Quadragennial Deity brings millions to Kancheepuram

Quadragennial Deity brings millions to Kancheepuram

‘Athi Varadar’ will rise from the Pond next, in Year 2059

Venkat Raman
Auckland, August 25, 2019

Athi Varadar in Nindra Thirukkolam (Standing Posture) (Images Courtesy: Bakthi Saran)

Hindus believe that their favourite Lord beckons devotees unto Him for a Dharshan, every now and then.

In the case of Athi Varadar in Kancheepuram, such a boon generally occurs only once in a person’s lifetime for He ‘surfaces from water’ every 40 years and remains ashore for 48 days; thereafter, He is immersed into the Pond for another 40 years.

48 days, after 40 years

I was lucky to be beckoned along with Uma Venkatram and family friends Indra & Manasa Sirigiri and Madhav & Vedavathi Rao (of Hyderabad) less than three weeks ago.


After a cancelled Malaysian Airlines flight out of Auckland and being rerouted via Bangkok on Thai Airways, we arrived in Chennai 12 hours later than schedule but reached Kancheepuram on time.

That in essence was the ‘Divine Call.’

Placed on a slow-moving crowd for more than five hours, we had the Dharshan of Lord Athi Varadar for less than five seconds. But those five seconds were Ordained Moments that would not be repeated, not in this birth at least.

Athi Varadar in Shayana Thirukkolam (Sleeping Posture) (Images Courtesy: Bakthi Saran

Unheard of Crowd

While the State Government and the local authorities expected no more than 100,000 people to visit the Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Kancheepuram over the 48 days of Athi Varadar in appearance (from July 1 to August 18, 2019), daily visits of people from various parts of the world exceeded more than twice that estimate. According to the Temple authorities, over 10 million people visited the Temple during the Athi Varadar Festival.

The Legend of Athi Varadar

As per legend, Lord Athi Varadar is taken out of the Underwater Chamber of the Ananthasaras Tank adjacent to the Temple once in 40 years and the devotees can have Dharshan of the Lord for 45 days at the Vasantha Mandapam within the Varadaraja Perumal Temple Complex.

The Pond near the Temple where Athi Varadar is immersed (Picture Courtesy: Bakthi Saran)

Athi means Fig and hence Athi Varadar is the Idol carved out of wood from a fig tree.

Lakshmi Narasimhan, known as Kittu Bhattar, a Priest at the Temple told The Hindu,  “Standing under the dimly lit water Pond, it takes time to recognise shapes. 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 fits exactly 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. We enter the Pond three days before the event, remove the Nagabasams and bring out the Idol. 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.’’

The Idol is kept in the Vasantha Mandapam right on the main entrance of the Temple and although regular Aradhana rituals are not performed, the offerings of the devotees are accepted, Kittu Bhattar said.

The snail queue-Waiting to have a fleeting Dharshan of Athi Varadar on the foreground from left (Indra Sirigiri, Uma Venkatram, Manasa Sirigiri, Madhav Rao and Vedavathi Rao) (Picture taken on Huawei P30 Pro)

City of Temples

Kancheepuram holds the record for Temples (about 40), among the most famous of which is that of Athi Varadar, a form of Lord Vishnu, the Main Deity brought up from a pond once in 40 years.

The Idol was worshipped by Ramanujacharya, Vedanta Desikan, Manavala Mamunigal and many others. The Deity was raised in 1939 and 1979 in the 20th Century and following this year’s Dharshan, the Lord will be raised next in 2059.

As a mark of respect to the place, the Processional Deity (Utsava Murthy) of the Temple visits ‘Pazhaya Seevaram’ once a year and blesses the devotees.

Athi Varadar Idol is a Nine-feet tall, made out of the divine fig tree, botanically identified as Ficus Racemosa Linn falling under the Moraceae family.

According to a belief, Goddess Saraswathi had a misunderstanding with her husband Brahma and in a fit of anger, took away his Divine Wand to retrieve which, He performed the Ashvamedha Yagna in the Athi forest (Fig forest), now Kancheepuram.

