Saturday, February 20, 2010
Matale Chariot festival
When the moon will be in its near brightest hue early next month, the city of Matale will be brought alive as the annual 'Ratha Bhavani' or the Chariot festival of Matale Sri Muthumaariyamman Kovil is set to be held on the day prior to the forthcoming full moon day (February 28). It is a grand festival celebrated with great devotion not only by the Hindus but also by other communities living in the city.
Matale, with mountain ranges such as the 'Knuckles' sprawled across the surrounding areas, is situated 27 km away from the hill capital Kandy. It is a popular hill country resort city known for its historical importance. The Aluvihare Temple where, as history records, the Buddhist teachings (Thripitaka) were first written in text form on ola leaf, is located on the North side of the town.
From a vantage point one can see a city dotted with several religious places - vihares, kovils, mosques and churches - the landmarks that demonstrate the plurality and diversity of Matale in which different communities live harmoniously.
Matale Sri Muththumaariyamman Kovil is situated in the centre of the city. It is one of the most popular Hindu temples in the island. The distinct feature of the temple is that it is the only temple in the country that has five chariots. It also boasts of the tallest tower (Raja koburam) which is 108 feet. People from all parts of Sri Lanka and South India congregate in their numbers on the chariot festival day to pay obeisance to Goddess Maariyamman.
The worship of Maariyamman used to be unique to the Tamils of Indian descent. Maariyamman is believed to be a form of 'Shakti' worshipped in many parts of the hill country by the Tamils, and is associated with prosperity and health. Local beliefs associate the Goddess with powers to cure diseases such as small pox and chicken pox.
After performing ritualistic poojas for twenty days evoking the blessing of the Goddess, the chariot festival is held on the 21st day. The poojas on the first day begin with the hoisting of the flag (Kodiyaetram).After special poojas on March 2, at an auspicious time, the idols of Lord Murugan, Sivan Ambal, Shri Ganeshan, Shandeshvary and Goddess Maariyamman are placed in five beautifully adorned chariots, parade along the streets drawn by devotees.
The chariots are then taken out of the Kovil premises to parade along the streets. Taking the chariots along the streets of the town would go on till the small hours of the next day. The grandeur of the five gigantic chariots would be a spectacular sight to watch. The devotees of Maariyamman in the town would decorate their houses and business premises with banana and arecanut trees and mango leaves. The belief behind the festival is that, on the Ratha Bhavani day, Goddess Maariyamman pays visits at the doorstep of those who are feeble and sick and thus unable to visit the kovil to worship her.
Small traders from different parts of the island get an opportunity to put up shelters on street pavements and sell their wares to the massive crowd that turn out on the festival day.