On April 22nd, 2016; Durmukhi Varusha Chitra Pournami day Sri Kallazhagar had purappadu on Kudhirai Vahanam to Vaigai at Madurai. It is one of the major utsavam that takes places in Madurai and lakhs of devotees took part in this utsavam.
The Lord Goes on the River
The heart brims over with emotion. Eyes are clouded with tears of joy. Each and every individual hair on the body stands erect with the intensity of blissful experience. The head bows involuntarily at the magnificent spectacle. When you try to speak, you find your voice quavering with passion. You want to speak at length, but somehow words fail you, despite there being so much to describe. You want to share the intensity of the experience with someone, but you find every one, from babes in arms to doddering old men with backs bent like a question mark, in the same state, overwhelmed by emotion. There is none who has eyes for anything other than the scintillating spectacle, none who is not mesmerised by the gripping scene, none on whose lips there are words other than the name of the Distinguished Guest. What could be the event, which evokes such a heart-warming response in us?
Every month in the year has its own rich and varied devotional fare to offer. Vaikaasi brings us the glorious Garuda seva of Kanchi, Ani too affords us the spectacle of Sri Koodal azhagar resplendent on Sri Garuthman, in Adi we celebrate Tiruvadippooram on which day Sri Andal took birth among us to uplift and emancipate us, Purattasi takes us to Tirumala for the BrahmoOtsavam of Malayappaswamy, and if it is Kartthigai, our destination is Tiruvaali for the glorious Vedupari utsavam. In Thai we are able to witness the multiple treat of Twelve Garuda Sevas at Tirunaangur, in Maasi the Lord at various divyadesams goes on a float (Teppotsavam), and when it is Panguni, we are at Srirangam, to worship the Lord and His Consort on the auspicious aphorism of Uttaram.
The reason for leaving out Chittirai from the aforesaid list is that it deserves separate treatment. Just as it is the hottest of months, it offers too the richest of fare to the devout. We have the celebrations all over the globe on account of Sri Ramanuja Jayanti and Gajendra Moksham episode (where the Lord came running all the way from Vaikunttam to solve a mere pachyderm’s problems) is enacted at several divya desams.
However, the star attraction of Chitthirai is the event at Madurai on the Chitra Pournami, when Sri Kallazhagar enters the Vaigai. None would dispute the magnificence of the utsavam, which attracts thousands of devotees, rich and poor, young and old, erudite and unlettered, all of whom throng the Vaigai on the morning of the appointed day, to witness the grand spectacle. People in their thousands flock to the river, all attired in their best and making an extremely colourful sea of humanity, waiting patiently and with eager anticipation for the Lord’s arrival from distant Azhagar Koil. Many of them, unable to contain their impatience, go on to receive Him en route and have an advance glimpse of the glorious Lord, in what is known as Edir Sevai.
What makes the Lord come all the way from far-away Tirumaalirumsolai to Madurai? Without doubt, it is the love and devotion with which the multitude awaits His arrival at the river. Though He would like to rush in a headlong ride from His abode to Madurai, His progress is impeded by frequent halts at the various mandapams constructed on His way to the city, where devotees compel Him to stay at least a few minutes, offering Him new clothes, fruits and sugar candy with love. And unable to resist their ministrations, the Lord too slows down, making His ride slow and majestic. Though He leaves His abode on the previous day itself, Sri Azhagar arrives at Vaigai only the next morning, attesting to the numerous halts He is forced to make en route.
To mark the occasion, the entire city wears an extremely festive look. People are clad in their best clothes, feasts are prepared at every home in honour of the distinguished guest, infants are tonsured at the site, the devout burst into Bhajans extolling His praises and a carnival-like atmosphere pervades the city, with everyone participating enthusiastically in the event in their own individual ways. The stinking rich jostle with the abject poor to have a glorious glimpse of the Lord, in the event, which is marked by rare social amity and goodwill.
If the Lord came all the way from Sri Vaikunttam in response to the elephant’s call, here, He covers the entire distance from Tirumalirumsolai to Madurai on horseback. And what a horse! The splendour and magnificence of the Horse is to be seen to be believed. Made of glittering gold, the Horse wears Tiruman like a paramaikaanti, with its sharp features standing out. With its forefeet raised for a gallop, the horse presents a picture of pride and prowess-pride at the rare privilege of carrying the Paramapurusha on its back. Its gait is indeed majestic and varying. At times, it walks sedately, when confronted by a crowd of devotees, affording them the opportunity to have a leisurely glimpse of the Lord. At times, when the road is fairly empty, it breaks into a gallop, anxious to reach the Lord in time for a reunion with waiting devotees at Vaigai. At times, it appears to go berserk, bucking furiously up and down, unable to contain the joy of carrying the Supreme Lord on its back.
The Lord on horseback, with a goad in His hand, presents a magnificent spectacle, recalling to us His intimate association with the five horses of Arjuna’s chariot, as Partthasarathi. He has a red silk cloth around His headgear and wears green or white silk around His midriff. The colour of the Lord’s apparel is a matter of suspense every year to devotees, who wait with bated breath to see whether He is draped in white silk or green.
