Over 8000 devotees attended the annual ther (chariot) festival at Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Temple (SKTAT) in Ealing, London on 14th August 2011.
The temple is one of twenty five established in London by the Eelam Tamil community over the past three decades.
The ther festivals of the larger temples, such as 'Ealing Amman' as it is commonly known, routinely attract thousands of devotees from across the UK, and even Europe.
Devotees began arriving at the crack of dawn to guarantee their place for the morning prayers. By 6am, the inner temple was at full capacity.
Crowds began to gather outside, lining the surrounding streets, in anticipation of the deities being carried outside and placed on the chariots.
In addition to the customary chariots for Shri Kanaga Thurkka and Pillayar, this year was marked by the inclusion of a new chariot for Murugan.
By mid-morning the chariots began their journey through the streets around the temple site in West Ealing.
The chariots’ path was filled with kavadi dancers, men performing pirathattum and women holding paal kudum, whilst eager devotees jostling to grab the ropes of the chariot.
The remaining crowds gently strolled behind absorbing the prayers and devotional songs sung.
As the morning went by several thousand devotees arrived to pray and catch a glimpse of Shri Kanaga Thurkkai on the chariot.
Local residents, for whom Tamil festivals are a familiar occurance, came to experience the food, music and festivities of the Eelam community.
Across the road, devotees gathered in the local park where stalls vending Tamil food, ice cream vans, coconut shy, bric and brac sales and face painting had been set up, next to Tamil business stalls and a music system playing songs especially written for the temple alongside songs of the Tamil homeland.
As children played under the sunshine, one local resident who had come out to see what was happening, welcomed the community’s carnival atmosphere less than a week after the Ealing had been affected by the London riots.
Volunteer Tamil youths, led by members of the SKTAT Youth Forum, played an integral role in the event’s success, being responsible for the controlling of the 8000 strong crowd, as well as the distribution of food and the sale of aruchanai baskets and tickets.
Many youths, some as young as 5, had arrived the day before to assist in the making of flower garlands, clean and polish the chariots, and chop vegetables, all in anticipation of the chariot day.
This year’s festival season was as especially significant as it followed the temple’s 12 year anniversary or Kumbabishekum.
The Kumbabishekum involves the complete renovation and redecoration of the temple every 12 years, followed by a series of special poojas and prayers.