Pardon me for that rather Brit heading, but that was the first thing that came to mind as I walked down Bazaar Road, Mylapore yesterday morning. For years I had written that street name on postcards; my grandmother who was an indefatigable letter writer had a continuing correspondence with a niece who lived (and still lives) in that neighbourhood. The English records named the temple of Karaneeswarar as Coronation Pagoda and so the name had stuck. It has since been restored to its rightful wording.
In recent years, the area has been made alive for me by Karthik Bhatt, the enthusiastic heritage buff who resides here. Another illuminating source has been Chithra Madhavan who has in the past taken people like me on a heritage tour of the area and explained the Chola origins of the temple. The shrine itself is small, with what must have originally been a tiny sanctum for the Lord, Karaneeswarar and His consort, Swarnambika. In what was once its spacious courtyard, several ugly mandapams and sub shrines have come up, topped with a wholly unnecessary rajagopuram – which is invariably erected more to satisfy the ego of the Trustees than because the Lord demands it.
But be that as it may, the reason I was there yesterday was because it was the chariot festival. Having walked down, I could hear none of the usual commotion. I asked a man who was in front of the temple as to where the chariots were and he was categorical that they were yet to leave the temple. And yet, Karthik had told me that they were to set off at 6.00 am and it was getting on for 7.30 by then. I had my darshan inside the shrine, the courtyard full of vahanams.
There was not a soul in sight. The priest came by in a short while and when asked about the chariots asked me to look outside the temple. The procession was wending its way back! So much for the observation powers of the man outside the temple!
The chariot procession here is marked by its intimacy with the Lord. The cars are small, the one for Karaneeswarar being very pretty (cloth decorations and thombais part funded by the Bhatts – a 500 year old Gujarati family of Thanjavur and made by the shop of Gajendra Sa of Chintadripet – a family of Gujarati cloth workers from at least the 18th century – Modi to please note). The chariot for the Goddess is new and is marked by poor workmanship. It is more a தள்ளு வண்டி than anything else. But the deities were all decorated beautifully.
Being a small procession, you could see the deities up close and Karaneeswarar stood out in His majesty. Wielding a bow and an arrow, He sets out to destroy the three cities. His Pandyan கொண்டை was a delight.
This procession gives you an idea of how the Kapali chariot festival may have been when Mylapore was a village – small crowds, short chariots, people coming out of houses to worship and the Lord obligingly stopping everywhere. The chariots were pulled by young children and women.
The Karaneeswarar car alone had a set of powerfully built men, one of whom asked for me money for tea. I obliged him, after all, chaiwallahs are the flavour of the month and, if this man went on strike, Karaneeswarar would not move.
In case you are kicking yourself for having missed it, the festival is on for three more days. Worth a visit, but make sure you park your car on Kutchery Road.