On September 10, two chariots were drawn through Lewisham shrouded in baskets of fruit, coconuts and small bowls of chickpeas, intricate embroidered clothing and music from the surrounding crowds, writes Claudia Lee.
The Tiruvarur Chariot festival, known in Tamil as Tiruvarur Therottam, is an annual festival that has seen Hindu culture take over parts of Lewisham in celebration since 2012.
Miriam Abdulla, 36, from Crystal Palace, came across this years festival by chance.
Ms Abdullais a professional photographer.
She said: “This is the first time I have heard of the festival.
“I walked into Lewisham town centre from my home because no buses were going towards Crystal Palace through Lewisham – I soon found out why!
“I was met with a very warm welcome from one of the Sivan Trust volunteers and was offered food and drink.
“It is a beautiful festival full of vibrant colours of chariots and devotee clothing.
“Entire families turned up en masse – a few hundred, if not more.”
An official chariot procession began at 11am, down Lewis Grove towards Lewisham High Street and along Clarendon Rise, ending at the Sivan Temple – built in 2011.
The first chariot is smaller in size and believed by Hindus to carry the Hindu God, Ganesha. The second, larger chariot is believed to carry the God, Shiva.
Ms Abdulla said: “The chariot moved a few hundred metres at a time before stopping to allow devotees to make offerings to the gods.
“Behind the chariot the devotees sing devotional songs and musicians play traditional drums and a trumpet.
“A line of men rolled on the ground towards the larger chariot as it moved, holding a coconut in their hands as a form of devotion.
“Women followed the rolling men, stopping to bow to the ground and offer prayers.”
Ms Abdulla explained that some of the attendees had travelled from as far as Enfield to make their offerings to the gods.
At the end of the procession, devotees headed either to the temple car park, to enjoy lunch or offer more prayers inside the main temple building.
The festival was set up in Lewisham by the Sivan Kovil Trust in 2012, but the ritual itself has an ancient history.
Evidence suggests that the Therottam has been existent in Madurai city in Tamil even before King Thirumalai Nayak’s period in the 17th century.
A beautiful explanation has been given in the religious texts – Upanishads – about the purpose and metaphor of a chariot.
The Upanishads explain that in the chariot there are two important people, one is the driver of the chariot and the other is the passenger.
The passenger has no control over the journey. At the hands of the driver the reins are attached to control the bridles of several horses of the chariot. The chariot continuously moves on its path.
The chariot is considered a metaphor for the body, the passenger is the soul, and the driver the intellect.
The reins and bridles in the hands of the driver are considered as the mind and the horses the senses and the path represents human life.
The senses are in touch with the external world. They transfer the senses to the mind.
The decision-making involves the process of determination of right and wrong, good and bad.
Picture: Miriam Abdulla (inset); Chariots surrounded by people celebrating. Pictures: @miriamabdullaphoto
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