The umbrella is a traditional Indian symbol of royalty of protection. The greater the number of umbrellas, the higher the royalty’s rank, and traditionally thirteen parasols defined the status of a king. As the umbrella is held above, it symbolizes honour and respect.
For the Raja upachara of Hindu gods, we offer “Chatram, Chamaram, Vadhyam and Nrithyam” (umbrella, fanning, music and dance) – The utsava murthys will step out without a “”Chatram” or umbrella; the final upachara will be fanning for the gods with a fly whisk or a “Chamaram”
It is a sight to behold to see the gigantic milky-white umbrellas over deities in a procession. There is a famous colloquial saying that “Sri Rangam Nadai Azhagu, Kancheepuram Kudai Azhagu, Thirupathi Vadai Azhagu, Mel Kotai Mudi Azhagu, and Azhagar Malai Dhosai Azhagu”
Iyya Mudali Street in Chindradripet makes special set of umbrellas to Lord Venkateshwara for the annual 12 day Brahmotsavam festival. During this time at Tirumala, the Lord’s utsava vighraham is taken on procession twice a day – one in the day time, and again in the night with the appropriate vahanam.
Nine pairs of huge umbrellas, which span 9 feet are given by various donors to the Lord of Tirumala, and each day a new umbrella is used. The most important days in the Brahmotsavam are the fifth, eight an eleventh – the fifth day is the Garuda Seva, the car festival or “rathotsavam” is on the eight day and on the eleventh day, the processional deity is taken to Swami Pushkarini for a bath.
The umbrella protects the lord from sun and rain. The temple authorities guard the Lord dearly and you can notice that they even take “Koodarams” or tent along (as a backup) in the procession, and in case of sudden rains, the deity is brought under the tent
Iyya mudali street artistans keep these tirupathi kodai designs and embellishments as a surprise factor, mostly secret, especially for the main huge umbrellas. Orders are in huge demand for smaller umbrellas too from donors who wish to offer these to the Lord as a mark of thanksgiving. This has made lot of youngsters from the Saurashtrian community continue their family profession.
The yearly practice of carrying the umbrellas and walking all the way to Tirupathi starts from Kesava Perumal temple in Sowcarpet. On September 21st this month, we can view this spectacle of the jewelled parasols being carried to Tirumala Brahmotsavam, and the sighting the entire crowd singing and dancing, crying out “Govinda Govinda” at Yanai Kavuni – “Elephant Gate” is awesome!
The trade is run by the artist clan who have “Sah” as their surname, and about 15 families who live on this street are actively engaged. Tirupati kodais are entirely handmade – right from the frame, to the layering of cloth in the inner and outer rim being hand stitched to this frame, and mostly the work is carried out by men. The toughest part is the making of the bamboo frame, the thick bamboo is split into lean strips and sharpened..
More in Part 2..