The Gates to Heaven—Vaikunta Ekadashi and Arudra Darisanam


The dark, chilly atmosphere of a winter morning dawns in South India with the sound of music and chants coming through the air. People wrapped up in woollies rush to the neighbourhood temple. There the Utsavar Moorthi, the processional representation of the temple deity,  is decorated and kept ready to be taken around the streets with everyone joining in the procession, participating in the Bhajan singing and reciting sacred texts.

Home fronts are decorated with huge kolams, geometrical drawings executed with great intricacy. These kolams or rangolis are embellished, with the bright yellow flowers of the pumpkin creeper placed in the middle amidst a dollop of cow dung.Kolam with pumkin flower on a blob of cow dung.jpg

People after a bath stand ready with offerings to the deity who will be brought around by devotees on a palanquin carried on shoulders.

Margazhi, the 9th month of the Tamil Calendar, occurs between mid-December and mid-January. The name of the month is derived from the Sanskrit word Margasirsi. The full moon day generally happens on the day when the star, Mrugasirsa rules. This year, Margazhi  commenced on December 17th and will end with the Bogi Pandigai/Hoi on January 14, 2016.

Margazhi or Maag is dedicated to spiritual activities and no weddings or social events take place. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna gives a list of the best of everything where he resides and says that he is Margazhi among the 12 months. No wonder that the whole month is dedicated to the divine.

Bramha Muhurtham is the time between 4.00 am to 6.00 am. It is considered to be a good time to do pooja and to practice singing, music, to study and to do Yoga. Throughout the month of Margazhi, the Brahma Muhurtham is especially dedicated to the Devas.

Both Vaishnavas and Saivas of Hinduism have special rituals based on religious texts and saints who are associated with this period. For Vaishnavas the Tirupaavai Pasurams are rendered in the early morning in all temples and houses. In the Srirangam temple, the Adhyayana Utsavam is held for 21 days. The recitation of the first 1000 verses, the beautiful Tiruvaimozhi by Nammalwar –the  most important part of the four thousand Divya Prabhandam Pasurams in honour of Lord Vishnu/Narayana—takes place during the 10 days prior to Vaikunta Ekadasi. This period is known as ‘Pagal Pathu’. Starting from Vaikunta Ekadasi, for the next ten days, the remaining three thousand verses of the Divya Prabandham are recited. This period is known as ‘Raapathu or Irappathu’. This is performed at many Divya Desam centres including Sri Rangam.

Vaikunta Ekadasi

Vaikunta Ekadasi is a very significant celebration in Vishnu temples like Tirupati, Srirangam Sri Ranganatha Temple and at the Bhadrachalam Temple. In Kerala, it is known as Swarga Vathil Ekadashi and this year it will be celebrated on December 1st 2015. It is usually celebrated in the early hours of the tenth day of the Adhyayana Utsavam. Symbolically, the Swargavasal—the doors to the heavens (a specially designated door in every temple)—are opened in all temples and throngs of people wait in the early hours of the morning to enter the gates and participate in the procession when the ruling deity of each temple is carried around in a procession.

Vaikunta Ekadasi at Srirangam Ranganathaswamy Temple.jpg

Ekadashi, is the eleventh day or Tithi (occurring twice) in the Hindu lunar calendar. Vaikunta Ekadasi’s significance is talked about in the Padma Purana. The Purana tells of Lord Vishnu  taking the form of ‘Ekadasi’ – female energy – to kill the demon Muran in the month of Margazhi. Impressed by ‘Ekadasi,’ Lord Vishnu gave her the blessing that whoever worshipped him on this day, would reach ‘Vaikunta’, his heavenly abode.
Like all Ekadasi days, devotees fast on this day. They keep awake the whole night and spend the hours in meditation, prayers and singing Hari Kirtanam. Rice is not eaten on ekadashi days. The belief is that the demon Mura finds refuge in the rice eaten on Ekadasi.

