Thursday, February 28, 2019

When God came home: A Video Story of a Rural India Tradition

Gorgeous Interiors of South Indian Temples

We all go and see god in his home (temple), but have you heard of gods coming to your home to see you. Well, I am not joking! It does happen quite often in the villages of South India. It happens else where in India as well, but I have seen it happen more often in the South. Or may be because I have better access to it. Well, the Rath Yatra that happens at Puri Jagannath Temple is possibly the biggest example that I can think of. But, it is of massive proportions and it happens only once a year. But, in the South Indian temples it happens quite often. And that is what I wish to bring to your attention through this video story.

Apart from the main sanctum sanctorum where the idol of the main god(s) exists, there is a panchaloha or brass version of the god(s) kept at a corner of the temple and this idol is called Utsava Murthy. These Utsava Murthy gods take to the streets in pomp and grandeur during important festivals and occasions. Decked in beautiful clothes and ornaments, the Utsava Murthy god is kept on top of a chariot that is pulled by the people of the village. Sometimes, only brahmins are allowed to pull the chariot. However, at many times, anybody can pull the chariot of the lord. This chariot then takes a circuitous route and makes its way through the different streets of the village and stops at each home. When the god arrives at their home, the people rush out of their home, offer coconuts, fruits, flowers and even clothes to the lord and seek his/her blessings. This rath yatra can take place only on one day or every day for a fixed number of days. It could happen during day or night. All the variables depend on the temple, the god, the festival and the dates.

Utsava murthy of different temples take to the streets on different days of the year. For example, the Garuda god of the Vishnu temple in my village takes to the street on each Saturday of the Poratassi Tamil month and this video story that you see is the Thiruvadarai festival when Lord Shiva took to the streets. During this Thiruvadarai festival, Lord Shiva visited the people’s homes every evening for 6 days and then on the 7th day, which is also the day of Thiruvadarai in Margazhi Tamil month, he visits everyone’s home in the early hours of the morning. This is his last trip for this festival and then he returns to his temple and stays there till the next festival when he can take to the streets again.

I got to experience this rich tradition at Kallidaikurichi, a beautiful village in India’s deep south and that is a perfect place to experience the beautiful traditions of Tamil Nadu and South India. Apart from such unique experiences, one can also experience the festival of Pongal in such traditional villages to get a true festival experience. This village also happens to be my ancestral home. So, if you are around for a rural holiday, do give me a shout out!

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