Lakhs of devotees huddled around the four mada streets in Mylapore on Monday, like a tightly-knit garland bound by their sheer will to witness the annual and opulent Arubathu Moovar procession.

The streets, smelling of jasmine, jackfruits and people, and dotted with hawkers selling stainless steel utensils, earthen pots, beads and blaring horns, all led to the centre of East Mada Street, where the procession was to begin.

Eswari Balaji, who was waiting there with her two sons, 10-year-old Sathvik and 12-year-old Pranav, said she came every year so the family could see that many people congregating at one place, a rare sight in the urban spaces.

“We stand in the same place each year. I came on Sunday, and this morning as well,” said the resident of Mylapore. U. Kalaiselvi, who stood right in the epicentre of the exploding crowd passing glasses of milk, minutes before the main deity was brought out, says she has been distributing milk, and recently biscuits and chocolates to devotees for close to 30 years now.

“This is the best form of service. My mother-in-law started it, and we continued,” she said. And, she was not the only one.

The festival is not only an opportunity for residents to set up stalls offering free buttermilk, water and food to weary devotees, but also for those like Kalaiselvi and L. Mallika, who distribute whatever they bring with them.

One of the more elaborate food pandals is managed by the family of N. Viswanathan, (who is one of seven brothers) their friends, and friends of friends.

His family has been living in Mathala Narayanan Street for close to 100 years, and he says that together, they dish out between 13-14 items including Brinji rice and poori masala other than staples such as sambar rice and sweet pongal between 2.30 p.m. and 10 pm.

“My mother started this custom in a modest way, and we continued. It was started with the intention of feeding devotees who travelled long distances without modern conveniences, and even stayed overnight,” he said.

Brahmashri Dr. Srinivasa Sastrigal, priest, Kapaleeswarar Templesaid that the Arubathu Moovar which falls on the eighth day of the 10-day festival which began on March 18 this year, is one of the important days because the 63 Nayanmars (Saivite saints) are brought out in procession along with Lord Kapaleeshwar.

“Lakhs of people come to witness the procession which has been taking place for close to 450 years. Hundreds come forward to carry the idols around the four Mada streets,” he said.

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