Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stage set for the 'thirukalyanam'

Tonight will be  grand. A celebration that befits a wedding. And this will be a wedding of the Lord.
The stage is now set for the Thirukalyanam which will officially begin at 10 p.m. on March 27, Wednesday.

Through the day, flower decorators were at work on all fronts in the north eastern section of Sri Kapali Temple where the kalyanam is performed.

Barricades are in place to allow the early devotees to squat on the floor and have a good, close view of this spectacle. A stage has been set for the nadaswaram artistes to perform.

This will be the crowning glory of the panguni celebration.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The nayanmars in procession on a hot, sticky afternoon

Roads and streets choked in central Mylapore and the neighbourhood prepared to celebrate the colourful arabathumoovar procession.

Food and buttermilk stalls were in business from 11 a.m. sharing food and drink with people around them and those headed to the Sri Kapali Temple.

The fascinating part of the arabathumoovar is in the morning when the nayanmars are prepared for the procession. There is a simple saintliness about this morning session. While hundreds of people flood the temple and go around, the images reflect what the saints were - yogis.

The summer heat made this a sticky morning but it did not discourage hundreds of people from heading for the procession this afternoon.

Video of 'ther' procession

Our photographer R Saravanan braved the crowds to shoot his video on Sunday of the there procession and all that goes with it. Colleague Parameswararn edited it today and posted it. Do comment.
Here is the web link -

Sunday evening; Mylapore turns into a mela zone

We went back to the mada veedhis on Sunday evening.
Mylapore had changed in 8 hours ; it was now a village festival zone.

The local Nadar sangham had erected a pandal alongside the Chitrakulam on its north side for its free food distribution on Monday. On its edge, two men circulated printed post cards - they were on a campaign to ask the chief minister to shut down liquor shops.

Tired, sweaty policemen and women chatted in small groups, contended that though East Mada Veedhi was packed with bodies, life flowed smoothly.

By now, hawkers had created another row of stalls on both sides of the road - snacks, toys, pottus, plastic, merry-go-rounds. . .Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan had shut its gates and even the watchman had gone home.

Finding a spot to stay put was difficult - the street sides were littered with leftover food, paper plates and cups and promo handbills and a putrid smell spread around us.

 We took a position at the Vanniyar Sangham hall opposite the Rasi store and stared at the scenes at the base of the there that was now parked in its shed, now open.

Hundreds of people elbowed others, raised their plate of flowers and coconuts and inched forward to the ther to get the little boys on top to make their offering to the Lord. This was pure chaos but the little boys did a great job swiftly.

A couple raised their baby with both their hands, and inched towards the chariot, hoping the boys would pick it up and take it closer to the Lord. It coudn't happen in that swaying mass of bodies.

Behind the chariot, three queues of people climbed up from the western side to make offerings. A team of nadaswaram artistes snaked its way into the temple for the evening concert.

As dusk fell, the crowds increased. But there was a certain order all around the temple zone.
And for children this was a different Sunday - out on the veedhis.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Share your memories of this fest!!

While you enjoy our reportage of the festival, take some time off to share your wistful memories of the fest. Times in the 60s and 70s when you soaked in this event.
Childhood memories.
Family memories.
Mail us 4/6 lines that we can post on this blog.
And if you have some wow pictures to share, do mail them too - with captions.

Mail to -

Photos of 'ther' Sunday

Kapali! Kapaleee!! The day of the ther

Kapali! Kapalee!!
Kapali! Kapalee!!

The people roared. And the roar rolled as the 'ther' rolled out of its permanent shed on East Mada Street and headed south.
It was a shade after 9 a.m. and a young man standing on top of the ther, waved the green flag to tell his team of volunteers below that it was time to roll the chariot.

What was a mere wooden shell now looked colorful and decorated, with the Lord in his seat, scarcely seen by the crowds below. This is not the biggest and most impressive ther in this part of the world but when it is decorated, it catches everybody's eyes.

