It will be useful to briefly see the fivefold graceful functions of God and the fourfold means of attaining salvation, before proceeding to see the flag-raising ceremony proper.
The fivefold graceful functions of God: Saiva Philosophy says that God performs the fivefold graceful functions, padaitthal (creation), kaatthal (sustenance), odukkudhal (bringing the functioning of souls and the world to a resting state), maRaitthal (delusion) and aruLal (conferment of grace), to help souls to become spiritually enlightened through the various experiences in life, realize that attaining life at the feet of God is the only means of acquiring permanent happiness and therefore try to achieve that goal through sincere and faithful prayers and fasts.
Although padaitthal is briefly translated as ‘creation, in Saivism it is emphasized that, “no things can appear from nothingness”; hence, ‘creation is an arbitrary term used to indicate the ‘giving of the corresponding bodies for the already existing souls, which are resting in some other planes of the universe’, ‘formation of the world from the already existing five elements’ and providing the various aspects of nature for the sustenance and benefit of the souls’. Once He has created, He maintains the world intact and this is meant by the term, kaatthal.
The term, odukkudhal is frequently mentioned as al(z)itthal which is directly translated as ‘destruction. The term, ‘destruction is used arbitrarily, to denote ‘the bringing, to an end, of life on earth and/or the functioning of the world itself, to allow the souls to rest for a while in their long – weary journey, in their effort to attain the final goal of eternal bliss’. This is equivalent to the sleep, all living things need to have, in order to work more effectively in pursuing their worldly targets.
As the souls endure to achieve their noble goal of attaining God’s grace, God continues to guide all of them without revealing Himself. Although souls are working out the effects of their previous good and bad actions, they are never aware of their previous actions; neither are they aware that they do things in this life with the help of God; they always misconstrue that they do everything just through their capability. This is what the term, maRaitthal (concealment) means. When a soul becomes spiritually matured and enlightened, God bestows His grace (aruLal) on it.
It is very important to understand the terms which denote God’s fivefold graceful functions, namely, ‘creation, sustenance, destruction, concealment and conferment of grace’, within the Saiva context, if one wants to fully understand Saivism and its concept of God.
The fourfold means of attaining salvation: Saivism states that an aspiring devotee can follow any one of the four paths to attain its goal of achieving salvation. The four paths are sariyai, kiriyai, yoagam and njaanam; sariyai is generally said to mean the physical aspect of worship. Cleansing the premises of the temple, collecting flowers, making garlands and going around the temple with the praying gesture are some of the sariyai components; praying to god with mental focus, and performing poojaa, along with the sariyai deeds, is known as kiriyai.
Yoaham is the process by which we are to concentrate on the Almighty who is present within us and try to experience Him. The success of yoaham lies in the power at the bottom of the spinal cord rising through the six nerve-centers along our spinal cord and reaching the middle of the eye brow or the crown of our head.
The ceremonies conducted during the flag-raising ceremony remind the devotees of the Saiva Siddhantha principles inherent in them. The devotees are enabled to pray to God (by means of njaanam) with humility and earnest devotion because they realize that the impurities, which hinder them from attaining salvation, can only be removed by fully surrendering to God and continuing to do their duties with full awareness that God is continuously directing them from within. It will be useful to briefly see the Saiva Siddhantha principles conveyed by the various ceremonies conducted during the ten-day festival.
Saiva Siddhaantha says that there are three eternal things, namely, God, souls and the bondage composed of three impurities (ego, karma / fruits of our deeds and maayaa / illusion).
The peacock seen in the middle of the flag represents the spiritually matured, enlightened soul. The asthiradhaevar on the back of the peacock indicates the descending of God’s grace upon the soul. The (yellow) rope which is tied to the upper part of the flag represents the graceful power (thiruvaruL sakthi) which directs the enlightened soul toward the non-dual relationship with God. The tharppai rope represents the bondage. The flagpole itself represents God.
In the process of the raising of the flag, the tharppai rope comes down as the yellow rope pulls the flag upward. This shows that the bondage (tharppai grass), which hinders the effort of the soul to reach the feet of God, gives way to it when God’s Grace (thiruvaruL sakthi) descends upon the soul. When the soul succeeds in reaching the feet of God, the bondage is not destroyed but subdued.
When the flag reaches the top, the yellow rope is concealed, indicating that thiruvaruL sakthi merges into God. The tharppai rope is tied at the top of the flagpole, as it indicates the functioning of the spinal cord, more aptly called sul(z)umunai naadi in Tamil. When the flag is already raised, both the yellow rope and the tharppai rope get enclosed in the cloth of the flag, which represents thiroadhaana sakthi, the force of God which veils the understanding of the soul, thus enabling it to do the various acts and finally, as a result of learning from the corresponding experiences, work its way toward the attainment of God’s grace. When this cloth is tied around the flagpole, it is only the flagpole that stands alone, indicating that there is nothing else except God. When the prayers are offered to God at the flagpole, the enlightened soul at the top of the flag also receives the prayer, automatically. This illustrates the state of atthuvidha (non-dual) relationship of the enlightened soul and God, mentioned by Saiva Siddhantha philosophy.
During the period of the flag-raising ceremony, the flagpole stands as an embodiment of the sacred five letters, sivaayanama: the pole represents the letter, si (God), the yellow rope the letter, va (paraasakthi), the peacock on the flag the letter ya (the enlightened soul), the flag cloth the letter, na (maayai, the thiroadhaana sakthi), and the tharppai rope the letter, ma (aaNava ma lam).
The witnessing the yaaga poojaa is also a mode of prayer which enables one to go through the njaana-mode of prayer. In the word, yaaga saalaa, ya means ‘yaagam’, ga means `to go’, sa means ‘happiness’ and la means ‘the immersement of soul in God-consciousness’. The term, yaaga saalaa means ‘going to the level of njaana yaagaa for the attainment of bliss’.