Brightly-clad women and children thronged Kokilambigai Thirukameeshwarar Temple in Villianur early on Tuesday. As the toy sellers waded through the crowd looking for a comfortable space to set up their makeshift shops, people crowded near the temple car waiting for the priest’s signal to the pull the car.

Located in Villianur, one of the important historical sites just 5 km away from Puducherry, wore a festive look on the day of the annual car festival. Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi and Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy were present, adhering to the traditional practice.

As the two important dignitaries held the rope, the priest signalled to the devotees to pull the car by beating a drum. Along its route, pumpkins and coconuts were offered to the God.

A week-long festival of Kohilambigai Thirukameeshwarar Temple, established during the Chola period with a history of more than 1,000 years, culminates in the car festival. It is said that king Dharmabala Chola ruling Kamalapuri created a town, which was earlier a forest of Vilwa trees and constructed a temple and named the place ‘Vilwanallur’ which later came to be known as Villianur.

A little-known aspect of the celebrations is that the temple car festival of Pidari Amman Koil, located near the Kohilambigai Thirukameeshwarar Temple, precedes the festivities of Thirukameeshwarar Temple.

Dalits of Periyapet and Kariyampet commence the festival with the sanctifying ritual where two Dalits guard the village for nearly 10 days. Thiruvarasan R., special officer-cum-executive officer, HRA, confirms that the two Dalits stay outside the compound wall of the temple during the night for nearly 10 days, guarding the village with a sword. People in these villages refrain from travelling out. On the last day, they take out a procession of Goddess Pidari Amman in a temple car and sacrifice a goat at midnight as part of the ritual.

Mr. Thiruvarasan said that people from all communities participate in the festival celebrations. “Every year, the government allocates money to celebrate this festival. This year, nearly ₹4 to ₹5 lakh was spent for the festival celebrations,” he said.