The Athi Varadar festival in Kanchipuram began on 1st July this year and it will come to a close on the 17th of August.
What is the significance of this festival and why is the small town of Kanchipuram almost in a crisis?
What Is This Festival?
The ancient town of Kanchipuram is home to the Sri Devarajaswamy, dedicated to the worship of Lord Vishnu in his Varadaraja Perumal form. But the temple has been in the news for a while now because of the famous Athi Varadar festival.
Devotees flock to Kanchipuram during this time to catch a glimpse of the original wooden idol of Perumal, made from the wood of a fig tree. ‘Athi’ in Tamil means figs, and hence the name ‘Athi Varadar.’
Is that the only reason why people are swarming to this small town now? Not at all!
In fact the reason why Kanchipuram is flooded with people is that this idol is revealed to the public only once every 40 years and as it turns out, 2019 is one of those years!
The idol sits under water in the temple tank during that time and is placed for darshan for 48 days. Hence, devotees have to rush to the temple to catch a glimpse of this special idol.
The Story Behind It:
There are many stories claiming why this ritual is followed. One involves the mythical story of how Lord Vishnu helped Lord Brahma perform a Yajna, by obstructing the flow of river Vedavati (Goddess Saraswati in an enraged form).
Another one tells us how the temple deities hid the idol underwater from a Mughal invasion, and yet another one claims that this idol had to be replaced by another due to damages and since the former was worshipped by revered saints, it was preserved under water.
Lament Of The Devotees:
As interesting as this festival is, so miserable are the conditions of the crowd. Kanchipuram is a very small town and is capable of holding not more than one lakh people at a time.
But because of the unique nature of the event, the inflow of people has been nothing short of alarming. The town is literally jam-packed!
Worsening the situation, hotel prices have reached an all-time high of almost Rs. 8000 a night, and that is just for a basic room. On top of that, there is no assurance that you’ll get a room in the first place. Imagine travelling all the way there only to find out that you are stranded.
The Darshan timings are from as early as 5 in the morning till 9.30 in the night. Considering the amount of people and the limited duration of the festival, devotees queue in lines for more than 7 hours! Even the ones with VIP passes are forced to wait for hours on end.
As a visitor recalls, every day the temple authorities revise their crowd management strategies, only to add to the confusion. Alarmingly, staff mismanagement and impatient devotees, almost paved way for a stampede!
Sanitation is yet another concern. Another devotee grimaced while recalling how the entire town was wrapped in a putrid smell – “It was as though I was standing inside a public restroom.” The plight of the people, especially that of women while waiting in such long queues is far beyond my imagination.
Above all, what irked most people was the fact that all these hardships were sent for a toss as prominent figures and celebrities were granted special access to the idol, without any form of waiting. So at the end of the day, your tiring wait, braving all kinds of problems is of no use, as eventually you’ll end up either getting a glimpse of the deity for a few seconds, or you’ll be forced to repeat the process if you don’t make it to the front of the line in time.
Looking Forward To Change:
There are a few more days left until the festival concludes this year. An upsurge of crowds can still be expected. If the government as well as the temple authorities can come up with an efficient mode of managing such high numbers, the days leading up to the concluding ceremony will move smoothly.
Hopefully, the mistakes of this year will be taken into account and used fruitfully in making the next Athi Varadar festival a blissful and hassle-free event.
Image Credits: Google Images
Find The Blogger @NandanaNair19