Monday, July 26, 2010

Adi Vel HINDU FESTIVAL adds colour to Colombo...!!!

After 16 years:

Adi Vel adds colour to Colombo

K S Sivakumaran

* Maheswara Pooja at Semmangodu Sri Kathiravelayutha Swami Temple
* Kaavadi Ratham at Maanicka Vinayagar temple in Bambalapitiya


[Colourful Hindu festival]
* Adi Vel celebrated in Colombo during Aadi month of Tamil calendar
* Festival is 160 years old
* Held in honour of Lord Muruga
* Festival commemorates victory of Sri Murukan over the forces of evil


In July (Aadi in Tamil) each year to coincide with the Kathirkamam (Kataragama) festival in honour of Lord Muruga or Skanda , a replica of the Vael (Vel) - a golden spear of the deity - along with the statues of the deity with his consorts Theivaanai Amman and Valli Amman are taken in procession in a chariot along the main highway to the Maanicka Vinayagar Temple in Bambalapitiya.

Devotees participating in the procession

It all started last Thursday July (22) with a Maheswara Pooja at the Semmangodu Sri Kathiravelayutha Swami Temple in First Cross Street in Colombo 11 (Pettah). This was followed by Kaavadi Ratham (‘Kaavadi’ Chariot) a procession on foot by devotees to the temple at Maanicka Vinayagar temple in Bambalapitiya. This was a prelude to the procession on the following day (July 23, 2010, Friday)

The Vale (Vel) Ratham (a silver chariot) carried a golden statue of Lord Muruga and his Vale (Vel) was taken in procession by devotees on foot on Friday from the New Kathiresan Temple at Sea Street in Pettah and reached New Kathiresan Temple in Bambalapitiya. The statue of the deity was kept in the precincts of the latter temple in Bambalapitiya.

Yesterday (July 25, 2010), the water-cutting ceremony took place in Kataragama and concurrently the deities statue was taken to the ocean waves near the Bambalapitiya marine drive for similar bathing of the statues.

We understand that the two temples mentioned above - Manicka Vinayagar temple and New Kathiresan temple- are managed by two different trustees, but they celebrate this holy festival together.

Today (July 26) the Kavadi Ratham will go back to Manicka Vinayagar temple while the Vale (Vel) cart will leave for New Kathiresan temple tomorrow (July 27).

The Vale (Vel) Festival like the Kandy Perahera draws thousands of people from different communities.

To explain more clearly here is an excerpt culled from the Internet:

The Colourful Adi Vel cart and procession

“To mark the occasion, the idols of Lord Murugan, Sri Valli and Theivaanai are driven on a silver plated chariot from the temple of Pettah Kathiresan to Bambalapitiya shrine.

The beautifully decorated chariot is followed by musicians and devotees singing songs in praise of the Lord. The ardent followers break coconuts and burn incense sticks that add to the sacredness of the occasion. Several devotees from far and wide visit Colombo to witness the religious festival of Hindu Vel or Aadi Vel. The followers burst crackers to honour the victory of Lord Murugan over evil forces. Hindu Vel Festival Colombo reflects the unique religious history and cultural heritage of Sri Lanka.” (Internet)

Here is another colourful description by a writer:
“A day or two before the water-cutting festival of Kataragama, a gaily decorated silver plated chariot drawn by a pair of snow-white bulls carrying the statue of Lord Murukan leaves the Pettah Kathiresan temple to the shrine at Bambalapitiya. This is the beginning of the Vel Festival which is held every year to commemorate the victory of Sri Murukan over the forces of evil.

The procession proceeds along the accustomed route with multi-coloured umbrellas, caparisoned elephants, dancers and oriental musicians through a mass of worshippers and sightseers. It moves slowly while the drums throb, the bells tinkle and the Tanjore band plays till it reaches its destination.

A bhajana party singing divine songs follows the chariot. After a journey of six miles the pageant enters the temple where thousands of devotees flock to pay their homage to Lord Murakan by breaking coconuts, lighting joss sticks and burning camphor. The temple with its pageantry and panorama of twinkling illuminations attracts the religious and non-believer alike.

In the temple precincts and along both sides of the Galle Road traders of all races sell their merchandise - foodstuffs, clothes, brass utensils, camphor, beads, bangles, toys, earthen ware, sweetmeats, pictures, etc. The sugarcane juice dealers also do a brisk business.

A kavadi dance

When the illuminated Vel car returns on the evening of the third or fourth day along the accustomed route the crowd swells to immeasurable proportions. The Galle Road for many miles is a sea of heads, and when the Vel cart arrives at Galle Face Green, the pageant becomes grand and imposing.

First-class fireworks specially made for the occasion continue to illuminate the night sky with their multi-coloured lights. There is much fun and excitement. Bullock carts of all sizes and shapes line the roads, for the occupants have come from distant villages to see their war-god taking a drive through the city. The roads become impassable for vehicles, but everybody is happy and smiling. With the deafening shouts of Haro Hara, the Vel cart moves slowly to its destination. Today the Vel Festival has become a national festival of the island.” (Internet)

The Vale (Vel) was taken in procession by devotees from Colombo to Kataragama on foot (paada yathra) to bathe in the Manik Ganga more than a century ago. But later (in 1874) the colonial powers did not allow this procession on the grounds that hygienic conditions not conducive prevailed due to an outbreak of cholera in 1874. So devotees from all over the island came to Colombo to obtain their blessings. Similar festivals in honour of Lord Muruga take place as a follow up in Keerimalai, Naloor (Nallur) in Yaalpaanam (Jaffna) and Mandoor and Sithaandy in the East.

In Colombo too sporadically the festival was held after 1983. The last time the festival was held in Colombo was in 2004. Earlier a public holiday was declared for devotees and visitors to enjoy the festival and receive the grace from Lord Muruga.

A devotee walks along with the chariot. Pictures by Saman Mendis

Devotees of Indian origin - the Chemmankodu Chettiars - were instrumental in honouring Lord Muruga in this fashion.

“The Vel Festival is celebrated by Hindus in Colombo and is held in honour of Lord Sri Murukan, the God of War. The event begins with a lively procession through the streets led by an ornately decorated chariot carrying a statue of Lord Murukan which is pulled by two bulls. All are welcome to this fun festival that includes street entertainment, elephant processions, music, ceremonial dancing, fireworks and much more. A real carnival atmosphere takes over the city which reaches fever pitch in the areas close to the temples.”(Internet)

The Vale (Vel) festival this year promises reassurance that different communities and every one from different faiths could celebrate such religious festivals without any fear or interference. This augurs well for a bright future for all Lankans.


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