Tiruvannamalai Deepam during the pandemic: Photographer documents the lighting of the lamp at Arunachala hill

Saran Dashnamoorthy trekked up the hill every day to document the deepam   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Every day, the little boy woke up to the sight of the Arunachala hill.

It was also the last thing he saw before going to bed. He scoured every inch of the mountain by foot; learned of every crevice, valley, cave, and spring that it bore. He grew up climbing the mountain, bathing in its ponds, and falling asleep on its cold stone surface. Years later, when he realised he needed to make a living — he did not have an education to back him — the mountain came to his rescue.

Saran Dashnamoorthy narrated his story over phone from atop Arunachala: he was on his way to shoot the deepam in its peak. This year, owing to the pandemic, entry to Tiruvannamalai was restricted during the festival of Karthigai Deepam.

The yearly event, which begins with the lighting of the gigantic lamp on the hill, draws people from across the world. The 33-year-old took the festival to them: He has been documenting it through photos and video clips on his social media pages.

The lamp on the hill, was first lit on November 24, and was kept alive till Wednesday. “It consists of a gigantic copper cauldron that can hold 1,000 litres of ghee,” says Saran, adding: “It is lit every evening at 6 pm; several metres of cotton gada cloth is used to light it.”

The lamp is lit using several metres of cotton gada cloth and 1,000 litres of ghee

The lamp is lit using several metres of cotton gada cloth and 1,000 litres of ghee   | Photo Credit: Saran Dashnamoorthy


The flame can be seen several kilometres away and Saran trekked two-and-a-half kilometres up hill every day to photograph it. “I wanted to share the joy of seeing the deepam with everyone.”

Saran started out as a tour guide when he was 18. “I accompanied foreigners on their trips up the hill,” he explains. He picked up English in the process and life was good; he got to do just what he loved. “But around 2012, restrictions came into place and people where not freely allowed to climb the hill,” he adds.

Saran Dashnamoorthy

Saran Dashnamoorthy   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement


With a budding interest in photography, he decided to invest in a camera. And besides, “I often took tourists to spots that promise great views from the hill,” he says. So he knew where to start. But Arunachala has long been photographed from every possible angle: What was Saran going to do that was different? His USP was that he knew the hill like the back of his hand. “When I was younger, I remember how in the summer, a slight drizzle would fall on the mountain peak early in the morning,” he says. It was like magic.

“The mountain transforms during each season; the vegetation around it keeps changing too,” he adds. For instance, he explains that there are some flowers that bloom on the slopes only during summer. “I decided to document this side of Arunachala, one that was constantly changing,” he says.

The pandemic, says Saran, has been a blessing in disguise for the temple town. Every month, thousands of people descend on Tiruvannamalai on full-moon nights to go around the hill. The past few months, however, the path around the mountain has been empty and silent. “The day after pournami, one can see a trail of black smoke [owing to the influx of tourists] in the city from the mountain,” he says. This year though, he saw only white mist: a sight that Saran waited for years to see.

To see the videos and photos, visit his YouTube channel and Facebook page @Saran Dashnamoorthy

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 4:15:58 PM |

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