This being Sunday, the crowd was large but mainly crowded around the ther. The mada veedis, shut from traffic of all kinds and a huge posse of policemen made it easy for people to double down to Sannidhi Square.

The hawkers were here early - men and women selling sweetmeats like cumaracut, kolam designers and shiny bow and arrows . . .

A earth digger of the city's civic body moved behind the ther - it looked out of place. The driver then told us that it would be around to help if the wheels of the ther got stuck in  loose tar on the veedhis

Excited women chose to push the ther carrying the ambal; some took turns to place their kids on the ther.

A loud commentary ran on the public address system but it jarred the solemnity of this occasion.

Families and friends of residents who live on the veedhis had picked sweet spots on their balconies and terraces. As the ther rolled down to the junction of Pitchu Pillai Street and Sundareswarar Street, we moved out to the pavement - people from terrace tops usually throw bucketsful of water on the processionists - to keep them cool!

Yes, Chennai's temperature at 9.30 a.m. would have been closer to 30 degrees. The diehard followers of the ther wouldn't mind the shower at every stop!

Families who live closeby stepped out to make their offerings when the chariot stopped. On their faces, real devotion and eyes closed in prayer.

It will be late evening when the procession returns to the temple today. But through the day, people will head to various spots on the veedhis to offer prayers and watch what is Mylapore's biggest religious fest.

In the by-streets - Mathala Narayana Street - groups had put out tables and receptacles - to serve buttermilk to people returning from the there. Further down, a huge vessel with hot kesari got hauled up on a table. And the spicy flavours of sambar sadam cooking inside a house wafted in the air.

Traffic jammed on Kutchery Road - AIADMK Member of Parliament Maithreyan jumped into his car and sped away. Justice Prabha Sridevan got out of her car and walked down to the temple side.

And at Luz Circle, we saw Catholic families who had attended the Palm Sunday Holy Mass at the start of the Holy Week that leads to Good Friday and Easter. They were going home after Mass at Our Lady of Light Church, popularly called Luz Church, some 100 metres west of the Circle.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The night of the rishaba vahanam

The mada veedhis came alive last night and early this morning. While the rest of the Mylapore neighborhood rested from the labours of the week.

It was the night of the grand rishaba vahanam, a  procession that many people may well be at to listen to the musicians - the bandwallahs and the nadaswaram artistes perform for the gods.

At 11 p.m. on Friday, hundreds of people were in slumber inside the temple and under the canopy outside, to rest before the procession was to begin close to midnight.

The vahanam sat in the eastern end of the temple campus, close to the main gate here while the gods took their place in the mantap that lines the north wall. Through the night, rituals went on and people  filed past the gods. And close to midnight, the procession began.

By 5 a.m. the procession ended at Sannidhi Street - over 2,000 people filled the square as the gods rested under the 16-pillar mantap here. It was a quiet Saturday morning. And for all those who found space around the mantap and near the gate, there was a spectacle - the Lord enjoying the swings of a dance as his carriers swung to the music of the nadaswaram and the band - playing the English tune - For he is a jolly good fellow!.

A jolly way to go back to His abode in Mylapore.

Friday, March 22, 2013

These people are intimately involved . . .

Lots of people are intimately involved with the festival, in small and big ways, most voluntarily and some, over generations.

My team mate R Saravanan met a few of them and shared their profile -

A. Srikanth runs Thiruvasaga Thirusabai, manages a garden on the Sri Kapali Temple tank's west side and offers all the flowers that grow here to the temple.
For panguni, his team makes the fire torches taken out in processions, blow the conches, offer incense and finally, serve payasam to devotees every night of the fest.

S. Raji and son Dilli Babu flower sellers have for over 40 years supplied fresh flowers based on orders - they also donate garlands daily during the fest.  15 people work for the duo at festival time. They create special garlands 15 ft in height for adhikara nandi.
The largest quantity of flowers are ordered  for Thirukalyanam.