There is a highly discernible, broad beam on the Lord’s countenance, reflecting His huge enjoyment-at His outing, at riding horseback, at rushing all the way to meet millions of devotees, at being the focus of the proceedings, very much like a Matinee Idol who is the cynosure of all eyes.
Another reason for the Lord’s delight at the entire proceedings-He indulges in His favourite sport, viz., Jala kreedaa. It is a well-chronicled fact that the Paramapurusha is enamoured of water sport. We are told that the Yamuna was a second home to Sri Krishna and the scene of many a boisterous bash, with vigorous participation from His equally unruly friends and loving GopIs.
While it was He who wielded the water gun (Bhastraa Yantram-Sri Gopala Vimsati) and drenched all and sundry during Sri Krishnavatara, the Lord is at the receiving end during the Chitra utsavam, with the clan of Kallars, intimate devotees of the Lord, spraying Him with streams of water from their equipments. One wonders-it would appear that the arcchaavataara Emperuman is allergic to water from external sources, except during Tirumanjanam and ritual worship. We witness the spectacle of Brahmotavams during the monsoon season being conducted under the protective canopy of a tarpaulin, especially at Tirumala. And arcchakas are so caring and concerned at His getting wet, that they rush Him to the nearest shelter, lest even a drop of rainwater fall on His tirumeni.
Contrary to all these, we find the spectacle of the Lord being sprayed with jets of water all through His journey from Azhagar Koil to Vaigai, with devotees drenching Him in streams of aqua, with impunity. Not only the Bhattar, standing by with a watchful eye, allow such goings on, but he also remains a smiling spectator of the entire proceedings. In fact, along with the Lord, he too is soaked to the skin and presents a bedraggled appearance, with several jets of water drenching him copiously. It is perhaps only at this divyadesam that such liberties are taken with the Paramaprusha, reflecting the Lord’s penchant for revelry with His fans.
And it isn’t mere exuberance that prompts the devotees to train their water guns on the Lord. The normal Chitra weather being scorching hot, the Kallars try to make it tolerable for the Lord by giving Him the “Water Treatment”, ensuring that the extremely delicate tirumeni of Sri Kallazhagar suffers not from the enervating heat. It is this maternal concern of the Kallars that entitles them to such liberties as spraying water on the Lord, which is probably contrary to all known Agamic provisions. And one wonders too whether it is all those Gopis who were drenched by Sri Krishna, who have taken birth as these Kallars, to take sweet revenge by pelting the Lord with streams of water. Not to be outdone, the clouds also take the opportunity to perform Tirumanjanam to the Lord by gently sprinkling rain drops-it is not a torrential rain which would inconvenience everyone, but a soft and light drizzle, enough to bring down the temperature. The Lord, who played truant with Sri Yasoda when called upon to take a bath and required so much persuasion, comes all the way from Azhagar koil, to be virtually given a bath at the hands of loving devotees.
Srimad Bhaagavata Puranam tells us that some of the Gopis, unable to tolerate separation from Krishna, dressed up like Him and regaled each other with stories of His exploits, forgetting His absence for the nonce. We find a similar scene at the Vaigai too, with many of the Kallar devotees attired very much like the Lord, with a colourful silken talai paagai, silk clothes similar to those worn by the Lord, etc.
A lone Garuda circles the skies right above the Lord, perhaps jealous of all the good fortune, that has befallen the horse, that should normally be his, as the official carrier of Sri Vaikunttam. His presence brings to our mind Sri Andal’s lines, Vinathai siruvan siragennum melaappin keezh varuvaanai VirundaavanatthE kandome. And when you consider the matter, the place is no less than Brindavanam, with its proximity to Mathura (Madurai).
His programme at the Vaigai over, the Lord turns His horse homewards to Azhagar koil. His journey, however, is much slower than when He was coming to Madurai, expressing in every step His reluctance to move away from the adulating multitudes. En route to Tirumalirumsolai, Sri Azhagar visits Vandiyur to confer relief on Manduka Maharshi from the crippling curse which turned him into a frog. And at the Ramaraayar mandapam, the Lord re-enacts the Dasavataras, to the delight of devotees. Many of the devotees who thronged the Vaigai accompany the Lord at least for some distance, loathe to parting with Him, as is He from us-for, both must wait for a year more for next Chitra PourNami, for the next reunion.
We wend our ways home slowly, our hearts heavy-heavy in more than one sense-heavy with the sadness of separation from the Lord and heavy also because He has entered our hearts, unbeknownst to us, to take up permanent residence, as He did in the case of Sri Nammazhwar. The saint just mentioned the name of His abode, Tirumalirumsolai, and Emperuman, treating it as reason enough, immediately entered Azhwar’s heart, never to leave again. We learn this from the Azhwar’s own immortal words-
Tirumaalirum solai malai endren, enna
Tirumal vandu en nenju niraya pugundaan
In our case too, the Lord, who looks for the flimsiest of reasons and the minor-most of gestures on our part, appears to have treated our visit to the Vaigai to witness the grand annual spectacle as an excuse for entering our stony hearts and filling its every nook and cranny with His glorious presence, making us tingle all over with the bliss of His association, as described in the opening paragraph of this piece.
The following are some of the photographs taken on this year’s Chitra Pournami day (April 22nd 2016)
Writeup Courtesy: Sri Sadagopan, Photography courtesy to respective contributors!