Kallidaikurichi Adi Varaha Temple Chariot Festival: Grand Cultural Spectacle in Rural Tamil Nadu - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Friday, October 20, 2023

Kallidaikurichi Adi Varaha Temple Chariot Festival: Grand Cultural Spectacle in Rural Tamil Nadu

The Great Rath Yatra of Kallidaikurichi makes its way through the agraharam streets

The Rath Yatra or the Chariot Festival is one of the best temple traditions to see in India. The Rath Yatra is actually the main event of this festival and there are key events that precede and succeed this temple chariot festival. I got to see one grand cultural spectacle in entirety at a traditional village in rural Tamil Nadu. This is the temple chariot festival of Kallidaikurichi’s Adi Varaha Perumal temple that spans 9 days and is locally called as Brahmotsavam.

Held in the Tamil month of Chithirai (April 14 to May 15), the annual festival of Brahmotsavam is the grandest festival of the temple and the entire temple and the agraharam streets surrounding the temple wear a festive look for 9 days. This Brahmotsavam is a great program of festivals extending over nine days. During this period, every morning and evening, Lord Adi Varaha perumal is taken out seated on a huge vehicle and carried through the different agraharam streets of Kallidaikurichi.

Big Rath Yatra of Kallidaikurichi seen from the top of my home's terrace

The commencement of the utsavam is marked by a ceremony called the Dhwajarohanam, or the hoisting of the flag. Prior to every start, holy water from the nearby Thamirabharani river is brought to the temple for all ablution rituals. This is followed by Sankalpam (holy declaration) , abhishekham (holy bathing), alangaram (holy decoration) and vahana seva. In this vahana seva, the lord is taken in a procession around the streets of Kallidaikurichi on different vahanas (vehicles). Each vahana has its own significance and conveys the lord’s message in its own way.

From the first day of the Brahmotsavam to the ninth day, the lord takes to the different streets of Kallidaikurichi every morning and evening in his different vahanams. Below is a day by day breakdown of the different vahanams and their true meaning. As the lord visits each street in his different vahanams, the devotees adorn the fronts of their homes with colourful homams and offer coconuts, fruits and betel leaves to the lord while admiring his new look and seeking his blessings.

Day 1: Sesha vahanam

The meaning of Sesha is ‘to serve’. Adi Sesha is a thousand-headed serpent, on whom Lord Maha Vishnu rests in his abode, Vaikuntam.

Day 2: Hamsa vahanam

Hamsa or Swan means ‘pure’. Hamsa is believed to have a high intellectual capability, and can distinguish the good from bad. It is for this very reason that Lord Brahma uses Hamsa not only as his vehicle, but also to chant the vedas (The Vedas are believed to have emanated from the soul of Vishnu).

Night 2: Aswa vahanam

Horses form one of the four wings (ratha, gaja, turanga and pada) of the military forces in the ancient times. Aswam, a symbol of energy, means ‘one who runs fast). Lord Vishnu travels on a horse when he goes for paruveta. According to Hindu mythology, the horse was born along with Sri Mahalakshmi, Airavatham and Amritham during Sheerasagaramadhanam.

Day 3: Simha vahanam

Simha (lion) is a symbol of regality and power. According to the Bhagavad Gita, the lord is the Simha among animals (mriganamcha mrigandroham). The Lord is also called Hari (which in turn means Simha) and Hari sits on Simha. In other words, we have the phenomenon of the Lord sitting on himself.

Night 3: Mutayalapandiri vahanam

In the night Oonjal seva is conducted. The deities then ride under a pearl canopy. Mutyam (pearl) is a symbol of purity and royalty.

Day 4: Kalpavriksha vahanam

Kalpavriksham is a tree that is believed to grant boons and fulfil wishes. The vehicle shaped like the Kalpavriksham signifies that the Lord grants boons and fulfils the wishes of his devotees.

Night 4: Sarvabhoopala vahanam

Sarvabhoopala means ‘all the kings of mother earth’. According to the Hindu religion, kings, like Lord Vishnu, should always protect their people (na vishnuhu prithivi patihi).

