‘Azhi Ther’ in all its grandeur in Tiruvarur

Tiruvarur, where the festival is on, became the destination of pilgrims, past Monday

April 04, 2019 03:39 pm | Updated April 05, 2019 03:34 pm IST

Devotees pulling the Sri Thyagarajaswamy Temple Car (Azhi Ther) in Thiruvarur on May 4, 2008. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Devotees pulling the Sri Thyagarajaswamy Temple Car (Azhi Ther) in Thiruvarur on May 4, 2008. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Thousands of devotees from across the world converged at Tiruvarur to witness the grand event — Azhi Thaer of Thyagarajaswamy temple, which took place on April 1. They reached the town two days before the start of the Panguni festival to have a glimpse of Lord Thyagarajaswamy and His Consort mounted in the temple car. They had assembled well in advance so that they could pull the car. And those who could not were satisfied by touching the thick ropes, which are 500-metre long and one foot in diameter.


The ‘Aazhi Ther’ procession went around four main Mada veedhis (streets) around Tiruvarur temple with devotees chanting ‘Arooraa, Tyagesa’ besides reciting the Thevaram hymns and the rendition of the Vedas by scholars. Heads and representatives of Dharmapuram, Tiruvavaduthurai, Tiruppanandal and Velakurichi Adheenams took part in this grand event.


Praised by Saints

The ‘Aazhi Ther’ event is mentioned in the ancient Tamil epic Silappathikaram and also in the Thevaram hymns by the Saivite saints Appar, Sundarar, Manickavachagar and Thirugnanasambandar. References to ‘Aazhi ‘Ther’ festival in Tiruvarur are found in the Modi (Marathi language) scripts of the Thanjavur Mahratta Ruler Shahaji (1684-1712 AD) at the famous Saraswathi Mahal Library in Thanjavur. Documentary evidences are available in the library for the Tiruvarur thaer festival happening continuously since 1748 AD till the middle of 20th century.

Looking back, the beautiful ancient temple car (bigger than the present ‘Aazhi Ther’) was completely destroyed in a fire accident in 1926. A burst of crackers even as the thaer was passing the corner of the famous Kamalalayam temple tank, spelt disaster.

Muthu Kothanar, the chief and master craftsman, involved in the construction of the Tyagarajaswamy temple in 1920, showed tremendous presence of mind and courage. Caring little about his own safety, he climbed up the burning car and first cut the ropes tied to the Panchaloha idol of Tyagarajaswamy. Using dhotis, he made a rope and pushed the idol from the chariot. The crowd, watching this with bated breath, caught the idol and carried it through the western gopuram entrance of the temple. Generally, deities in the temple never enter through this entrance .

It took nearly four years to make the present temple car (‘Aazhi Ther’) with the original grandeur and it was run on March 2, 1930, according to inscriptions in the temple. The car festival was conducted without interruption till 1948 and was stopped for unknown reasons. In 1970, the then Tamil Nadu Government and industrialist Tiruvarur V.S. Thyagaraja Mudaliar took efforts and hydraulic wheels made by BHEL were provided. The festival was conducted till 1975. After a break, it was resumed in 1978 and was conducted in 1982 and in 1989. After a gap of two decades, the car festival is being conducted from 2010.

Biggest in Asia

“‘Kothanars’ are the main craftsmen of the temple cars. Experienced and expert carpenters do the intricate wood carving of all the deities adorning the base,” says scholar and historian Kudavayil Balasubramanian. ‘Aazhi Ther’ is the biggest temple chariot in Asia. The 30-ft tall temple car rises to 96 ft, after decoration is completed with bamboo poles and colourful cloth, the kalasam alone accounting for 6 ft, all of which take the original weight of 220 tonnes to 350. Incidentally, the massive car of Valluvar Kottam in Chennai was built on the lines of the Tiruvarur ‘Aazhi Ther.’

‘Tiruvarur Therottam,’ as it is called, involves the same rituals and traditions associated with the Tyagarajaswamy temple. Lakhs assemble to catch the majestic sight of Veedhividangar with His consort ‘Kondi’ (Parvathi) in the grand ratham.

The procession includes four more cars for Ganesa, Subramanya, Kamalambikai and Chandikeswarar, the entire Family returning to base in the evening.

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