Divine Couple's 37 Street – 15 hour on a hot Chitrai day
It was a one of its kind procession on the 6th day of the Rama Navami Utsavam at the Kothandaramar temple in Vaduvur. After having provided darshan all alone on the 1st five days, Rama was joined by Sita on the morning of the 6th day for the day- long 15 hour trip on a palanquin to each of the 37 streets of Vaduvur stopping by at every single house in the town to provide a special joint darshan to the devotees at their door step.
This trip is seen as also an invitation to the residents of Vaduvur to attend the Thiru Kalyana Vaibhavam that was slated for the next day as well as a reminder to participate in the Chariot festival later in the week.
What was even more unique about this procession was that the Divine Couple made two trips to each street – first providing darshan to devotees on the left side of the street and then coming back to provide darshan to devotees on the right side, such was the personalized attention presented to each devotee.
By the time they made their way back to the temple, it was well past 9.30pm in the evening. After such a long and tiring trip through the hot and sweltering day it was only appropriate to cool the divine couple with a sacred bath and they were showered with coconut water, honey, sandal paste and mixed fruits.
Mohana Alankaram at Mid Night
After having witnessed the Thirumanjanam, the devotees waited eagerly for the 2nd Alankaram of the day. Sharp at mid night, Lord Rama provided darshan in a Mohana Alankaram in a beautiful sitting posture at the Vahana Mandapa.
An hour later, the screen closed as the Lord and Thayar got ready for another Alankaram. It took over 2 hours of tireless effort on the part of two young Bhattars to drape the Lord in a Raja Alankaram atop the Elephant Vahana. A more senior priest – Uppili Deekshithar - took to the task of getting Sita Devi ready and mounted on the Hamsa Vahana.
The 6th day utsavam saw Lord Rama in three different Alankarams. Dressing up the Lord is a special art and requires a lot of expertise, in addition to enormous amount of patience. Two young priests, both 24 years old, Hari Sundar Bhattar from Therezhendur Divya Desam and Bharathwaj Deekshithar from Mannargudi stayed awake really late on two successive nights to deck up the Lord.
Hari Sundar Bhattar showcased his emerging talent in a one hour solo effort getting the Lord draped in a Mohana Alankaram. As the screen opened just after mid night, tears rolled down the eyes of the devotees as they were awe struck by the Lord’s beauty in a shining white vastram dotted with a blue silk border, a special Kondai and glittering jewelry, presenting himself as a ‘Mohana’. Hari Sundar Bhattar also explained the Purana and the significance of this special Alankaram much to the delight of the devotees taking them back to the legendary episode of the Lord luring the asuras away from the nectar with his beauty.
The clock had just ticked past 1am and it was time for the devotees to take a quick nap ahead of the next procession. But not so for the two youngsters for, they were bestowed with the responsibility of working on the third Alankaram of the day - Raja Alankaram of Lord Rama atop the Elephant.
For over 2 hours, the two of them combined as a team to present Lord Rama in majestic princely attire. It was 3.15am and they had not slept for the last 36hours. But as they came out, they seemed to be truly energized for one could find a great sense of satisfaction and happiness in their face having just completed a very important alankaram of the Rama Navami Utsavam and mounted Lord Rama in the Raja Kolam atop the Elephant in his third and last attire of the day.
It takes true devotion and artistic skills to drape the Lord. This attains even more significance when there are multiple alankarams on a single day. Hari Sundar Bhattar and Bharathwaj Deekshithar, both of whom are proficient in Agamas and Divya Prabhandham, exhibited these in plenty leaving the devotees totally spell bound. So pleased were the devotees that a few of them even wanted the Bhattar to repeat the Mohana Alankara purana. But it was far too late for that and he promised to keep it for another time and bid them good night.
In decades gone by, the procession of Rama on Elephant Vahana and Sita on Hamsa Vahana used to take place very late in the evening. But with the expansion and overall development of the town and with the morning street procession now taking 15 hours, the vahana procession took place only at 8 am on the 7th day bringing to end a really long day for the divine couple.
It is 4.30am in the morning and the 15 year old Vedic Patashala, 100 yards north of the Kothandaramar temple, is already buzzing with activity. Students from as far as Vizag, Tada, Nellore, Coimbatore and Chennai are undergoing a 12 year Vedic Education programme. Under the tutelage of their Acharya Govindan, who has been involved in Vedic teaching for the last four decades, these students, the youngest being just 7 years old, follow a strict daily regime through the year with only one annual vacation of 15days during Deepavali.
Around 50 students have been initiated with Krishna Yajur Veda during this period and a majority of them have already graduated from the school. During the Rama Navami Utsavam, it was pleasing to see these students in a group accompanying the Lord on his processions chanting the Vedas with devotion.
Vaduvur has a rich heritage and has been traditionally known for its strong Vedic Education. There is a family called ‘Puranatharargal’ who have been rendering ‘Bhagavatha Parayanam’ for generations here at the temple. there is also street called PURANA Street.
How to reach
Vaduvur is 25kms from Thanjavur on the Mannargudi Highway. Buses ply every 15minutes between Thanjavur and Mannargudi.
A VERSION OF THIS STORY FEATURED IN THE HINDU FRIDAY REVIEW ON APRIL 29