The beautifully decorated rath during Kallidaikurichi Brahmotsavam

Day 5: Mohini Avatarotsavam on palaku (palanquin)

According to legend, the devatas and asuras performed Ksheerasagaramandhanam that resulted in amrit (nectar which when consumed grants immortality) and other sacred qualities. The devatas and the asuras fought for the possession of the Amrit. Lord Vishnu then assumed the form of Mohini (a beautiful woman) and procured the Amrit for the devatas.

Night 5: Garuda vahanam

According to the ancient Hindu texts, Garuda, the king of birds, is a replica of the Vedas (vedatma vihamgeswara), while Lord Vishnu is the God of the Vedas. Therefore, the lord sees himself in Garuda. In the Vaishnava Puranas, Garuda is called periyatiruvadi, meaning the first devotee. Therefore, Lord Vishnu selected Garuda as his vehicle for the most important day of the Brahmotsavam. Garuda vahanam is the greatest of all the vahanams.

Day 6: Hanumad vahanam

Hanuman is one of the greatest devotees of Sri Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Hanuman served the lord so faithfully that even the lord could not thank Hanuman enough. Devotees believe that they are indeed blessed if they catch a glimpse of the Lord on Hanumad vahanam.

Night 6: Gaja vahanam

Gajam (elephant) is also called the samajam (born from Sama Veda). It symbolizes wealth (gajamtam aishvaryam). It also symbolizes the Airavatam – the vehicle of Indra, the head of the heavens in Hindu mythology). It can also be attributed to the elephant in Gajendramoksham (story from Mahabhaghavatam), which is saved from a crocodile by Lord Vishnu.

Day 7: Suryaprabha vahanam

Surya (the Sun), the son of Aditi, is another form of Lord Vishnu (Surya Narayana). Hindu mythology supports the heliocentric theory and believes that Lord Vishnu is the centre of the universe (dhyassada savitrumandala madhyavarthi).

Night 7: Chandraprabha vahanam

Chandra, means the Moon, which is considered cool and pleasant. According to Hindu mythology, Chandra is the commander of the mind (chandrama manaso jataha). He is also the king of aushadham (medicine). It is believed that riding in the Chandraprabha vahanam is a soothing experience for the lord. The Lord’s contentment will bring peace to devotees’ minds and result in a good crop.

Day 8: Big Rath Yatra

On the penultimate day, Rathotsavam is celebrated, in which the Lord is seated in a ratham (chariot) and taken in a procession in the morning. The route taken by the Lord is called the Rathaveedhi and it does a circumambulation of the Adi Varaha Perumal temple. Tens of thousands of devotees come early in the morning to offer their prayers to the lord and then hold on to the chains of the chariot to pull it through the Rathaveedhi. It is believed that those who witness Rathotsavam will not be reborn (rathotsavam kesavam dristva punarjanma na vidyate).

The idols of Daruka (the charioteer of Lord Sri Krishna) and the four horses (Saibhyam, Sugreevam, Meghapushpam and Valahakam) are placed before the decorated idols of the Lord and his consorts. This symbolizes that the lord’s charioteer is driving the chariot.

As the Ratham goes around the Rathaveedhi, one can hear chants of ‘Govinda! Govinda! and Adi Varaha! Adia Varaha!. The energy is high and devotees offer food and drinks to the people pulling the chariot. Ambulances and police are on standby in case of any emergencies. It takes close to three hours for the Rathotsavam from start of its journey to end. People from nearby villages, nearby cities and even families of people hailing from Kallidaikurichi, but living all over the world, arrive to see this Rathotsavam from close quarters. The Ratha is colourful, the energy is infectious and the festival a grand cultural spectacle.

In the evening, the lord and his consorts are taken back into the temple amidst full fanfare.

Day 9: Last Day

On the last day, Pallaki seva and Chakrasnanam mahotsavam is performed in the morning. Water from the Thamirabharani river is brought to the temple and the processional idols are bathed with it. Abhisekham, alangaram and mahamangalarti is done. Then the garuda flag is lowered. This signifies the end of the Brahmotsavam festival.

The Kallidaikurichi periya ratham pulled by the devotees

It will be a dream come true if you can experience all the nine days of the Brahmotsavam up close. The rich heritage, the amazing culture, the colourful vehicles, the powerful hymns and the infectious energy can all be experienced at once. And to top it all, you get to seek the lord’s blessings on all the days. If you cannot attend all days, then you should definitely make time for the Big Rath Yatra or the Rathotsavam, the grand annual festival of the Adi Varaha Perumal temple.

