Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Vaikunta Ekadasi

As I proceeded to enter the street from my apartment yesterday morning, I noticed an unusually number of parked cars. My suspicions about a temple festival were confirmed when I saw my street fenced off and police only allowing pedestrians to enter through. Many of the pedestrians were walking barefoot, all headed towards the temple. Going the opposite way, I continued on with my morning walk in the dark at 5:30 AM. Near the completion of my walk, I was now near the temple. Snaking around the corner was a huge long line of people waiting to get into the temple. Some were buying ceremonial leaves, flowers, and other items. Several young people were collecting sandals from the worshippers, writing a number on the soles with chalk. The temple was draped with small “Christmas” lights cascading down over its façade.

Rushing back to get ready for school, I now arrived with my camera. One young man, seeing me with my camera, asked me if I knew what was going on, to which I replied “no.” He told me that this was the festival of Vaikunta Ekadasi, dedicated to Lord Vishnu in the Tamil month of Margazhi. The Srirangam Sri Rangantha Temple I was standing in front of was one of a few temples around the state that holds this auspicious event. He pointed out the reclining Vishnu above the entryway of the temple, indicating that this temple is dedicated to Vishnu.

According to legend, on this day Lord Vishnu took the form of “Ekadasi” (female energy) to kill the demon Muran. Impressed by this female energy, Vishnu announced that whoever worships him on this day will reach “Vaikunta” – heaven. The young software employee also told me that those who have passed away throughout the year will have the chance to enter heaven on this day and those who die on this day might go to heaven directly. Worshippers say prayers for their dead loved ones in hopes this will happen. On these special temples, a special door is opened for this one day of the year – the “Vaikunta Dwaram.” This is the passage encircling the innermost sanctum of the lord. Masses of people from all over the state lined up as early as 3:30 AM to pass through the Gate of Vaikunta in the temple.

Shortly after that, the software engineer told me to step back, as the large statue of Vishnu was going to be brought out. Adorned in beautiful garlands of flowers, the stern Vishnu was a sight to behold. A moustached sculpture carried him on his shoulders. A priest began performing some rites, including draping an additional garland of jasmine flowers over the outstretched hands of the moustached carrier. A ceremonial umbrella was placed over the entire huge sculpture, shading Vishnu and his carrier. The priest also lit some candles. A double-reed instrument, special drums, and an accordion-like instrument added to the festival’s flair. Alas, it was time to leave for school.

My neighbor also told me that on this day devotees fast and stay awake the entire night. Her mother-in-law already was at the temple at 3:30, observing the poojas occur. Rice is avoided on this day, as it is believed that the demon Mura finds a dwelling place in rice eaten then. Special meals are eaten after the fast is broken.

1 comment:

Bibi said...

Interesing post, and I'll bet this really was a surprise early a.m.