from which two eyes of the past were looking up at me, begging me to take a plunge into eternity. I knew then, from that very young age, that one day I would visit some of the glorious temples and see the Holy Ther Chariots depicted in that book.

As I grew older and became more and more inquisitive, my parents, on the advice of their elders, sent me to my uncle's home in Tiruvannamalai some distance away from my native place. And, it was there, on one of our holy Thiruvizha days, that I saw a Ther for the first time in this earthly life. It brought back those early memories, making a startling impact on my soul, as if something of great importance had plunged deep within and was holding it in a vice like grip. I am sure many devotees feel this inner contact when they hear the inner call.

Since that time I have taken part in many of the Lord's Ther Thiruvizhas, always trying to be there on the first day in time for the Kodi Atham, the raising of the ceremonial flag. In some temples the festival lasts for many days and all of them, whether they last for one day or more, have brought great joy to my heart.

It is not unusual to see many Thers on the streets at the same time. Always extremely awe-inspiring to see devotees, sometimes thousands of them, out on the streets taking part, offering up baskets of flowers, receiving God's blessing, and accepting holy ash from gurukkals, who continuously repeat holy mantras as the Ther moves around the holy route. The light in their eyes and the happiness on their faces as they look at the beauty and the splendour of the deities being taken around the streets never fails to amaze me.

Thers are rather like palanquins used many years ago in the east, and also in the west, before the age of the motor vehicle. They were used for carrying important individuals. They were ornate covered booths held and supported by strong wooden poles, carried by two or more men.

Thers have also been likened to ancient brightly coloured horse driven chariots. But, although beautiful prancing horses are often seen sculptured on the front of a Ther, they are more like a palanquin, because even in this modern era the Ther is still moved around our streets by human hands. This is what makes the Maha Thiruvizha - great chariot festival so special.

There are numerous Ther Chariots, most of them designed and built for a specific deity. There are extremely ornate and brightly painted versions made of wood, and others, including the Vahanams (vehicle) of the deities, can also be made of precious metals and precious stones - garnets and rubies and some with beautiful cut glass.

Thers can be small booths which are easy to carry, while others can be extremely large with massive wooden wheels, often without rubber tyres, that have to be pushed and pulled up and down hilly roads and over rocks and stones by devotees. It can often take many hours, sometimes even days, to propel a large Maha Rahdam Ther around a giripradakshina route of a temple.

The smaller Thers are used within the inner and outer prakarams of the Temple. The larger Thers only in the outer prakaram (streets), where they are kept safely covered, usually near the Raja Gopuram of a temple, where they wait for the next annual Ther Thiruvizha.

Something extremely significant is taking place when the Aluntharali deity is taken from its holy shrine within the Temple and placed into the Ther Chariot for the yearly Thiruvizha. The Divine has given us the opportunity to take His mobile embodied Utsava image out of the temple and move with Him in a giripradakshina route around His temple through the streets of our towns and villages.

The Ther Thiruvizha festival is an active and demanding form of worship. When we walk with the Divine Ther on the streets we are not sitting back taking a sedentary role, we are truly taking an interactive social role and acknowledging that the Divine is amongst us in this world of form. We can actually see the Divine Aluntharali, image of Divinity, offer our devotion, receive the blessing and understand His commands. This is why the Maha Ther Thiruvizha is important for the spiritual development of the human race.

It is such an enjoyable experience when we join with other devotees on such an active holy walk. It is wonderful worshipping the Divine in the temple and feeling the glowing camaraderie when we join together to lift His Aluntharali image into the Ther. It's a wonderful sensation holding onto the ropes and the poles, or even jumping on the back slabs under the wooden wheels as we to start or halt a gigantic Maha Radham as it makes its slow progress around the giripradakshina route. It is such a joyful feeling when we string flowers into garlands ready to be placed around the Divine image, or take an active social part ensuring the safety of other devotees, cooking mountains of food, or playing a musical instrument and even dancing along the route. Yes, we can join in so many joyful activities to make the Ther Thiruvizha a success.

There is no greater love than when a man mingles with his fellow creatures, talks, listens, gives and takes with them while at the same time embracing God in the secrecy of the heart. When we join together for the Ther Thiruvizha we are doing all this. We are playing an active and social role and strengthening the bonds of unity, while enthusiastically, at the same time, deeply acknowledging the Divine is in everything and is everywhere.

Of course, taking part in the Ther Thiruvizha is extremely important, but it is not simply taking part in the festival because it is the practice in our country of birth, or because we are told that according to special traditions and rites we should do so. It is much more than this.

Saiva Siddhantam is a wonderful spiritual philosophical religious system, where traditions and rites have always been essential for the progress of the soul. Most of us love and value these holy traditions and we have specially trained Gurukkals (priests) to ensure this correctness. It is because Saiva Siddhantam also teaches that the conscious soul is not limited or bound to this worldly life of time and space being self-giving to Sivan, that we must comprehend that the Maha Ther Thiruvizha is more than just ritual. Yes, the festival is a much more than this. It is a very special time for the alienation from the egoism of the self and the development of full realisation of God, where from the first to the last moment Divine grace is needed, and will also be lavishly given to the earnest devotee.

"Of what use, the agamas and the six religious sects? Of what avail the yogas and their knowledge, Who can know His supreme Form, If He Himself does not possess me by the grace-form, In Him". (Uyyavanta - Tirukkalirruppatiyar)

The Ther Thiruvizha gives us the opportunity to walk with the embodied image of God. It gives us the opportunity to walk with God in this world of form while we are in the company of others. It vanquishes error by giving us the opportunity to cleave to God and bind things of this world to their roots in Divinity.

This is what the Ther Thiruvizha Festival is about. And, what is more, it actually gives us the opportunity to worship and hold onto the Divine. Not just in mere words, but actually doing so. This comprehension may not offer the final end to our suffering, but it is the finality of thraldom (enslavement). It is the shaking of the Atma so that we can become free from the fetters. It is the release that comes from the dismal of all that is worldly.

When the conscious soul is self-giving to the Divine the ardour of ecstasy appears within and fills the soul with joy. Have no doubt this will happen. God's love, the cup of Divine grace (arul-catti), can be seen all around us during the Maha Ther Thiruvizha. All we need to do is look.

When the Divine decreed that His Utsava Aluntharali mobile embodied image could be moved to bless us all, the Divine removed the barriers that block our soul from seeing. The God's blessing removes all that is corporeal and turns it into spirit so that the world will no more be a troublesome place.

The Maha Ther Thiruvizha has this uniqueness. The festival is special because it reveals itself in our actions, which it consecrates, filling the soul with holy significance. It allows us to walk the path of ascent step by step, actually holding onto the rope of life. It allows us to become aflame with fervour of Divinity. And, it allows us take command over our lives, so that no outward event can intrude into this sanctity.

Yes, I tell you that the Maha Ther Thiruvizha can do all this. But, we must become consciously faithful to all its precepts. To just walk with bare feet, carry on our shoulders, or even hold the Ther rope with our hands, cannot fully represent all the conditions that were faithfully preserved for us by the ancients. We have to learn to step beyond the ordinary, look deeply within and make the day of the Festival ours forever, so that we continue to walk with God all the days of this earthly life of ours".

[Iswari Kamalabaskaran]