The combination of Aardra star and the full moon takes place once a year, in the month of Maargazhi. Early morning on the day when the confluence of full moon and Aardra occurs, Lord Shiva, in his manifestation as Dancing Lord Nataraja gives His darshan – known as Aardraa Darsanam, most famously in Chidambaram and in other Shiva temples as well.
In Chidambaram, in Lord Nataraja temple, the Thiruvathirai, or holy Aardraa, festival starts 10 days before the Aardra darshan day and every day there are special pujas and processions. On the Aardraa darshan day, maha abhishkam for Lord Nataraja and Goddess Sivakama Sundari takes place early in the morning at the Raja Sabha (thousand pillar mandapam) followed by Raja Alangaram and Aardraa darshan.
Aardraa in Sanskrit means wet, or dripping: in the context of Aardraa Darshan, it signifies wet with compassion, or, ‘nanainda manasu’ in Tamil. It is the period of the year, when Nature, which is but a manifestation of God, puts on a wet cloak of dew: early in the morning, the soothing rays of moon and the dripping dew envelope the earth. It is a most auspicious occasion to perform abhisheka (or, bathing with milk, sandal paste, water etc) of Ishwara whose heart is overflowing with compassion to all of us and seek His Blessings.
Parameshwara is well known as abhiseka priya – One who is fond of abhiseka. There is a sloka that asks, and answers, ‘why abhiska, on probably the coolest early morning in the year?’
Maulau Gangaa-sasaankau kara-charan-thale seetalaangaah bhujangaah
Vaame-bhaage dayaardraa himagiri-duhitaa chandanam sarva-gaatre;
Ittham seetam prabhootam tava kanaksabhaanaata sodhum kva-saktih
Chitte nirveda-tapte yadi bhavati na-te nitya-vaaso madeeye.
Sri Paramasiva carries on the top of His head, maulau, the Ganga and the moon: Ganga water is icy cold and the moon’s rays are also cool and soothing. On His hands and legs and around His neck, kara-charana-thale, are entwined snakes which are chilly to the touch, seethalaangah. On His left side, or as left half of His body, or vaame-bhaage, is Parvati, Himagiriduhitaa, or, born of the snow-capped peaks of Himalaya. Hima means ice; giri means mountain or peak; duhitaa means daughter. Her heart is melting with motherly affection for all the humanity. Daya means compassion and aardra being wet. The sympathetic vibes that flow constantly from Paarvati add to the cool things Parameshwara has already enveloped Himself in. As if all these cool elements and aspects are not enough, abhisheka is performed with cold water and milk in the early hours of Maargazhi month: the time chosen for it is before dawn, when dew has fallen like rain and there is an envelope of biting chillness. To crown it all, His body is smeared with cooling sandal paste – chandanam. Sarva Gathre means all over the body.
The poet asks ‘How are you able to endure cold of such magnitude – prabhootam, from aspects of Your person that are already cold and from the cold things that are offered to you?’ ‘Kva sakthi’ means ‘how do you have the capacity’. With a poetic licence he says ‘You cannot know the reason, oh, Lord; but I know it and it is this: You really reside in my heart, which is white hot (tapta) with anxieties and afflictions and all the coolness is to deal with the scorching heat of my heart’.
The underlying message of the sloka is that in order that we get rid of our load of worries and grief – taapaas – that we carry in our hearts, we should worship Lord Shiva with earnestness and devotion and perform abhiseka with various cold substances: the cooling will get transmitted to the Ishwara in our hearts and His soothing touch is what we need to extinguish the fires of our sorrows.
In fact, in Shiva temples from Vijayawada to Kashmir, it is the practice to have a large vessel with a small hole at the bottom, known as Chchadaana, suspended over the Linga image. Water will be constantly dripping on the Linga, 24 hours of the day. Every worshipper, after taking bath, will carry a pot of water and pour it into the Chchadaana when visiting the temple.
Our heart-aches, from duhkha and taapa, will be assuaged if we perform abhiseka to Lord Parameswara with faith and devotion and by doing daily puja. In the sacred month of Maargazhi, everyone should get up at ushah-kaala, long before dawn, and turn his thoughts to Him, performing pujas and abhishekam and joining in bhajans.
Aardraa darshan is a particularly auspicious day in Maargazhi to perform, and to witness, Ishwara abhishekam. It is significant that it is the Nataraja form of God that we worship on that day. Through His cosmic dance, Lord Nataraja teaches us that the entire universe, bhamaananda, is not separate from Him. The raised and slightly inclined foot (kunchita paadam) is a reminder to us that it is only at His feet we can find sanctuary.