Sixty feet in height and weighing nearly 50 tonnes, the temple car at Gunaseelam Prasanna Venkatachalapathi temple towered over the crowd in anticipation: the car festival at the temple’s ongoing Brahmotsavam drew devotees from surrounding villages. With Prasanna Venkatachalapathi, the presiding deity, set to enter the decorated car at 5 a.m., people began arriving at the temple during the early hours of Wednesday.

As the sky lightened, the area around the temple began wearing a festive look: men, women and children in their festival finery; stalls peddling sweets and savouries, fancy items and gifts, balloons, toys and joy rides; flowers, fruits and miniature clay lamps stuffed with solid ghee and wicks among other things.

One of the two important festivals at the temple, the Brahmotsavam car festival packs in religious fervour along with a dozen ways to celebrate. “This being my kula deivam temple, I have been coming here since my childhood,” says 53 year old K. Muthusamy from Kuruvampatti.

For A. Veluchamy, this is the tenth successive car festival at Gunaseelam he has brought his giant wheel to: “I had my giant wheel custom made at a workshop in Tiruchi ten years ago, but today I can only get repairs done- there is no one left to build these anymore.” Abdul Mustafa at the sweets stall says he set up shop three days ago and took around a week to prepare the various treats which included multicolour sweet boondhis, sakkara sev, halwa, mixture and maida biscuits among others.

At the appointed time, the procession of the car around the temple began with the breaking of 108 coconuts. As its teak body began rolling over, a low rumble of prayer ran through the crowd which moved alongside the car like a single entity.

A group of devotees followed the car with their angapradhakshinams as well. Though the crowd began to wane by noon time, it came back with full force in the evening to witness the theerthavari.

“While the temple is said to be nearly 5,000 years old, records of the temple car festival exists for around 200 years,” says K.R. Pichumani Iyengar, who belongs to the family that has traditionally run the temple trust. The Brahmotsavam festival which began on September 17 is slated to go on till September 28.