Spellbound Skantha | Sunday Observer

Spellbound Skantha

The peak and pinnacle of the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil’s, annual nearly month-long festival, takes place for three-days in the Sapparam (a giant vehicle) the biggest Chariot, concluding with the quick burst, “Theertham” (Water cutting festival).

The temple sits authoritatively, with three other towers (Kopuram) facing the respective directions. The majestic sight presents a landmark, in many forms, as a tourist attraction, a sacred holy shrine, a palace for the people, et al. The temple is well known not solely for its significance, prominence or power, but for the rules and regulations, unique to Nallur.

Some of the many are: the temple administration throughout its history charging only Re. 1 for its pooja (archchanai); the orange colour palace epitomizes discipline, strict rules and regulations, and punctuality; male devotees, be it a pauper on the pavement or a President from Polonnaruwa, should enter the temple with their upper-body bare. This practice is closely monitored, since the time when Lord Murugan along with his two consorts, Valli Amman and Deivanai, toured the exterior of the temple. The temple has even gone to the extent to deploy staff, around the 10-metre gap of the deity.

The Sunday Observer team decided to get a feel of the colourful events that lead to this popular festival.

Day 5- Suryotsavam - Sunrise festival .

Having experienced the big three, curiosity got the better, with the festival aura hitting, only a hop, step and a jump away from Lord Murugan’s Sri Lankan Headquarters.

The beating of drums and blowing of “nadaswaram”, (an instrument) along with the trumpet, injects the pious feeling, together with the continuously flowing followers of Skantha (Lord Murugan).

Notwithstanding the number of occasions, the staff exclusively trained for this job, donned in a special red veshti, with arm-band of the same colour remind the crowd, “thambi or aiya, shirt oda nikka elaathu. Side aahungo,” (Brother, it’s prohibited to stay here wearing a shirt, get to a side). This man is entrusted with three-to-four jobs. No devotee is permitted to take pictures close to the deity, neither inside nor outside. If one is found breaching the rule, he would instantly warn, camera pidikra enda pinnala poango (if you wish to take pictures, move behind).

While the team ensures that no nonsense is recorded, Shayanthana Kumarathas, son of the trustee veteran Kumarathas Maapana Mudaliyar, the former manning the management, is in the company of his junior, discreetly performing the role of watchdog. Shayanthana, the next successor is among the crowd as another devotee within 50-metres. He is on a mission of a silent spotter. As soon as he spots anything out of the ordinary he would instantly order a member of his team to attend to it.

His team of able-bodied men are instrumental in running the show meticulously. They leave a lasting impression, on the management of the temple and the festival.

This segment is aimed at commencing with sun rise and concluding in an hour’s time.

Day 6- Santhaanagopalar utsavam-

This is an event different from the rest. The procession started from the Northern tower (kopuram). Kanthan or Murugan, delicately dressed in dark blue, seated on an elevated snake-style throne, firmly tied to a pair of logs, on the sturdy shoulders of devotees, who win the tussle to bear their idol on them (a once-in-a-lifetime chance) rejoice and reverently, take him around.

The job is rotated every 10-minutes or so to give a chance to those who desire to fulfil their wishes and partly because the thick logs are heavy. Lord Kanthan as usual attract devotees in every nook-and-corner. When it’s time to end, the crowd has grown by leaps and bounds. Thereafter the deity is laid to rest and the temple staff clean the premises leaving it spick and span, as the morning festival comes to a close.

Day 6 - Kailaasavakanam - 20th festival

Giving the devotees a rest, a 20-foot-tall vehicle (Kailaasavakanam) is ready and positioned for the procession, at the Eastern entrance, the main entrance. The time reads a quarter-to-six, and the deities dressed like dolls, are ready to be placed in the vehicle glittering and illuminated in gold. At six on the dot, a loud roar of “arohara” is heard with hands high in the air clasped together, “theepam” shown to the deities, with cameras clicking, generating extra light on the lit vehicle. Thus it signals that the evening segment of the 20th festival is ready to take place.

Minutes later, an announcement is made: “Vadam varuthu, thayavu seithu vali vidungo”. (A thick rope used to pull the vehicle is released, please make way for that). An elderly man frequents this announcement. An all men line-up is set to pull the vehicle with the rope, approximately 40-metres-long. The meticulously planned procession then proceeds on its route, with a man blowing a trumpet as and when the vehicle needs to be stopped and pulled. Once it reaches the southern entrance, everything comes to a standstill in pin-drop silence, partly created by the man (in red veshti) approaching and reminding the devotees, Thevaaram paadekula, kathaikka vendam (When mantras and devotional songs are sung, don’t utter anything). After a few minutes, the silence is broken, and it’s back to normal.

Nallur has set the bar high for its unbeatable timing. This is achieved by maintaining the rules and regulations to the letter e.g a few of the men pulling the rope brief each other to ensure that the procession is on schedule. Before they could check the time, the festival automatically reaches the spot it started, preserving the decades old record for punctuality.

The climax experiences a mini-stampede and loud spiritual cheer from one-and-all. The Kandhaswamy kovil also holds an exceptional reputation for concluding the rituals promptly and punctually. The deities are quickly unloaded, the priests take charge of the holy task of carrying them into the inner sanctum of the shrine, an announcement filling the air asking viewers not to obstruct, and in a moment Lord Murugan reaches the Vasantha mandabam, (the main room). Drums and nathesvaram hit high volumes, to a soothing and commanding rhythm.

The main room has a large curtain which opens and closes, in a flash. It’s a fascinating moment for the visitors. The curtain then opens, as the concluding part with the chief-priest, showing the theepam to Murugan and blessing the crowd, all within seconds.

The final announcement comes at eight, from the staff vaango, pootta poram (We are about to close).

For those who participated, it’s enticing and inviting to be part of the sea of devotees. For those yet to participate, it’s a not to be missed Murugan’s marvel.