Rohit Shetty's 2013 action comedy film Chennai Express features a scene where Rahul Mithaiwala (Shah Rukh Khan) carries Meenalochni "Meenamma" Azhagusundaram (Deepika Padukone) in his arms while ascending 300 steps to reach a temple.
This done as part of the Vidamba village tradition for newlyweds, which our characters are pretending to be. If the husband succeeds in doing so, then it is a sign that he will take care of his wife throughout his life.
Rahul doesn't realize what he's in for as Meenamma explains the situation:
Rahul: Wow. Are you all decked up early in the morning to go for a jog?
Meenamma: No. It's the village ritual for newlyweds.
Meenamma: The husband carries the wife in his arms and climbs the steps to the temple. They believe it strengthens the husband and wife bond.
Meenamma: Are you strong?
Rahul: What is the need to be strong to watch a ritual?
Meenamma: We don't have to watch. We have to do it.
Meenamma: We are husband and wife for them.
Rahul: No, no, no, no! I will not be forced into anything.
Meenamma: No, the situation is like that.
Rahul: What helplessness?
Meenamma: Do you want to stay here or not?
Rahul: Yes, I want to stay.
Meenamma: Then you have to carry me. I hope you don't drop me.
Rahul: Meenamma, perhaps you are forgetting. Don't underestimate the power of a ...
Meenamma: ... confectioner?
Rahul: Common man. (Forcefully picks Meenamma up in his arms.) Where is the temple? Where is the temple!
The temple in this scene is Vattamalai Murugan Temple in Tamil Nadu.
This is one of the six reputed hill temples dedicated to Lord Muruga ("Murugan") and has the special distinction of being visited by the the 15th century Tamil poet Arunagirinathar.
Upon seeing the steps, Rahul claims that he will "reach heaven" after 100 steps while Meenamma says he will drop her after 50 steps.
Note that the number of steps identified in the film is 300. Somewhere in social media land, the number 800 was tossed out and picked up. Ascending 300 steps while carrying another person in your arms is not insignificant, but 800 is unrealistic.
In Jejuri, home to the fort shrine of Khandoba in Pune, grooms carry their brides up 450 steps. In the Indian Express article, "Now you may carry the bride", Shruti Nambiar explains:
Every year, in the months of April to June, a steady stream of newly-married couples visits the temple to seek the blessings of Lord Khandoba, a manifestation of Lord Shiva. Grooms have a daunting ritual awaiting them at the steps of the temple - they are supposed to lift their brides up the 450 stairs that lead up to the sanctum.
Hundreds of giggly couples gather at the temple steps, egging the coy grooms to lift their equally shy brides. What helps their cause is that, like all things traditional, this one too has been tweaked to suit changing times and habits. The grooms needn't carry their wives the full 450 stairs - only five stairs as a token, the rest of the journey is subject to their choice.
But even those five steps seem arduous to most couples ...
On the 14 August 2013 Facebook chat, Shah Rukh Khan was asked if Deepika was heavy to carry. He replied, "Actually, she's a very well-balanced girl in terms of she's tall and all but she's very easy to hold because I think she's kind of well-figured in body." He went on to talk about the nature of the temple scene:
"It starts as a comic scene. We had 100 steps that we might have done, we shot, whatever, and we had to finish it, we only had that many hours to work, Rohit had put 4-5 cameras, shot it with ease. But the essence of the scene was very important. It starts as a funny, comic scene. 'Where is the temple? Where is it? Where IS the temple?' And then, you know, along the way, when it turns into one of the most romantic scenes I think I have done, I also didn't realize really. And the way Deepika is looking at me and then it turns into the 'Titli' song. I think that was also the most beautiful part of the Temple scene.
"Initially when Rohit was narrating it to me, it seemed like a comic scene. And there were other people who were pushing me on and then on the sets he changed it. And I didn't know why he had changed it, but I think he had it very clear in his head that slowly the scene would start like a comic scene and become very romantic. I've done a lot of good romantic scenes, but this is one of the finest for me. Very good."
The reason the steps exist is that the temple sits atop Vattamalai, a small hill over which Murungan is believed to bless his devotees. The temple building was endowed liberally by wealthy worshipers which is reflected in the vastness and beauty of the architecture. The temple faces west and is a landmark visible for miles. Regular worship is offered and the annual festivals are celebrated on a grand scale.
Murugan is the Hindu god of war and victory. The son of Shiva and Shakti, Murugan is renowned for his incredible beauty which is said to stem from his inner perfection. According to www.kaumaram.com:
Lord Muruga is a deity who is worshipped and adored with intense devotion and faith not only throughout South India and Sri Lanka but also in places such as Mauritius and Malaysia where there is a high population of Tamil people. The Lord has many powerful names, which convey great meaning and deep esoteric knowledge. Swamiji is especially fond of giving Muruga's names to the young boys who join Premananda Youth. He said, "I am blessing them with these glorious names of the perfect deity, Lord Muruga. I hope that the youngsters will live up to these names. Muruga is the embodiment of brilliant light, courage, fearlessness and pure shakti [power]. According to the Hindu legends, He was born because the Gods had been defeated by powerful demons and they pleaded with Lord Shiva to rescue them. He created Lord Muruga from His third eye. Even from this we can understand that Muruga is the embodiment of the purest and highest knowledge and power."
The Chennai Express team shot in Tamil Nadu from 28-20 April 2013 in the areas of Kangeyam and Palladam near Coimbatore. Several scenes included Tamil actors Delhi Ganesh and Mohan Raman, who played the village priest:
At the Vattamalai Murugan Temple, near Kangeyam - shooting for Chennai Express. http://t.co/5eUvQ9mJFf— Mohan Raman (@actormohanraman) April 29, 2013
The Chennai Express team had only limited access to the temple, and had to film additional scenes on a set in Mumbai. But the key scenes were able to be filmed at the site. Temple authorities explained, "Usually, permission is not given to conduct shooting in temples. The reason is that the movie crew litter the place where shooting is conducted. This hurts the sentiments of devotees. Devotees protest against conducting of shooting. Also, other temples in Tamil Nadu do not allow movie shootings."
After a massively successful theatrical release, Chennai Express had it's world TV premier on Zee TV on 20 October and is now available on DVD and via iTunes.