Aided by the Asuras (Demons), Sarawathi runs as the Vegavathi River and tries to interrupt the Yagna, when Vishnu emerges from the Holy Fire as Athi Varadar. Saraswathi is pacified and the Yagna continues.

Vishwakarma carved out a body for Athi Varadar using a fig tree and He agrees to stay in Kancheepuram atop the Elephant Hill.

About Kancheepuram

Kancheepuram (also called Kanchipuram and Kanchi) is one of the most ancient cities in India. It is among the seven sacred Indian Cities (the others being Ayodhya, Madhura, Maya, Kasi, Avantika, Dwara) that can bestow Salvation (Moksha).

Kancheepuram was the seat of famous Universities and even now a place for eminent people. It witnessed the  growth  of   both  Shaivam (Worshippers of Lord Shiva) and Vaishnavam (Worshippers of Lord Vishnu).

Covering an area of 11.605 Sq kms its population was estimated at 164,265 in 2011. It is the administrative headquarters of Kanchipuram District and is well connected by road and rail. Chennai International Airport (72 Kms) is the nearest domestic and international airport.

Located on the banks of the Vegavathy River, Kancheepuram was ruled by the Pallavas, the Medieval Cholas, the Later Cholas, the Later Pandyas, the Vijayanagara Empire, the Carnatic Kingdom and the British (who called it ‘Conjeeveram’).

The City’s historical monuments include Kailasanathar and Vaikunta Perumal Temples.

Kancheepuram is well-known for its handwoven silk sarees and most of the City’s workforce is involved in the weaving industry.

Municipal Administration

Kanchipuram is administered by a Special grade Municipality constituted in 1947.

It is the Headquarters of the Kanchi Mutt, a Hindu monastic institution believed to have been founded by the Hindu Saint and commentator Adi Shankaracharya. As well as the Capital City of the Pallavas between the 4th and 9th Centuries, it was a religious centre of advanced education for Buddhism and Jainism in the 1st and 5th Centuries.

Kancheepuram has been chosen as one of the heritage cities for  Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) Scheme of the Indian Government.

Number 40: Some Characteristics

Forty is a composite and an octagonal number and as the sum of the first four pentagonal numbers. It is a pentagonal pyramidal number. Adding up some subsets of its divisors (e.g. 1, 4, 5, 10 and 20) gives 40, hence 40 is a semiperfect number.

Given 40, the Mertens function returns 0.[6] 40 is the smallest number n with exactly nine solutions to the equation φ(x) = n.

Forty is the number of n-queens problem solutions for n = 7.

40 is a repdigit in base 3 (1111, i.e. 30 + 31 + 32 + 33) and a Harshad number in base 10.

In Science, Forty is the atomic number of zirconium.

Negative Forty is a unique temperature at which the Fahrenheit and Celsius Scales correspond; that is -40 °F = -40 °C. It is referred as either ‘minus forty’ or ‘forty below.’

In Astronomy, Messier object M40 is a magnitude 9.0 double star in the constellation Ursa Major. The New General Catalogue object NGC 40, a magnitude 12.4 planetary nebula in the constellation Cepheus

Number 40 is found in many traditions without any universal explanation for its use. In Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and other Middle Eastern traditions, it is taken to represent a large, approximate number, similar to “umpteen.”

In Hinduism, some popular religious prayers consist of forty Shlokas or Dohas (couplets, stanzas), the most common being the Hanuman Chalisa (Chaalis is the Hindi term for 40).

In the Hindu system, some of the popular fasting periods consist 40 days and is called the Period One ‘Mandala Kalam.’

For example, devotees of Swami Ayyappa (Sabarimala Ayyapan), a Hindu God popular in Kerala strictly observe forty days of fasting and visit (only male devotees were permitted to enter into the God’s temple until September 2018) with their Holy Submission or offerings on the 41st or a convenient day after a minimum 40 days practice of fasting.

The offering is called ‘Kaanikka.’

Forty is he third point won by a player in a game of Tennis.

Forty Winks represent short sleep during the day.

Forty is a size of garment or other merchandise.



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