Nallur Kandasamy Festival, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, Nallur Festival

Lord Murugan’s chariot being dragged from
the chariot house

The Nallur Kandaswamy Temple in the suburb of Nallur in Jaffna is a fascinating place to visit at any time. It becomes unforgettable during the latter stages of the annual Nallur Festival, which runs for 25 days, finishing on the poya day in August. Adi, the fourth month of the Tamil calendar is also known as the month of festivals. The Adi Vel festival (Festival of Tridents) originated and continues to this day in parts of southern India and is a major festival in the Sri Lankan port city of Colombo.

In Nallur, the festival starts with kodietram (flag hoisting) on the sixth day following the new moon. The cloth for flag hoisting is obtained ceremonially from the old Saddanathar Sivan Temple in the north which was patronised by an ancient king of Jaffna. The Hindu deity Murugan (also known as Kataragama and Lord Skanda among other names) with the vel (the divine javelin) is the main deity. The ‘water- cutting’ takes place on the twenty-fifth day and a divine wedding marks the last day of the festival.

Ther Thiruvila, Murugam and the Vel

The most popular event is the colourful Ther Thiruvila (chariot festival): The splendidly dressed Lord Murugan is brought out and placed on an elaborate silver throne. The huge and heavy chariot carrying the statue is paraded along the streets of Nallur. Thousands of devotees standing shoulder-to-shoulder pull the chariot by rope, demonstrating to God Murugan their sincerity and purity of devotion.

Kavadi Dancers, Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Kavadi dancers, Nallur Festival

Men dress in fresh white sarongs, while ladies don their best and most colourful saris, transforming the entire temple complex into a vast a sea of intense whites, blues, reds and greens. Many of the men also carry a kavadi, the distinctive symbol of Murugam; a semicircular yoke, placed across the shoulders with peacock feathers at either end with which they dance. The chariots are of a rich variety ranging from a silver peacock, a silver swan, a silver rishapam (bull), the cobra, the green peacock and the house.

Skewered Devotee

Skewered devotee suspends from
Temple-bound chariot

Even more extraordinary are the devotees who, using skewers driven through their backs, suspend themselves from poles. These poles are then attached to the front of vehicles, and the devotees are driven through town to the temple, dangling in front. Supplicants who perform these self-mortifications believe that the god will protect them from any sense of pain. Special pujas  are conducted over the period during which different deities, including not least Murugam and/or his vel, are carried daily round the inner precincts on various chariots (vahanam or vehicles) at noon and the outer precincts in the evening. The Vel and the consorts grant dharsan (blessings) to thousands of devotees.