B Anandan and his brothers ( Satyamurthy, Dr Kumaraswamy, Dr Chandru) of Ponnambala Vadyar Street carry on a tradition that their grandfather K S Kumaraswamy, a vaithyar had started - getting the adhikara nandi ready for the fest, He first donated a silver covering for the nandi and over the years, this family has done all that is required for the rituals of the adhikara nandi procession.

Saravanan heads Sripadam, a body of volunteers who work day in and day out for the fest. He gets paid for providing the basic infrastructure but his group also arranges freely special garlands for the gods.

D. Jayaprakash Narayanan is the man who has enlivened a show that goes with the Panguni fest. An exhibition of art, pictures, images and collectibles donated by Vinayaka Mudaliar and managed by the Vysarpadi Vinayaga Mudaliar Charities. The chatram on South Mada Street where the show is on now looks smart and bright.

Food, drink pandals

Providing people with refreshers or food during the annual Panguni festival at Sri Kapali Temple is a tradition that must have started in days when devotees from afar walked it to the temple.

This season, the pandals will come up for the grand arabathumoovar celebration, due on March 25 afternoon.

However, small groups have already started their community service.
One such is carried out by the community at Aditya Aswin Apartments on Dr Ranga Road, Mylapore.
More than 500 litres of buttermilk is distributed every morning. "We use pure water, add some spices and share it with whoever asks," says Venkatesh, a volunteer. He says this group has been doing this for 15 years now.

Next week, you may notice pandals located off the tank set up by people who have been serving food over generations.

Click a photo and mail one to us! Share your experience

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Charm of mada veedhis disappears . . .

Last evening, March 20 we took a slow walk down the mada veedhis. To look at street life at festival time.
But it did not very exciting.

On the top of South Mada Street, the flower selling women did brisk business. They had more stocks with them.

Hawkers of bags, door mats and plastic toys had cornered space off the pavement on the side of the temple tank - but business was dull.
The vegetable hawkers though were busy as usual, down the road.

East Mada Street seemed lit up a bit more by lights hung from the many man taps specially erected for the pallakku of the gods to stop during the daily processions.

But much of the veedhi space was taken over by narikuravas - hawking beads, chains, rings and stuff. Today, they hawk from mobile carts and lit-displays and make brisk business. But there are so many of them that street life has a sameness that does not excite.

Kids had fun on the side on the merry-go-rounds that made the biggest noise with the clanging bells.
A lone artisan from Pulicat offered very attractive goods made from palm leaves and under the massive canopy in Sannidhi Square, flashy cars dropped off temple visitors.

Life on North Mada Street was what it always is - a hub for shoppers. Redevelopment here is still taking place and the shops are becoming smarter and bigger. And as one 90-year-old Mylaporean moans, the charm of the mada veedhis has disappeared.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nadaswaram, music and dance concerts

From March 18 to 27, nadaswaram concerts are on at the temple daily 6.30 p.m. onwards with some of the biggest names in this filed performing here. Mylai R Mahendran and group perform on March 26.
There are also music and dance recitals at the Navaratri mantap from March 29 onwards, daily at 6.30 p.m.

Here is the schedule -

 March 29 – Kathak dance by Rajendra and Nirupama
March 30 -  P. Unnikrishnan ( vocal)
March 31 – T M Krishna ( vocal)
April 1 – Nithyashree Mahadevan ( vocal)
April 2 – Sriram Parasuram and Anuradha Sriram (vocal duet)
April 3 – Visaka Hari – Upanyasam on ‘Parvathi Kalyanam’
April 4 – Jayashree Vaidyanathan ( vocal)
April 5 – Ranjani and Gayatri ( vocal)
April 6 – Sanjay Subrahmanyam
April 7 – Dance drama ‘ Janani Jagatkarini; guru Sheela Unnikrishnan
April 8 – Bombay Jayashree Ramnath (vocal)

All nadaswaram, dance and music concerts are sponsored by Preetha Reddy and Vijaykumar Reddy.

