The phrase, Aani Utthiram, is made up of the word, Aani (mid-June to mid-July) which denotes the third month in the Tamil calendar, and the word, Utthiram, which denotes the 12th among the 27 asterisms in Hindu astrology. Unlike some other Hindu festivals that take the full moon day into consideration, Aani Utthiram occurs on the day when the asterism, Utthiram, is in the ascendant in the Tamil month of Aani.
Aani Utthiram is also known as Aani Thirumanjanam. Thirumnjanam means a ‘ceremonial bath’. In other words, it denotes the abishegam done for the deities in a temple. This fact suggests that, Aani Utthiram’s special feature is the special and elaborate ceremonial bath performed for Lord Nadarajah on this day.
Why the ceremonial bath is considered the most important ritual of this special occasion?
The answer is Lord Nadarajah is fond of abishegam; He is very pleased with abishegam. He is known as abishega piriyar. In a year, six days are specified as days for Nadaesar abishegam.
What is the basis to set aside just six days for Nadaesar abishegam?
To answer this question, we have to recall the fact mentioned in our Aagamas; they say that temples should ideally perform six poojaas a day. Many temples in Tamil Nadu have six poojaas a day. In Malaysia, it is quite difficult to come across temples having six poojaas a day. The timings for the six poojaas in the Chidambaram Temple are:
Kaala sandhi (7.30 am to 9.00 am)
Second kaalam in the morning (10.00 am to 11.00 am)
Ucchi kaalam (11.30 am to 12.00 noon)
Saaya ratchai (5.15 pm to 6.00 pm)
Second kaalam in the evening (7.00 pm to 8.00 pm)
Artthajaamam (9.00 pm to 10.00 pm)
These six times can be respectively said as early morning, morning, noon, evening, early night and midnight in English. Artthajaamam literally means ‘midnight’; but the artthajaama poojaa is from 9.00 pm to 10.00 pm; this must be for practical reasons.
One more point to recall is that one day for the celestials is equivalent to one year on earth. When we perform abishegam for Lord Nadaraajar six times a year, it will be equivalent to the six poojaas, performed by the celestials in their one day. The shortcoming of not performing six poojaas a day seems to be complimented by the performance of six abishegams a year.
The six days for Nadaesar Abishegam according to the schedule of the Chidambaram Temple are:
- On the day of the fourteenth phase of the waxing moon (vaLarpiRai sadhurtthasi) in the Tamil month of Maasi (mid-February to mid-March), equivalent to the time between 8.00 am to 10.00 am for the devas; abishegam is done in the evening (saaya ratchai).
- On the day when the asterism, ThiruvoaNam is in the ascendant in the Tamil month of Chitthirai (mid-April to mid-May), equivalent to the time between 12.00 noon to 2.00 pm for the devas; abishegam is done in the evening.
- On the day when the asterism, Utthiram, is in the ascendant in the Tamil month of Aani (mid-June to mid-July), equivalent to the time 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm for the devas; abishegam is done early in the morning (before dawn).
- On the day when the fourteenth phase of the waxing moon in the Tamil month of AavaNi (mid-August to mid-September), equivalent to the time between 8.00 pm to 10.00 pm for the devas; abishegam is done in the evening.
- On the day when the fourteenth phase of the waxing moon in the Tamil month of Purattaasi (mid-September to mid-October), equivalent to the time between 10.00 pm to 12.00 midnight for the devas; abishegam is done in the evening.
- On the day when the asterism is in the ascendant in the Tamil month of Maarhal(z)i (mid-December to mid-January), equivalent to the time between 4.00 am to 6.00 am for the devas; abishegam is done early in the morning.
Among the six abishegam days, Aani Thirumanjanam and Maarhal(z)i Thiruvaadhirai are the ones which are celebrated as grand festivals. The reason seems quite transparent. The celestial timings equivalent to these two months are 4.00 to 6.00 in the morning and evening respectively. Of the six timings for the Temple poojaa, the more important timings are the ones in the morning and evening. In fact if we are able to do only one poojaa, the evening is the chosen time. Incidentally, the asterism, Thiruvaadhirai, is auspicious to Lord Siva. The abishegam for these two festivals are performed before dawn. The month of Aani is equivalent to 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm for the celestials; the abishegam for Aani Utthiram would be expected to be performed in the evening. As said earlier, temples must be arranging their timings from the practical point of view. As these two days are celebrated as grand festivals, it will be suitable to perform the elaborate abishegaam early in the morning thus allowing the rest of the day for other festive rituals. As for the other four days, Nadaesar abjshegams are scheduled for evening.
Having known the basic reason for the auspiciousness of Aani Utthiram, it will be of interest to reflect the logical basis found in the performance of rituals related to special festive days.
Earlier it was mentioned that Lord Siva is referred to as abishega piriyar. Lord Vishnu is referred to as alanggaara piriyar (one who loves adornment).
Lord Siva is always associated with fire. He body is as red as fire. Appar sings, ‘PavaLam poal maeniyil paal veNNieeRu (milk-like thiruneeru on the body as red as coral)’. He dances in sizzling graveyard; He has taken the ‘hot’ poison. In fact He appeared as a Cosmic Flame. Everything about Him is hot. Hence, it is natural for Him to enjoy frequent cool baths. On the contrary, Lord Vishn is blue in colour; He is a cool protector of the world; He lies on the bed of a cool snake, which again is found in the sea of milk. As the protector (ruler) of the earth, He is always dressed like a king. Moreover, Thulasi is auspicious for Him, because Thulasi imparts warmth to the consumer; whereas, the Vilvam leaf is auspicious for Lord Siva as the leaf lends a cooling effect to its consumer. This casual observation is to make note that our Hindu beliefs, observations, rituals and practices are interwoven on a philosophical, scientific and logical basis. Hats up for our Hinduism!