Temple worship and rituals ( 5 of 5 ) – Uthsavas or festivals

06 Sep

suryaprabha vahanam12

Uthsavas or festivals 

Festivals – Uthsavas are an important and an integral part of temple worship. The most significant aspect of the temple worship is its collective character. Peoples’ participation is both the purpose and the means of a temple. Festivals are all about people’s participation.  They are the occasions when all the devotees, irrespective of their status in the community, join and participate willingly with enthusiasm. Festivals help in binding the community together. The pomp, spectacle and splendor of festival s are the expressions of a community’s joy, exuberance, devotion, pride and are the idiom of a community’s cohesiveness.

The term Uthsava (festival) has various shades of meaning; all suggesting an occasion of celebration and exuberance. The prefix “ut” suggests rising, excitement. Uthsava is an event that generates happiness and excitement (utsuthe harsham).The synonyms of the term in Amara Kosha, are Kshana (great moment), Uddharsha (excitement) and Mahah (auspicious occasion).

The Agama texts carry a bouquet of interpretations for the term Uthsava. According to Uttara_karanagama (4.1) “Ut “stands for wisdom and “sava” is what ushers in wellbeing (savah kalyana kaaranam). Purushottama Samhita (32.20) says “Ut “is what is excellent (uthkrishta _vacha_nam) and “sava’ is  yajnya (sacrifice).However , Naradiya Samhita (18) and Isvara_ samhita (10.3) carry a different set of meanings. According to them, “ut” means obstacle or impediment (vighnah) and “sava” is their elimination (udgatha).Thus, Uthsava is that which eliminates obstacles. Two other texts viz. Aniruddha_ Samhita (20.1) and Padma _Samhita (2.10) explain, “sava” is misery and “ut” is the act of tiding over that. Uthsava therefore takes one across sorrows. By all accounts, Uthsava is an occasion to rejoice. They are greatly meritorious too.

Uthasavas are celebrated for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, all have at their heart a wish and a prayer for the wellbeing, peace and prosperity of the people, the ruler and the state (prajanam api rastrasya sarva _abyudaya_ sadhakam; Purushottama_samhita 23.6); and to be rid of calamities, famine and terrible omens (durbiksha _durnimittadi_ ghoraanam_ shantidam— ibid).Uthsavas also renew the sanctity of the deities worshipped.


 Classification of Uthsavas

Agama texts accord elaborate treatment to the subject of the Uthsavas. They classify the events in a variety of ways and analyze the ritual procedures in detail. Obviously, the Agama Shastras considered Uthsavas as events of great significance and importance. Uthsavas are classified according to the nature of the Utsava, the rituals involved, the mode of commencement, day of commencement, day of termination and the duration of the Uthsava.

A. Classification according to their nature:

Satvika : Services rendered as ordained duty with no desires or expectations are Satvic in nature. These are essentially the Nitya sevas and regular festivities. These include, the festivals conducted on certain specified auspicious days as per a pre-determined schedule   or those conducted at regular intervals, say, fortnight or month.

Rajasa : These are Naimittika (occasional) Uthsavas conducted as purification measures because of an earth quake ;or eclipse ;or appearance of comet ;or damage to the temple tower by lightening or fire or other reason; famine; floods ;disturbance  or damage  caused to the image in the sanctum ;or occurrence of death within the temple premises ;or defilement  caused to the temple in any other manner etc.

Misra: These are of mixed merit. Kamyakas (Uthsavas arranged with a desire at the heart).The festivals arranged by the wealthy or influential donors for their own reason; or by others, for a payment, seeking fulfillment of their cherished desire; or the festivals to commemorate the temple building or for fulfillment of any desire.

B.Classification according to the rituals involved:

Karnagama text (24,424-5) classifies Uthsavas according to the rituals involved. According to this classification, there are four kinds.

Sakalya: It is a complete form, involving all the rituals; hardly any ritual is ignored.

Pavana: It is conducted for purifying the idol or the temple premises. This involves all the rituals except hoisting the temple flag (pathaka).

Shanta: It is for ushering in peace; and involves–Homa in the morning, Bali(food offering) at noon, Uthsava (procession) in evening.

Mangala: They are Auspicious rituals- as desired by the donor (yajamana).

C.Classification based on the rituals that inaugurate the Uthsava   festivals:

Agama texts Parameshwara Samhita (16, 28-29) and Naradiya Samhita (18, 7-8) make a threefold classification according to the rituals that commence the festivals (utsava_arambha).

