By Mahesh Nayak
Mangaluru, Feb 18, 2021: Every year on Rath Sapthami day, all the roads in the GSB Universe lead to Temple Square. For that is the day of ’Theru’, the annual Car Festival of Sri Venkatramana Temple, Mangalore. Of all the festivals that are held in this temple, Kodial Theru is the most spectacular and most eagerly awaited.
It falls in late January or early February in the Hindu month of Magha. It begins on Tritiya or the third day of the bright moon and ends on the seventh to be followed by Holi (Okuli) after the festival. For these six days, the Car Festival rules in the Car Street in front of the Venkatramana Temple, which comes alive with colourful decorations, illuminations and temporary stalls.
This year’s ‘Theru’ falls on February 19 and it is all the more special as it commemorates the 200th feast since its beginning. Shrimath Vibhudendra Thirtha, the fourteenth Swamiji of Shree Kashi Math Samsthan had initiated the Car Festival (Kodial Theru) in 1821. The Veera Venkatesha idol with a sword in the hand in Shri Venkataramana Temple, Mangalore, was installed by Shrimath Vibhudendra Thirtha Swamiji in 1804.
Unlike in Udupi and Bhatkal, the Car Street in Mangalore is not circular in shape. The busy market stalls spill over on either sides of the adjacent Bhavanthi Street and Mahamaya Temple Road and contribute to the gaiety. Right in front of the temple is the ’Temple Square’ an open space where the masses congregate for a Darshan of the Lord.
The Festival begins with the Dwajarohana or hoisting of the ‘flag’ – actually a framed picture of Garuda. This is done ceremoniously on the first day of the festival amidst the clanging of bells and the reverberation of drumbeats. The Garuda stays aloft for the rest of the festival until he is again lowered in an equally ceremonial manner on the day of the Holi and this is the concluding event of the festival.
The intervening days in the temple are spent with homas, yagas and poojas in the morning; while in the evening, the deity is ceremonially taken around the sanctum sanctorum in a magnificent silver palanquin. The fourth day is when the deity is finally taken out in procession. That is the day of the Mrigaye festival (deer hunt), when the procession goes along the prescribed routes, accepting aarathis from the devotees along the way. A symbolic deer hunt takes place during this outing. The procession ends with the drawing of the small chariot or ’car’. The following day is the big day when the ’Great Chariot’ is finally drawn. Intricately carved out of wood, this massive chariot is bedecked alternately with red and while flags. The pulling of this beautifully decorated chariot, full of fragrant flowers adding more lustre to the deity is a feast to the eye. The is now a project on the cards to replace the existing chariot with a brand new one in the coming year.
Earlier, when all sections of society didn’t enjoy entry into the temple, the Car Festival gave the opportunity to all to have darshan of the deity during the procession. The Car Festival throughout its six days, attracts lakhs of men, women and children of the GSB community, irrespective of background. Nearly all those who throng to the temple stay back for Prasada Bhojana - a mass dinner served every day in the temple premises.
Okuli, the valedictory day of the Car Festival, a day of wild merriment when men bathe themselves in coloured water and girls and women watch their crazy antics. This is a day when the normally sober GSB gentleman can afford to let down his guard and dance and make merry without inhibition.
A matter of pride, a reinforcement of spiritual faith, a renewal of community bonds, a sense of social amity, dedication and service to the lowly individual to the larger society, a pleasure of ’give and take’, a source of power, strength and wealth. “The Car Festival is not just a religious festival, it is a social festival too,” says a devotee. The Car Festival is one event they all like to participate in as one large family and it will continue for long in spite of all the modernity in their lives!