Athi Varadar raising at Kanchipuram, once in 40 years spectacle

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The latest buzz in Tamil Nadu is Athi Varadar. There is a lot of mystery surrounding him that has turned all the attention towards Him. Athi Varadar has taken over the news channels and social media over topics like Tamil Nadu being completely ran out of water. Raising of Athi Varadar is once in a 40 years event. May be that’s why all of us are curious about it. Including me. Ever since I read about this, I wanted to visit Varadaraja Perumal temple at Kanchipuram. And yes, I did it. I braved a three hour queue on a bright summer afternoon and had darshan of Athi Varadar. Before we get into how to seek darshan, let us get into a bit of history.

Athi Varadar History

There are two theories running behind the history of Athi Varadar. One is a mythology story and the other is more of a recent one. But both say one thing that Athi Varadar is named so cause He is made of Athi Maram (fig tree) and that the idol was submerged in the temple tank for many years. The first story goes like this. Goddess Saraswathi is upset with Her husband Lord Brahma cause during an argument Brahma says Lakshmi is more powerful than Saraswathi. Later Brahma conducts a yagna praying to Lord Vishnu to bless Him with some powers. The yagna is supposed to be conducted with wife along but Brahma decides to ditch his wife and go ahead with the ritual sacrifice. Saraswathi gets angry and takes the form of river Vedavathi and comes flowing down to wipe off the whole yagna. Brahma prays to Vishnu and Vishnu lies down in front of the river and obstructs the river. Brahma then carves out a Vishnu idol out of a fig tree to honor this event. Kanchipuram is once said to have been filled with fig trees. He continues to perform another yaga with this idol made of wood and starts to pray. The heat from the sacrificial fire is too much that the idol starts to sweat. And so Lord Vishnu asks Brahma to immerse Him in the tank next to the yagna which is known as the Anantha Saras. Vishnu also says to Brahma, to do pooja to this idol once in 40 years for 48 days and to bury it back under the temple tank. Before that Vishnu grants all the boons that the Gods and DemiGods ask for and hence the Vishnu of Kanchipuram gets the name Varadaraja Perumal (Varam = boon, varada = giving boon, raja = king).

Kanchi Varadaraja temple
Kanchi Varadaraja temple

So Kanchi means a place where Brahma worshipped. The Vishnu Kanchi people believe Brahma worshipped Vishnu in Kanchi and the Shaiva Kanchi people believe that Brahma worshipped Shiva here. Also, there is a river by name Vedavathi that flows from western ghats. In all probability like Cauvery, Vedavathi would have flowed through Tamil Nadu too. And some say Vegavathi is the present day Palar river as that is what is flowing through Kanchi as of today.

kanchi farms
Pretty landscape en route

The second story is that during the Mughal invasion, in order to protect the main deity the temple authorities decided to hide the idol. And hence they created the underground place inside the temple tank and placed the nine foot Athi Varadar statue in it. But then the one who actually hid it passed away and with time people forgot where the deity was hidden. Almost for 40years, the Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal temple had no deity in the main sanctum sanctorum. So they finally decide to bring an idol from a temple in Pazhaya Seevaram which is close to Kancheepuram. The deity of the temple at Pazhaya Seevaram resembled the original deity made of Athi Maram. So they installed it. Somewhere in the early 17th century while cleaning the temple tank they noticed the Athi Varadar hidden there. To mark the fact that there was no idol for 40years in the temple, once in 40 years they take out Athi Varadar and do pooja. If you are wondering why did they not permanently set a sanctum for Atih Varadar once He was found, well people thought it was God’s will to remain submerged for those many years, let us continue the tradition.

Varadaraj west gopuram
Varadaraja temple west gopuram

Till today the utsavar moorthy from Kanchi Varadaraja temple visit Pazhaya Seevaram temple on an annual festival, more like visiting His home.

How is Athi Varadar Stored in Anantha Saras

Did you get to see the picture of Athi Varadar being taken out of the temple tank? It was all covered with moss and dirt. Am extremely surprised that an idol made of wood can sustain under water like that. It is indeed a miracle if you think of it. The last time Athi Varadar was taken out was in 1979 and now in 2019. In an interview given by Kittu Bhattar to The Hindu he mentions that, “After reaching the surface of the pond, one needs to descend 12 steps deep further and there lies a nine feet tub brimming with water. The image exactly fits in the tub and lies at its bottom, with nagabasams (serpent images) fixed to the various corners of the tub serving as clamps to prevent the idol from coming out of the tub. Three days before the event, we enter the pond, remove the nagabasams and bring the idol out. After cleaning, the idol is placed for worship for 48 days and then put back inside the tub under water, with the clamps back in their place. Before placing the idol in the tank, we apply organic preservatives so that the salt content in water does not corrode the image.’’ You can read the entire interview here – Retrieval of Kanchi Varadar. This time when the Athi Varadar was taken out they distributed the moss stuck to the idol as prasadam it seems. I was eager to see the Anantha Saras tank and the place from where they would have dug out the idol but then you get to see nothing of it during the temple visit.