1. Ankurarpana: to commence by offering the sprout , seeking happiness and prosperity (Sarva sampath samruddhidam).Seeds of nine or ten grains[ rice,gingelly,millet,tail-pepper,black-gram,mustard,bean called mudga , a legume called samba , kaulatta (dolichos uniflorus)] are sown in twelve earthen pots filled with mud ceremonially collected and placed on a certain specified mandala. Offerings are scattered in eight directions invoking their presiding deities to protect the sprouts. This ceremony is carried out during night, as moon is regarded the lord of plants.

2. Bheri_tadana: to commence by drum beating, for the delight of the Devas (Devanam priya vaham). Usually, One_day Uthsavas begin with drum beating, signifying invitation to the celestial beings to participate in the festival.

3. Dwajarohana: to commence by flag hoisting, that brings happiness to all beings (Sarva prani sukha_ vaham).


All the three modes of commencements aim to bring about liberation of all beings (sarvesham mokshadam) and wellbeing of the ruler and the state (raja rastra sukha).

Usually, the Uthsavas that last for five days or more commence with flag hoisting. Festivals conducted seeking wealth (Dhanada) and fulfillment of desires (Kamada) must commence with flag hoisting. It is optional for festivals seeking victory (Vijaya). Flag hoisting is not approved for commencement of Uthsavas seeking pacification (Shantika) and nourishment (Paustika).

In case of Uthsavas lasting for more than five days ,the flag hoisting is done twenty-one days prior to the day appointed for the ceremonial bath (tirtha yatra) which comes towards the end of the Uthsava –Naradiya Samhita (18,17).

The flag usually carries the figure of Indra, the chief of Devas; or of Garuda the carrier of Vishnu; or of Nandi Bull the vehicle of Shiva; or that of a god. The figures are painted ritualistically and the flag is hoisted in front of the temple, to signal the commencement of the Uthsava. The practices  in the olden  days required that once the flag was hoisted , no domestic rituals or functions like marriage be conducted in the village , till the flag is taken down on the day of Thirtha Yatra (ceremonial bath)—Padma_sancharya(10,42). The intention perhaps, was, to indicate that celebrations in honor of gods take precedence over that of humans.

D.Classification by counting down from the day of Thirtha Snana:

Thirtha Snana or Avabrhrta Snana, the ceremonial bath of the icons in the river or pond, marking the conclusion of the festival is a significant event in the festival. Often, the day of Thirtha Snana is first determined and the date of commencement of the Uthsava is then worked out (Purushottama Samhita, 23; Purva-karanagama, 141).

It is best (satvika) if the Thirtha snana takes place on ninth day from the commencement of the Uthsava.  It is middling (rajasa) if the Thirtha Snana is on the seventh day. It is inferior (tamasa ) if the Thirtha snana is on the fifth day.

E.Classification according to the duration:

Agama texts such as Raurava kriya (18-8-9); Chandra jnana (21); Ajitagama (27, 2-7); Diptagama (83) and Purva_karana-agama (141, 2-3) classify the Uthsavas according to their duration. The Uthsavas are conducted for different purposes to please different set of gods; and each such Uthsava has a name.

Seeking prosperity (vriddhi)-  to please Brahma

One day: One day Uthsava is Sambhava.

Three days: Three day Uthsava is Muktha – to please Shiva

Seeking success (Vijaya) – to please Lakshmi

Five days: A five-day Uthsava is Brahma \

Seven days: A seven-day Uthsava is Arsha;

For happiness (Saukhya)–to please Vishnu

Nine days: A nine-day Uthsava is Sakta

Twelve days: A twelve-day Uthsava is Saura or Paitrka

Thirteen days: A thirteen-day Uthsava is Kaumara

Fourteen days: A fourteen- day Uthsava is Savitrya; and

Fifteen days: A fifteen-day Uthsava is Chandra.

Diptagama text considers the last three (from 13 to 15 days) as uttama (superior); the middle three (from 7 to 12 days) as madhyama “middling in merit” and the first three (from 1 to 5 days) as” kanyaasa “inferior.

Some Vaishnava texts (e.g. Hayasirsha_Samhita-36, 4) however, do not, approve of Uthsavas that stretch beyond twelve days.

