August 2017


Revering the Divine Child of Nallur
August 2017




Lord Murugan's Sacred Vel and statues of his consorts taken in elaborate procession at the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil

"Haro Hara", the steadfast chants of worshippers reverberate through Jaffna in August. The Mahotsavam of the resplendent Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil is a spiritual convergence of the devout followers of Lord Murugan. It is a display of tradition and spiritual adoration like no other.


Words: Keshini de Silva | Photography: Varnan Sivanesan


An elaborate pinnacle of gold glistens into view amidst the cloudless blue sky. The Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil is the resounding heartbeat of Jaffna, the capital of the Hindu faith in Sri Lanka. Radiating in the regal shades of red, white and gold, the Kovil is evocative of Nallur's ancient status as the seat of royalty in Yalppanam.


Stepping onto the soft sands of the sanctified grounds, the soothing fragrance of coconuts, oil and blazing camphor, almost seems to ready the soul for quite a blessed experience. This is the abode of the Divine Child, Lord Murugan, a deity of many faces and names: Kandaswamy, Kartikeya and Skanda. The child of God Siva and Goddess Uma, Lord Murugan's wives are goddesses Devasena and Valli. Armed with the Vel, the deity's divine vehicle is the peacock and at times the elephant.


It is said, the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil was built thrice before, and one of them was constructed by Senpaka Peruumal (Sapumal Kumaraya) who ascended to the throne of the Kotte Kingdom as King Bhuvanekabahu VI. However, the Kovil was destroyed during the invasions of the colonisers. Later, in 1734, Irakunata Maapaana Mudaliyar managed to persuade the Dutch administration to allow for the Kovil to be rebuilt.

On the final, grandest festival days, followers of Lord Murugan express thanks for their fulfilled vows through Kavadi, or the Burden Dance. The 'Paravai Kavadi', where the worshipper suspends resembling a bird is a special form of the religious act.


The granite, kiln-brick shrine that he constructed encasing a holy Vel has transformed today. The Nallur Kovil, which exists, is one formed by circumstances rather than traditional Hindu temple architecture. Over the past centuries the descendants of Irakunata Maapaana Mudaliyar have honoured his legacy by embellishing the Kovil with classical Hindu colour and magnificent artistry. Especially in the last five decades, under the diligent guidance of the present and tenth custodian Kumaradas Maapaana Mudaliyar, the Kovil has flourished.


The Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil is also the only Kovil in Sri Lanka where archanai or personal pooja is offered at one rupee, making god accessible to all. While the Kovil practices every tradition of importance to the Hindu culture, the Mahotsavam, held from July through August, is the grandest and also most venerated. The faithful from across the country and globe congregate in Jaffna for the festival.


The Mahotsavam commences with the Flag Hoisting Festival (July 28, 2017), after which processions are held daily, both night and day. On the tenth day is 'Mancham', where Lord Murugan and his consorts are paraded in chariots in the outer Prakaram. The 'Kailasa Vahanam' pageant on the 20th Day is outstanding with an astounding chariot representing Mount Kailash in the Himalaya range. On the 22nd Day, the 'Orumuga' procession takes place, where the deity and his consorts are mounted on elaborately crafted horse chariots. Sapparam is one procession of great splendour, with a towering chariot, of almost 50 feet, which while carrying the sacred Vel and the divine consorts circumnavigates Nallur Kovil amidst Sanskrit devotional murmurs.

Emerging in Sri Lankan Buddhist customs since the 14th century, Lord Skanda is regarded as one of the four guardian deities of the Island. The deity is known in Sinhalese as God Kataragama.


Festivities climax on the 24th Day, the chariot festival. Lord Skanda, in the manifestation of Sri Shanmuga sits on a magnificent silverine throne, between divine consorts, Devasena and Valli. Flowers, exquisite regalia and precious jewellery are decked on the statues. Devotees bear this throne themselves. As the statue, radiating with the worship of devout followers emerges from the main entrance of the Kovil, devotees enter a trance of devotion, ringing the air with chants "Haro Hara" and delicate rose petals cascading from above.


Theertham, the Water Cutting ceremony takes place the following day, at the Temple Tank beyond the southern entrance. After the holy Vel is immersed in the water, the faithful shower in holy water outside. The Tirukalyanam (divine marriage) held the next evening, heralds the fruitful conclusion to this festival. Throughout Mahotsavam, similar to daily poojas, adherence to time and tradition is strict.


Thus, from its regal appearance to its practices the Nallur Kadaswamy Kovil exemplifies Shaivism or worship of god Shiva, in a manner, which is quite unique to the Island.


Mahotsavam 2017 Significant Festival Dates

Festival
Date
Time
     
Mancham August 6 5pm
Arunakirinathar Festival August 14 7pm
Sooriyotsavam August 15 7am
Karthigai August 15 5pm
Santhanagopalar Festival August 16 7am
Kaliasavaganam August 16 5pm
Kayavallimahavalliutsavam August 17 7am
Vel Vimanam August 17 5pm
Thendayuthapani August 18 7am
Orumuga Festival August 18 5pm
Sapparam August 19 5pm
Chariot Festival August 20 7am
Theertham August 21 7am
Poongavanam August 22 5pm
Vairavarshanthi and Festival August 23 5pm

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    A Mahotsavam procession at the ornate outer mandapam

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    The elaborate Raja Gopuram at the northern entrance

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    'Paravai Kavadi'

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    The main entrance to the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, rich in Hindu artistry and colour

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    The stunning chariot of Sapparam, the tallest of its kind in Sri Lanka

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    A sea of devotees worshipping Lord Murugan

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