Focus on Thirugnanasambandar

The adhikara nandi procession may have been the prime focus this morning but for Shiva devotees there was some thing else to wait for – the procession of the Lord’s devotee – Thirugnanasambandar.
This nayanmar has a special place during this festival.
Today, images of the saint and his father
 Sivapada were taken out in palaquins, some minutes after the main adhikara nandhi group had moved down the mada veedhis.
The processionists made a stop on South Mada Street, opposite where Vasantha Bhavan restaurant stands. A stop to enact a little but significant incident in the saint’s life that is now part of lore.
Of an incident when Sambandar was just three years old and was taken by his parents to a Sivan temple near home. The child was later found by the parents but the father was curious when he found drops of milk around his son’s lips.
It was then that the child explained his encounter with Lord Siva and Parvathi and in what is said to be the first verse of the Tevarams.
This lasting incident, enacted this morning on the temple tank’s banks and on the veedhi caught the attention of all the people gathered here for this purpose.
The priests transported milk from the ‘ambal’ to the nayanmar, one of the many little rituals they had to carry out here.
Many people had brought milk in vessels which they then symbolically offered at Sambandar’s image – some shared it with others and others took the milk home.

Over 5000 people gather for adhikara nandi event

The sun is up in Chennai by 6.30am. ( the city temperature is now at about 35 degrees) – we arrive at the Sannidhi Street outside the temple and are amazed.
Over 5000 have gathered here this workday morning to take part in the adhikara nandi event of the Panguni festival.
The square is packed and we need to  elbow ourselves to the 16-pillar mantap where the vahanams stand.
Deeparadhanai and archanai follow.
We just have time to glance at the lovely, large. kolams which were drawn on the wet floor by volunteers here – many of the kolams are now wiped off by countless feet of the surging crowd.
Once the rituals at the mantapam have been completed, the procession slowly moves out on to East Mada Street, led by the nadaswaram artistes and the temple band.
Some 40 volunteers, all youth carry the gods on their shoulders, using the massive, well-oiled logs arranged for the processions.
The procession reaches the Mylapore Fund Office point on South Mada Street by 9.15 a.m.
It has Lord Vinayaka in the lead, followed.byAmbal, Lord Muruga and his consort and then, Chandikeswarar.
The procession moves slowly, making stops every few metres for people and residents of the mada veedhis to pray and make offerings.
It will be well after noon when the gods go inside the temple again.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Unique 'art' exhibition

This is a Panguni Festival special and it is presented by the Vysarpadi Vinayaka Mudaliar Charities.
The community hosts a unique exhibition every year at this time for the festival.

Housed in a mantap on South Mada Street, close to Hotel Karpagam this show exhibits a string of artistic objects which were collected over the century by members of this community.

Leather puppets, vases, dolls, framed pictures and the like.

The past two days volunteers have been busy setting up the show which opens on March 20 at about 6 p.m., says Jayaprakash Naraynan, secretary of the Charities. ( Call him at 9444801817).

The show will be open to all and a must-see event if you have not been in before.

March 20, 6 a.m.: Adhikara Nandi

On Wednesday, March 20 the Adhikara Nandi procession will start at about 6 a.m. and a few hours later, on the western banks of the temple tank, there will be a celebration in honour of Thirugnana Sambandar.

The Sun god in procession . .

It was time for Suryavattam this morning.
A time for the procession of Surya bhagavan.

It started at about 8.30 a.m. - Lord Siva seated on a palaquin with the Sun God behind him. At least 40 volunteers carried the palakku through the mada veedhis.

Men belonging to the Kapaleeswarar Veda Parayanam group followed the palakku - reciting the Vedas. There were about 15 men in the group. They accompany all the processions during the festival.

There wasn't much of a crowd for this event though.

The veedhis are yet to get a festive look - though the narikurava community has spread its beads, bangles and chains at all corners.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The flag has been hoisted . . .