In the case of the fifteen-day-Uthsavas, the proceedings begin with Ankurarpana (sprout offering).The other events that follow in a sequence, on other days, as indicated in Vishvaksena Samhita (27, 12-16) are:

Dwajarohana (flag hoisting);

Shudda Snana (purifying bath) or Bheri – tadana (drum beating);

Sthapana (installation of idols);

Homa (fire obligations);

Bali_pradana (food offerings);

Churnothsava or mahothsava or Rathayatra (procession of the idol in a decorated chariot);

Tirtha snana or Avabhrta Snana (carrying the idols in procession for a ceremonial bath, to a tank or pond or river);

Pushpayaga (flower offerings);

Dakshina Sampradana (offering of gifts and money to the officiating priests and officials and others); and finally

Dwaja avarohana  (taking down the flag ceremonially and concludes the Utsava).

procession grand


The most important Uthsava in a temple is of course the Brahmothsava. It is believed Brahma himself conducts the Uthsava in honor of the presiding deity of the temple. Brahmothsava is usually a grand occasion. It is spectacular, colorful, and full of gaiety; and draws huge enthusiastic crowds. Brahmothsavas also carry social, economical and political significance. The scale and splendor of the Brahmothsava is often an index of a temples affluence, popularity and prestige.

Agama texts mention five kinds of Brahmothsava.

1. A one-day Brahmothsava (Brahma) intended to enhance the spiritual power of the temple (Brahma tejo vriddhi).

2. A three-day Brahmothsava (Saiva) to eradicate obstacles that bother the devotees (Vighna nashana).

3. A five-day Brahmothsava (Aindra) to prevent occurrence of famine and drought (durbiksha nashana).

4. A four- day Brahmothsava (Arsha or manusha) to secure prosperity for the people, ruler and the state (Rajya_vardhaka, lakshmi priti_kara).This is sometimes stretched to seven days. And,

5. A nine -day Brahmothsava (Daivika) praying for protection and happiness of the people (Sarva rakshithartha.Praja sukhavaha).

Brhmothsava of nine days is the best (satvika) followed by Uthsavas of seven days (Rajasa) and five days (mishra).

The most impressive and spectacular event of the Brahmothsava is of course the procession of the icon of the presiding deity in an elaborately decorated chariot (Ratha) to the accompaniment of music , dance , chanting , cheers from the crowds of devotees  and the fireworks. This procession marks the climax of the series of Brahmothsava rituals.


During these processions, the temple icon is each day mounted on a different model of birds and animals (Vahanas).The Agama texts prescribe the Vahanas (vehicles) to be used on each day of the festival. Garuda Samhita prescribes the Vahanas for a fifteen day Brahmothsava  a s follows: flower pavilion, solar orb, lunarorb,peacock, Garuda, Hanuman, horse,swan,swing,Kalpatharu(wish-fulfilling tree) and flower chariot(Pushpaka ).

Another aspect of these Utsavas is that the Utsavas and the daily worship that goes on in the sanctum are mutually independent. The daily worship to the main idol goes on serenely, unaffected despite all the excitement and feverish activities that go around the temple. The mula_sthana, dhruva_bheru that is the main idol in the sanctum is not associated with the Uthsavas. It is the movable idol, the chala _bheru also called Uthsava_bheru (usually made of metal) that is pressed into the Uthsava rituals, processions and other celebrations.

procession of Jambunatha Trichinopoly, ca.1850

Uthsavas are excellent examples of teamwork. All sections of the community do participate for its success. Apart from devoted volunteers ,  Uthsavas call upon the services of experts in Tantra and  Rituals , Astrologers, carpenters , smiths, flower decorators , musicians, cooks, craftsmen, and in addition  to effective managers ,  leaders as also masters of ceremonies and others. It is an occasion when the entire community comes together, works as a team, and shares its burden, responsibility and success. 



Agama Kosha by  Prof.SKR rao.


Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Temple worship


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4 responses to “Temple worship and rituals ( 5 of 5 ) – Uthsavas or festivals

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 8:17 am

    that was very informative scholarly piece which only those dedicated to serve others without any expectations (nishphalapeksha) can write. it is very nice to note that people still dedicated and anxious to pass on, what ever message one has, to others are still there in these periods. kindly keep it up
    Raja Chennai

  2. Rekha Bajpe Aggarwal

    July 19, 2021 at 3:34 am

    I don’t have words to convey my admiration for this amazing work you are selflessly doing and sharing, Sreenivasa sir. Thank you so much! You have created a very comprehensive resource.

    • sreenivasaraos

      July 19, 2021 at 7:23 pm

      Dear Rekha
      Thank you for the visit; and for the appreciation

  3. Aditya

    March 28, 2023 at 4:57 pm

    Many thanks for sharing this knowledge about temple rituals. It helps to understand so many traditions which are followed in our temples.


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