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KARTHIKAI PERUVIZHA - FAIRS & FESTIVALS IN TAMILNADU, INDIA
The Arunachaleswarar Temple at Tiruvannamalai is one of the grandest in India, and is considered to be among the most revered of the 275 Shiva Temples glorified by the Tamil Tevaram hymns of the 7th through the 9th centuries. This temple has a great tradition of festivals, the Kartikai Peruvizha being the grandest. Kartikai Deepam marks the conclusion of the 10 day long festival in the Tamil month of Kartikai (Scorpio), a festival that is marked by grand processions in which images of Annamalaiyaar and Unnamulaiyaal are taken out on decorated mounts, through the processional streets of Tiruvannamalai. This complex festival involving a multitude of festivites and hundreds of thousands of participants happens with amazing regularity, each year - and can be described as a case study in effective operations management. C. Suresh, originally from Tiruvannamalai, currently stationed in Pune, India describes with ample illustration, some of the features of this grand festival.

The festival starts on the Panchami before Pournami (fifth day of the brighter half of the month of Kartikai ie. Nov 15 - Dec 15) early in the morning with a brief flaghoisting ceremony (Dwajaarohanam).From that day onwards for the next ten days,processional images of the Panchamurthys comprising of Vinayakar, Subramanyar with his consorts, Lord Somaskanda (the processional image of Annamalaiyaar) with his consort Devi and Skanda, Goddess Appetha Kuchambal and Chandikeswarar are decorated with ornaments and garlands carried out in procession through the main four streets (Raja Veedis)around the temple twice a day in various vahanams (mounts) such as Karpaga Vriksham, peacock, Kamadhenu,,silver Rishabham(Bull) , horse, Lion, swan, and in decorated chariots.

The entire procession can be classified into three parts. The first part involves festivities inside the kalyana mandapam within the temple precincts where images of the Panchamurthys are kept for this ten day period. The second part involves processions inside the temple complex on the way to temple entrance and the third the actual procession around the temple.(Veedhi Ula).

Significance of Veedhi Ula : These festivals have been in existence for several centuries. It is interesting to note that they involved the participation of several sections of society - in creating a magnificient visual treat, and a collossal parade involving much of the town and the environs. Say for example the chariot festival would not be possible without the collective efforts of the town's populace; for centuries, the mammoth chariot has been pulled by human power alone without the aid of any modern devices that we take for granted today. The entire town comes together to pull the chariot. So do an entire range of artisans, depicting their skills in music, dance, garland making and so on and so forth. Also, during the time of these festivities, merchants gather from far and wide to display their wares.
A few of the festivities involved in this 10 day festival.

Fifth day Morning Festival :
During Fifth day morning Vigneswara and Lord Chandrasekara are taken out on the Silver mooshika vahanam and the silver small Rishaba vahanam around the temple..The temple elephant deceorated with silk cloth leads the procession.Then follow the drummers. The nadaswaram players follow the image of Vinayaka, while the utsavamoorthy Chandrasekharar (processional image) decked in ornamental finery - the central point of the procession follows. This is not the end of the procession. A group of priests reciting the vedic hymns, and a group of Oduvaars singing the celebrated Tirumurai hymns follow. The procession is accompanied by a sea of humanity, as it winds its way around the temple, arriving back at the temple at around 1pm in the afternoon.

Fifth Night Festival - Silver Rishabha Vahanam : In the first phase of the fifth night's festival, the pancha moorthis are decorated with arnoments and flower garlands and are readied for the festivities at around 8.30 pm. Somaskandar is decorated with a diamond crown with elaborately prepared garlands.

Then follows the deepa aradhanai, or the waving of lamps accompanied by the chanting of the vedic hymns. All the moorthis are affered archana and deepa aradhana simultaneously. After the deepa aradhana Vinayaka and Chandikeswara are placed on the silver mooshika vahanam and silver rishabha vahanam inside the mandapa itself.

In the second phase of festivities, all of the five images are carried out and taken in procession in the third prakaram (courtyard) of the vast temple. The images are carried by bearers who dance to the tune of indigenouspercussion instruments such as the oodal.
A unique feature seen in Tiiruvannamalai is that Somaskandar stands before Ambal shrine and symbolically and takes her permissionto go on his procession. Several deeparadhanas are performed at different points within the temple as the procession winds its way to the temple entrance, led by the royal elephant.

In the next stage of festivites, the processional images are mounted on their vehicles, (silver peacock for Subramanya, silver rishabham for Somaskandar (Annamalaiyaar), and another silver rishabham for Ambal (Unnamulaiyaar)) placed in a state of readiness in front of the temple. They are then decorated further with brightly caprisoned umbrellas, an arch of lamps and so on.

These decorated mounts are fixed to chariots (chapparams) which are pulled with the aid of motors. Prior to the advent of the modern age, these wheeled mounts were pulled by oxen. Thousands of people throng the four streets all along the route and stand both side of the streets to have a darshan of the Arunachaleswarar on the siver rishabham.

The procession is led by a colorful array of dancers performing traditional folk dances such as Karagam, the snake charmer's dance, the peacock dance etc. The temple elephant leads the entiere procession. Vinayakar and Subramanyar lead the five Panchamoorthys. Nadaswaram artistes precede Annamalaiyaar and Unnamulai Amman.

As the procession winds its way into the Thiruvoodal street (South raja veedhi)there is a grand display of fire crackers. It is considered auspicious to view the procession as it comes down the slope of the Big Street (the Northern Raja Veedhi). The Nagarathaar community which donated the Big Silver Rishabha vahanam to the temple, offers a special archanai, in the East Car street, as the images of the Pancha Moorthys in their decorated mounts, stand side by side, in a spectacular sight. The grand procession comes to an end at dawn.
The sixth day witnesses the procession of the 63 nayanmars during the day, while the nights celebration witnesses the colorful silver chariot procession.

 
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