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Bhakti | Moon Light © Biju Ibrahim / Photo Mail


Bhakti, was shot in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, an ancient nature worship town situated at the Bangalore – Pondicherry Highway. Experiments done by the Geological Survey of India have revealed that the charnockite rock which makes up the Annamalai hill in Tiruvannamalai is older than 3.5 billion years and believed to have formed as a result of a massive volcanic eruption. The fertile land around the hill was highly potent for farming and soon became an important human settlement in South India. During the Sangam/Classical period (3rd century BCE to 3rd century CE), Buddhism and Jainism were the most prominent philosophies in South India and during that time, Tiruvannamalai became one of the important centers for Jain culture and learning. Later, many legends and mythical stories of Tamil Saiva lore grew around the Annamalai Hill and it came to be revered as “Agni” (fire), one of the panchabhootas (five elements). Substantial historical records of this town are available from the 9th century CE, mainly from Chola inscriptions in the Annamalaiyar temple of Tiruvannamalai. Further inscriptions made before the ninth century, found scattered around the small town, indicate the rule of Pallava kings, whose capital was Kanchipuram. The seventh-century saint poets Sambandar, Appar, and Manickavacakar wrote of the temple in their poetic works. The Chola Kings ruled over the region for more than four centuries, from 850 to 1280 CE, and were temple patrons. The inscriptions from the Chola king record various gifts like land, sheep, cow, and oil to the temple commemorating various victories of the dynasty. The Annamalaiyar temple is nothing short of an architectural marvel, encompassing a wide array of iconographic styles and techniques. The Annamalaiyar temple is one of the largest Shiva temple complexes in India, spanning over 25 acres. There are no concise written records indicating the exact time period when the earliest structures of the Annamalaiyar temple were erected. The modern temple complex is a result of constructions carried out by successive dynasties of Kings over many centuries – especially the post-Sangam period Chola dynasties (9th century CE) and later expanded by the Sangama dynasty, who ruled Vijayanagara (1336-1485 CE), the Saluva dynasty, and the Tuluva dynasty (1491-1570 CE), and Tanjore Nayaks. In the 17th century, Tiruvannamalai town and the temple came under the stewardship of the Nawab of Carnatic (Arcot), a vassal of the Nizam of Hyderabad. After 1753, the town came into the domain of Europeans, with the French occupying it in 1757, and then the British in 1760 until Tipu Sultan annexed the territory in 1790. It finally fell back into British hands in the early 19th century. The yesteryears architectural and art created collectively by the artists’ guild with the patronage of the different rulers stand as a museum of our culture and art.

Karthikai Deepam is the most popular festival of Tiruvannamalai and inscriptions indicate that the festival was celebrated as early as the Chola period. As part of the festival, a huge lamp is lit in a cauldron, at the top of the Annamalai, and to mark the occasion, several thousand people from the neighboring villages gather. The visually fantastic event also has vibrant village markets including cattle fairs.

Bhakti is a short video of the Offering Rituals performed to a local deity during the annual Pongal celebrations.

Photographer Biju Ibrahim

Biju Ibrahim born in Kerala is an emerging photographer and Documentary Film Maker.  Biju is interested in mysticism, politics, and history. His works have been published in various national magazines. He has been part of several projects, including EtP’s Public Photo-Art Project 365 Tiruvannamalai 2014-15, Artist in Residence of Uru Art Harbour 2016, Serendipity Arts Festival: The Young Subcontinent Project 2017, and Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018.

Published on February 3, 2021

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