During the year,
according to the progression of the sun through the
twelve signs of the zodiac, and in interaction with the
monthly cycle of the moon, the temple celebrates many
different festivals for the different deities that
reside in the complex. The two main festivals though are
the two great Chariot Festivals, performed for the
presiding deity, Shiva Nataraja. As all other temples
officiate only one chariot festival for the presiding
deity, this is one more characteristic that sets this
temple apart from others.
The more important of
the two is performed at midwinter, in the month of
Margari in the Tamil calendar. That is between the
middle of December and the middle of January of the
Western calendar. The festival is called Margari
Tiruvadirai, the holy star Arudra in the month Margari,
after the star under which this festival takes place.
The second festival is
called Ani Tirumanjanam. It is celebrated at the time of
mid-summer, between the middle of June and the middle of
July. It is officiated under the star Uttara Phalguni.
The dates of the festivals are calculated according to
the lunar calendar, so the actual dates in the Western
calendar vary every year.
The festival lasts
eleven days and give the participants a spiritual
experience through visual impact. The progress of the
daily processions is designed as a visual yoga. The
festival begins with the flag hoisting ceremony,
performed in the early morning of the first day. After
due invocation and the chanting of mantras by the
Deekshithars, the banner of Shiva, displaying his vahana
or vehicle, the divine bull Nandi, is hoisted on the
flag mast in front of the Sabha, situated just in the
In the evening of the
same day the first procession is taken out of the Panca
Murti, the five deities. The main deity in the
procession is Somaskanda, Shiva with Uma, his consort,
and the baby Skanda, or Murugan, their second son. The
second deity is Devi, the goddess. The third is Skanda
as mature god with his two Shaktis or wives. The fourth
deity is Ganesha, Shiva’s first son, with the elephant
face. And the fifth is Chandikeshvara. Though a human
birth, such a devotee of Shiva that he attained
liberation and semi-divine status, because of the Lord’s
This first day the
murtis proceed without vahanas or vehicles. Every
procession is repeated the following morning.
The second day
Somaskanda’s vehicle is the Moon.
The third day the main
murti is seated in the Sun.
The fourth day Shiva
is Bhutapati, the Lord of the Demons and the Elements.
The fifth day Shiva is
seated on Nandi, the divine bull, but actually his
vehicle that day is the gopuram, the temple tower, which
is above him during this procession.
The sixth day Shiva’s
vehicle is the elephant, a reminder that he overcame the
evil power that had taken the form of an elephant.
The seventh day Shiva,
his consort Uma and the baby Skanda are seated on Mount
Kailasa, the holy mountain which is his throne. It shows
the ten-headed demon Ravana as having been subdued by
Shiva, when Ravana tried to shake the mountain, to get
his way before the Lord.
On the eighth day of
the festival Shiva appears as Bhikshatana, the Mendicant
who caused such havoc among the Rishis and their wives
of the Daruvanna. His begging bowl is stretched out
toward us, begging us to give up our attachments and
Then, on the ninth day
we reach the highlight of the festival. The murti of
Nataraja himself, and of Parvati Devi are brought from
the sanctum and carried on the shoulders of the
Deekshithars and the devotees to the great chariots that
have been made ready, and await them in the East Car
Street. The chariots are pulled by the public around the
four car streets of the city in a festive mood. An event
that takes almost the whole day.
In the evening the
images or murtis are again taken on the shoulders of the
devotees, and are carried to the Hall of Thousand
Pillars. There during the night from approximately 2.30
in the early morning till just before sunrise, a holy
ablution or Abhishekam is performed.
The following morning
all can see the Lord and Goddess dancing together as
they are brought back to the sanctum.
The eleventh day of
the festival is characterized as ‘carnival’. The five
murtis are taken in the procession in a special
palanquin, decorated with flowers and glass beads. Thus
the festival is concluded in a festive and relaxed mood.