Anantha Saras
Anantha Saras where Athi Varadar remains submerged. Pic courtesy Madhu Jagdish

The Day of Darshan

I visited Kanchipuram from Chennai. Me and my mom were all set to visit the temple early in the morning, only that we woke up to dried out taps and no water. So by the time we started towards Kanchipuram it was about 1pm. It was a wonderful bright day filled with fluffy clouds that I was thoroughly enjoying the drive to Kanchi. The moment you near Kanchi there are sign boards all around welcoming you to the festival and how to proceed further.

athi varadar parking
Clear sign boards around the town

There are also policemen deployed all around the city who help you find your way. I had my car. If you are traveling by bus, the bus stops as you enter the city and there are plenty of mini buses lined up that takes you to the temple entrance. All the buses are redirected to the temporary bus stop set up at the Pachaiyappa college grounds. Car parking is also arranged in Pachaiyappa college grounds. But again from here you will have to take mini bus to the temple. We proceeded towards the Thiruveedhi Pallam vehicle parking. It is just about 500m from the temple and a lot of open spaces have been arranged for car parking. Quite possible for you to forget where you have parked your car cos it goes through tiny lanes. Luckily we got down right in front of the East Gopuram entrance, that is where the entrance to free queue starts.

athi varadar car parking
ample space for car parking

Queue/Crowd Management

I and my mom thought the queue is less as we were already inside the shaded mandapam. Previous days we saw youtube videos with people standing around the temple walls. So we thought we are the lucky ones. But my happiness was quite short lived. The thing is the temple management is experimenting with different queue options every day and it is quite messed up. They started with a free queue and a 50Rs. queue. But now the 50rs. queue has been scraped out. On the day I visited this is how the crowd management was. Up until we enter the main Gopuram entrance it is barricaded into segments. They open the barricade, the crowd rushes through a small space to the next segment! Totally not safe. This is a stampede waiting to happen I felt.

athi varadar crowd
Crowd before the main gopuram

Once you are near the gopuram they filter out old people vs people who can walk in the queue. The next section is the only breezy part of the queue. It is a newly put up shed for the festival and so it has fans and keeps the whole area cool. This is also a queue where three people can stand side by side. Hence not as much pushing as walking through the barricade. This happiness is short lived though.

athi varadar queue

The nightmare is once the queue turns and gets into the main temple complex. These are high ceiling sheds that are always part of the temple. They do not have fans. This also a queue where nearly 6 to 7 people can stand side by side. So more crowd and more pushing. This queue goes all the way till Desikar Sannidhi mentioned in the pic below.

athi varadar map
Map to Athi Varadar Sannidhi

After the Desikar Sannidhi the queue turns into 2 people queue. There is too much pushing to join this queue and there is an addition of another queue as well. The heat of the crowd increases. People got violent. And they started to shout at each other, jump queues and got into physical fight too. There is ample space around the temple to make multiple queues. A single person queue would have been best and would have moved faster with no push and pull. Multiple queues that snake around the temple are so much better even if it makes lengthier queues.

Kanchipuram queue
The queue around the temple

Coming to the good part of the queue. There are water taps running throughout the queue with tumbler attached. You can quench your thirst with no problem. There are also two clinics along the queue. There is a battery operated car that ferries old age people and obviously their family. It takes straight to most part of the queue. So if you are old you are really lucky. I also felt they should have had a queue exclusively for women.

Note: I went on the fourth day of the festival and this was the crowd. Off late am seeing tweets and videos where they have mentioned it takes about 6 hours.

vasantha mandabam
Vasantha Mandabam where Athi Varadar resides

Darshan of Athi Varadar

In spite of all the crowd and push and pull, when you are right in front of the Athi Varadar it is indeed a unique feeling. Athi Varadar is about nine feet tall. And right now it is kept in reclining position. Some say for the first 24 days the statue will be kept in reclining position and for next 24 days the statue will be kept in standing position. While most of the news channels mention that for the first 40days it will be in reclining position and last 8 days standing. Doesn’t matter what position, it is huge! And to think that this huge idol is kept submerged in a silver tub in a tank makes you go awe with wonder! Athi Varadar is placed in the Vasantha Mandapam that is close to the west gopuram. He was dark and when you see in person, it does feel like wood. Cos in pictures to me it still felt like stone. Adorned with a orangish silk dhoti and plenty of flowers, He looked handsome as ever. You get to see close to about 30 seconds. No pooja or anything that you can carry in and offer. You get to see and move on. Sad that people were trying to take selfie instead of praying with devotion even though it is just 30 seconds you get to see!

Athi Varadar
Athi Varadar – Source Internet

Ticket booking for Athi Varadar Darshan

So now there is no longer 50rs queue, all of us get into the free darshan queue. There is a 500rs sahasaranama Archana ticket. They give 250 tickets online, one slot is at 11 am and the other slot is at 5pm. The online ticket booking for Athi Varadar darshan opens at 10am and we can book four days in advance. This service is not available on Saturday and Sunday. I don’t know how it is now. But when I was trying to book this online ticket, the page wouldn’t load and was like booking tatkal ticket in irctc!!