How to reach there:

The nearest airport would be Tuticorin airport, located 75 kilometres away. Tuticorin has daily flights connecting it with Bangalore and Chennai. The other nearest airports are Madurai (180 kms away) and Thiruvananthapuram (140 kms away).

The nearest large railway station is Tirunelveli junction, which is well connected with the rest of the country. The nearest railway station is Kallidaikurichi itself, but only local passenger trains stop here.

The nearest large bus station is Tirunelveli. Regular buses ply between Tirunelveli and Kallidaikurichi throughout the day and night. Kallidaikurichi is 35 kms from Tirunelveli and a typical bus ride takes about 60 to 70 minutes.

Lord Vishnu on elephant vahanam - Adi Varaha Perumal Koil Brahmotsavam

When does this festival happen:

The Adi Varaha temple chariot festival takes place in the Chithirai month (between April 14 and May 15). The festivities span 10-12 days, with each day marked for a different activity. The big rath yatra takes place on the final day of all the festivities.

Adi Varaha Perumal Koil Brahmotsavam Rath Yatra, Kallidaikurichi

Where to stay:

Kallidaikurichi is the kind of place where you should stay at one of the agraharam homes. It will allow you to experience the true culture of this village. You could either stay with any of your local friends in their homes, at any local guest houses or at airbnbs.

If you prefer hotels, you can try the modest Bhaskar Lodge at Kallidaikurichi and the slightly better Hotel Ambai Grand at Ambasamudram. For higher quality hotels, you will have to head to Tirunelveli, about 35 kms away.

If you prefer staying in nature, try any of the forest bungalows located inside Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve or the farm stays or resorts near Courtallam (50 kms away).

Perumal returning to the temple after the Great Rath Yatra of Kallidaikurichi

Where to eat:

Kallidaikurichi has a few places to eat like Kannan mess where you can find tiffin items like idli, vada and dosa. For something more elaborate, try Hotel Ramanas or Hotel Gauri Shankar at Ambasamudram, two kilometers away.

If you are staying at a guest house with an in-house kitchen, then you are all set for food.

If you are staying at a house or in an Airbnb, you can try the meals and tiffin items of Varaha mess or Delhi mama. They offer a wide variety of choices and food is usually delivered to your door step.

The great Rath Yatra of Kallidaikurichi culminates the 10 day Brahmotsavam

Other famous festivals to see at Kallidaikurichi:

1) Garuda Sevai from the agraharams of Kallidaikurichi

2) Maha Shivaratri

3) Karthigai Deepam

4) Pongal

5) Thiruvatharai

Kallidaikurichi Rath Yatra nearing the end of its journey

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Kallidaikurichi to Manimuthar Dam: A top scenic and rustic cycling route

2) Thamirabharani river at Kallidaikurichi: A great Western Ghat river to take a refreshing bath

3) The hidden gem called Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

4) Kallidaikurichi: The village of the Saaral season

5) Kallidaikurichi Anaicut: Gorgeous picnic spot nestled in the lap of nature

6) 1000 year old Papanasathar Temple at Papanasam: Where you can wash all your sins away

7) Manjolai: The offbeat hill station of Tamil Nadu

8) Mannarkoil Rajagopalaswamy Temple: Magnificent 10th century temple with a Ashtanga vimana

10 days of Brahmotsavam culminates with this Big Rath yatra taking to the streets of Kallidaikurichi

9) Sivasailam temple: 1000 year old temple surrounded by the lush mountains of the Western Ghats

10) Sivasailam: One of the wettest places during the North East monsoon in India

11) Karaiyar Dam: Offbeat wildlife and nature holiday destination in India’s Deep South

12) Courtallam: The herbal bath holiday destination of Tamil Nadu

13) 10th century Kailasanathar temple at Brahmadesam

14) 10th century Valiswara temple at Thiruvaleeswaram

15) Manimuthar Falls: A great forest waterfall

16) Agastyar Falls: A great waterfall to bathe in the Western Ghats

17) Paana Theertham Falls: A hidden waterfall gem of Tamil Nadu

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