In Srivilliputhur, the home of the saint Andal, her compositions of Thiruppaavai, consisting of 30 verses is performed. Each day one verse is chanted beginning with the ‘Margazhi neerattu’ festival and the ‘pachcha paraputhal’. The final two verses are also chanted in most temples everyday. The presiding deities, Andal and Rengamannar, are offered vegetables and ugarcane. On Bhogi, the final day of the month, a farewell or Piriya Vidai is performed and Sri Andal Neerattu Utsavam is followed by Sri Andal Thirukkalyanam. The same ritual of singing the Thiruppaavai’s is observed in homes as well.

andal1's garland

Arudhara Dharshanam 

Arudhra Darshan is the most auspicious day associated with Lord Nataraja. It falls on the full moon day, Poornima in Marghazhi, the longest night of the year. This year it falls on 26th December 2015. In the Chidambaram Nataraja Temple it marks the conclusion of ten days Margazhi Brahmotsavam and is performed in all Siva temples. Arudhra is the golden red flame and Siva performs his cosmic dance in the form of this column of fire.

thedanceoflordshiva1The cosmic dance of Lord Shiva stands for the five aspects of existence, Creation, Protection,Destruction, Embodiment and Release. This symbolic cosmic dance is what science says that happens in every cell and particle of life, the very source of energy.

Arudra Darshanam celebrates the ecstatic cosmic dance of Lord Shiva. The famous Pancha Sabhas, the five cosmic dance halls of Shiva are:

Hall of Gold—Kanakasabhai at Chidambaram

Hall of Silver—Velli Sabhai at Madurai

Hall of Rubies—Ratnasabhai at Tiruvalankadu

Hall of Copper –Taambarasabha at Tirunelveli

Hall of Pictures –Chitrasabha at Kutralam

In the month of Margazhi, Tiruvempaavai the first millennium saint, Manikkavaachakar’s  hymns are chanted in the evening, and his image is brought to the shrine of Nataraja. His image is part of Margazhi processions and celebrations in Siva temples all over South India.Manikka

The festivals in the Hindu calendar are associated with the weather and the harvest. The cold weather in Margazhi with its limited daylight induced torpid tendencies. So it is possible that, to motivate early rising and brisk activity and to shake off the sleepy and lethargic feelings, religion, spirituality and the ‘Bhakti’ maargam was used to promote good health and community activities.

The concepts of celebrating the gods’ last few sleeping hours before they woke up to ‘Uttarayana’ after the end of  the Dakshinayana kaalam when (the sun travels over the southern hemisphere) was encouraged in devotees.

Other important festivals in this holy month are Hanumantha  Jayanti and the culmination of pilgrimage season at Sabarimala  Ayyappa Temple.

Marghazhi is also the grand month for the music season especially in Chennai. The frantic Sabha hopping to listen to music, watch dance and drama performances and listen to religious discourses keeps people totally busy and active.

About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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8 Responses to The Gates to Heaven—Vaikunta Ekadashi and Arudra Darisanam

  1. says:

    Fascinating. Thank you.


  2. Maxi says:

    That’s is deep devotion by the people who carry it through in their homes, Padmum.
    blessings ~ maxi


  3. tammy j says:

    I find your culture and your people and your love of life itself beautiful.
    perhaps because rummy has become such a fine friend.
    I don’t always comment.
    but I enjoy padmini! I enjoy!


  4. Hi Padmum: This IS the first Vaikunta Ekadasi, where I fasted completely without even a sip of water until the next morning’s prayer.. all day long I meditated upon Lord Vishnu even at the workplace. Went in the evening to the local temple here; I was nervous that I might get dizzy or something ( I am 55 and have never done this ) — the experience was heavenly ! Thank you for a nice article. Om namo bhagavate Vasudevaya !


    • padmum says:

      Great…I had written an article about fasting…I think it was in Tattvaloka magazine.

      The thoughts about being affected by empty stomach is planted in our minds…water, tulsi water is a great reviver!!

      Thanks for your comment.


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