Here is where you can book the ticket – Online ticket booking for Athi Varadar. The link to book the ticket is right in the middle of the page. Select English on the top right corner to make it easy.

Note: As of 17th July a special Darshan ticket has also been opened. This ticket queue timing is 6 pm to 10 pm. The link to book this ticket is the same as the above link.

varadaraja east gopuram
Entrance at east gopuram

Psstt: There is also a VIP ticket. They get to stand inside the sanctum close to God and get treated well, get goodie bag from Athi Varadar too. Not sure how you can get this VIP ticket! Some say you have to be VIP and register in the collector office. But no idea if this is a legitimate info.

Athi Varadar Darshan Timings

This is again something the temple experiments every day and they keep changing! Ideally, the timing is 5am to 8pm. During sahasaranama Archana the queue is stopped temporarily. It was told before that, Kanchipuram people will be let to visit between 5pm to 8pm and they had to take a special ticket showing their aadhar card. All that is gone now cause everyone is there all the time everywhere. I met so many people from Kanchi while standing in the queue. And then for some time they said aani festival, darshan timing is cut short to 5pm. This has been revoked now. Similarly, there is also news on the internet that during aadi pooram time will be revised which I doubt. As of July 9th timing has been extended up to 10pm to manage the crowd. Best time to visit would be morning just for the sake of weather. The crowd is gonna be the same irrespective of the time.

Note: As of 15th July the timing to visit Athi Varadar is from 5am to 9pm

kanchi
a slight breezy moment

How to reach Kanchipuram Varadharaja Temple

If you are traveling from Chennai, the Oragadam highway NH48 is pretty good to take. But expect traffic up until Tambaram and little more after that. The other way is, of course, the Bangalore – Chennai highway through SriPerumbudur. Varadaraja temple is the first temple to arrive when you approach through Chennai – Walajabad. If you would like to stop for coffee or lunch break then come off to Walajabad away from Kanchi crowd. It takes about 80km and that is roughly one and a half hours from Chennai. If you are traveling from Bangalore then take the Bangalore Chennai highway. Rather than staying at Kanchipuram better to halt at Sriperumbudur or Chennai itself and do day trip to Kanchi as the prices are so hiked up at Kanchi.

Book your accommodation at Kanchipuram here – Hotels at Kanchipuram

walajabad
Walajabad railway station

Things to know before visiting Athi Varadar

  • Entry is through east gopuram and exit is through west gopuram.
  • There are slipper stands near East gopuram. But you come out of west gopuram and it is another 1km walk back to east gopuram. It is pain after you have stood in that long queue.
  • July 23 Modi is visiting Kanchi. July 14,15,16 are set aside for VIPs and VVIPs. So do not plan your trip around these days
  • Minibusses run between the temple and the common bus stand for a standard ticket price of Rs.10.
  • Old aged people and people with disabilities have battery-operated cars and special queues, so it is convenient
  • Many people tweet stick to your left in the queue that takes you closest to the shrine. Nothing like that. Eventually, it is one queue in front of the Lord and there is ample space to see God. There is no need to stick to your left and waste time.
  • There are water taps all through the queue. Water syntax, toilets, and clinics are there around the city.
  • Please do not bring children. Please do not bring infants and children! They cannot take this suffocation. Please be sensible and don’t bring anyone less than 16 years. If they get lost in that crowd you will not even be able to figure out.
  • You will not be able to see the temple tank, the main sanctum (Moolavar sannidhi), the famous gold and silver lizard sculptures. Darshan is only towards Athi Varadar. Varadaraja Perumal is off-limits.
  • The festival started on July 1st and will last till August 17′ 2019

Everyday the crowd is getting more and more. So be cautious when you visit the temple and be ready for the crowd. The crowd management is actually bad and frightening. You need to have tremendous faith in God to get through this crowd. So this is not a fun event, if you are planning to just drop by.

The fact that this could be once in a life time event makes most of us visit the temple. Everyday nearly a lakh people are visiting the temple. I have to say am blessed to have had darshan of Athi Varadar 🙂 Even the sunset was special on the day I visited 😀

Kanchi sunset
Sunset of the day

As of August 17th 2019, Athi Varadar has been placed back into the Anantha Saras tank. The 48 days festival came to an end and nearly more than a crore devotees visited Kanchipuram for darshan. A special thailam (oil mix) was applied to the statue and it was lowered into the Ananthasaras tank. The next Athi Varadar raising festival will be held 40 years from now which is 2059.

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22 Comments

  1. Mythreyi R. July 11, 2019
    • Chittra M July 12, 2019
  2. Geetha Iyer July 14, 2019
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  5. mahendra mahabir agarwal July 23, 2019
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  11. Raveendra S Kulkarni August 12, 2019
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