Over 2000 people gathered at Sri Kapali Temple this morning for the kodiyetram ceremony.
Held in the western side of the temple, just off the gopuram, the ceremony began early in the morning and it was about 9.30a.m. when the flag was finally hoisted on the mast.

Festival regulars said they make it a point to attend the kodiyetram event, making it something that is close to their life.

Balaji gurukkul led his team of priests at the rituals that go before the hoisting of the flag. Deeparadhanai was carried out before the priests hoisted the flag and signalled the start of yet another panguni festival.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Prayers to the Amman. Sunday.

Today was special at the small Kolavizhiamman Temple on the other side of Kutchery Road.
This is the grama devathai of what was once ancient Mylapore.
And in keeping with tradition, it was time to pray to the amman before the start of the panguni vizha at Sri Kapali Temple.

It was the music of the tavil played by a lone artiste on this campus that made daily temple goers realise that a ritual was on for the festival at the Big Temple.

On Saturday, priests at Sri Kapali Temple had transported all that was required for the pujas this morning. At about 10.30 a.m. the abishekam began and this was followed by pujas and the deeparadhana.

It was time to ask the Amman to ensure that nothing untoward took place in the neighbourhood during the festival and that the celebrations would be smooth.

This was a short event but significant. The Executive Officer of Sri Kapali Temple participated and returned to the the temple with prasadam.

Tomorrow, Monday at about 9 a.m. the rituals for the flag hoisting will begin.

Photos; time for preparations

Photos - top to bottom - Kalasams being prepared; mud ramp being created at the eastern gate; massive logs used to carry the vahanams; new kodai. Photos by R Saravanan.

Srkanth's offering from the garden

Small groups and communities have a role to play in the festival here.
Some trace their contribution to a few generations.

Srikanth has been developing and tending the lush garden on the western side of the temple tank on its mud banks.

He and a few volunteers pick the flowers from a variety of plants that grow here and offer them to the gods every day. At Panguni time, Srikanth is extra busy - he is a creative man and often creates flower rangolis in the the temple campus or contributes to the alankarams.

The Chintadripet connection

The temple campus is coming alive. Scores of workers and volunteers have been hard at work on Saturday.

The main gate on the eastern side has been closed so that mud and stones can be used to create a simple ramp-like facility at the gate for the easy passage of the huge rat hams next week. People can use the side gate here.

A variety of umbrellas were sunning themselves. Some had to be repaired, some torn parts stitched up.  A set of new ones had also arrived from Chintadripet.

Chinnna-dari-pettai ( colony of weavers) is some 7 kms north of Mylapore and was the early planned colonies set up by the British to settle weavers who would arrange supplies. Here, in one street a community of people who are skilled at making garlands, umbrellas and garments for the gods work through the year.

A special kodai has been purchased to be set on top of the chariot ( ther ).

On Sunday, the vahanams and all the receptacles needed for the rituals will be taken out and cleaned and set in order.

The fest schedule; key events

These are the main evens of thePanguni fest -
March 18, 9.25 a.m. – Kodiyetram
March 20, 6 a.m. – Adhikara Nandi, Thirugnana Sambandar Vizha
March 22, 12.15 p.m. – Velvidai Vizha
March 24, 9 a.m. – Thiruther
March 25. 3 p.m. – Procession of 63 Nayanmargal ( arbathumoovar)
March 27, 10 p.m. – Thirukalyanam
March 29, night – start of  Vidayatri events

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Panguni Fest from March 18

The 2013 Panguni Festival at Sri Kapali Temple, Mylapore starts on March 18 with the flag hoisting ceremony and will go on till March 27 when the Thirukalyanam.
The ther procession is on March 24 and the grand arbathumoovar procession is on March 25 afternoon.
On March 1 morning the panda-kal ritual got underway – a simple ritual that precedes start of work for the vizha in keeping with tradition.
On March 3, devotees carried 1008 milk pots from Sri Kapali Temple to the Kolavizhiamman Temple on the other side of the road as part of the rituals.