Chithirai Festival Dates : April 15 - April 30, 2021
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Chithirai Festival, Madurai Overview
The Chithirai festival of Tamil Nadu happens to be one of the longest stretched festivals to be celebrated anywhere in the world. The festival is celebrated in the city of Madurai of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and is celebrated for over two weeks. An estimated number of a million people gather for the celebrations from all over India and abroad.
The Chithirai festival is a revisit to the legends of the deities of the region, the celebration of which includes a caricatured coronation ceremony of goddess Meenakshi as well as the celebration of her marriage. The Chithirai festival is a wonderful spectacle to behold, where the devotees relive the legends repeatedly every year, making the tales of goddess Meenakshi and that of Lord Alagar unforgettable tales for the world.
When is the Madurai Chithirai Festival Celebrated?
The Chithirai festival is celebrated in the month of Chithirai of the traditional Tamil calendar. The Chithirai month is the Tamil counterpart of the central Sanskrit month of Chaitra. Chithirai is the first month of the Tamil calendar, and the festivities go on for the whole month.
The exact dates of the beginning and end of Chithirai vary in the Gregorian calendar. However, it generally falls in April and May. Broadly, the Chithirai festival has been divided into two parts of fifteen days each. The first fifteen days of the festival is spent in celebrating the investiture of goddess Meenakshi as well as in celebrations of the goddess's marriage with Lord Sundareswara. Whereas, the last fifteen days of Chithirai festival is celebrated in remembrance of the journey of Lord Alagar from Alagar Koyil's KallAlagar temple to the city of Madurai.
Where is the Chithirai Festival Celebrated?
The Chithirai festival, since it marks the wedding of Lord Sundareswara and Goddess Meenakshi which took place in Madurai; is celebrated in the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. The festivities begin from the Meenakshi Temple in the Vailagi village of Madurai and takes to the streets of the city as well as the Vaigai River as the celebration continues.
Madurai Chithirai Festival History - A Town Revisits the Past
The Shaiva Festival
The story of Goddess Meenakshi extends back to the time of Pandya king, Malayadhwaja Pandian. Malayadhwaja Pandian and his wife, Kanchana Malai, did not have a child. So, in the hope of birth of a child in his household, the king performed a special pooja to please the god so that he may be blessed with a child. During the pooja, a girl came out of the ceremonial fire and sat on the king's lap. At the same time, a voice told the king that the girl was a manifestation of Shiva's wife, Shakti herself and that Lord Shiva himself would marry her when the right time arrives. The girl was named Meenakshi, who, being the beloved heir of the king Malayadhwaja Pandian, was crowned as the next ruler after the king's death. Meenakshi was given proper training of the warfare, and once she became the ruler, she conquered a large part of the world. However, when she reached Mount Kailasham, she was confronted by Lord Shiva himself. Upon seeing Shiva, she fell in love with him.
Moreover, she learned that she was an incarnation of Shakti. Shiva assured Meenakshi that he would come to Madurai and marry her. As promised, he came along with his companions to the city of Madurai and married Meenakshi. He is said to have ruled the Pandya kingdom, under the name of Sundara Pandyan.
Thus, the day of Meenakshi's coronation as the ruler of the Pandya kingdom is celebrated in the initial days of the one-month-long festival. After that, within the first fifteen days, Goddess Meenakshi's marriage with Lord Shiva is also celebrated. This festival has been carried out by the followers of the Shaiva tradition for a long time in history.
The Vaishnava Festival
The Alagar hills had a sacred water body by the name of Aagaayagangai. One day rishi Mandooka was taking a bath in it. During his bath, Maharshi Durvasa arrived at the spot. Maharshi Durvasa is known for being short-tempered, who happens to be the one to curse Sakuntala too. Mandooka rishi did not notice that Maharshi Durvasa was around him. This infuriated Durvasa who cursed Mandooka to turn into a frog and live in the Vaigai River. The curse could only be lifted if Mandooka-turned-frog would dwell in the Viagai River and pray to Lord Alagar for forgiveness. Mandooka did it to please Lord Alagar, who visited Mandooka and took him out from the water himself. Moreover, he showed Mandooka all the ten Avatars of his, when Mandooka asked for it. The followers of the Vaishnava tradition celebrated this Alagar event.
The two festivals were celebrated distinctly a long time ago. It was during the reign of King Thirumalai Nayakar that the two festivals were merged. The two festivals were combined into a grand celebration, which since then, is being carried out in the month of Chithirai of the Tamil Calendar, thus acquiring its name. The merger not only brought together the celebrations of the two festivals but also brought the community of followers of the two traditions together.
How is the Chithirai Festival Celebrated? The Revival of the Legends
Some different events take place during the month of Chithirai of the Tamil Calendar, as parts of the Chithirai festival. The devotees make the month of Chithirai as a revisit to the world of legends of Goddess Meenakshi, Lord Sundareswara, and Lord Alagar.
The Meenakshi temple in the Vailagi village of Madurai is where the Chithirai festival begins. The chief priest of the temple hoists a flag from the temple and fixes it in the flag post of the temple, marking the beginning of the month-long celebration. The flag remains atop the Meenakshi Temple until the conclusion of the Chithirai month, till celebrations go on.
Pattabisekam refers to the coronation ceremony. The coronation ceremony of Meenakshi as the ruler of the Pandya kingdom is celebrated during this event.
The event of Dikvijayam in the Chithirai festival remembers the valor by which Queen Meenakshi conquered the whole world, and fell in love with Lord Shiva upon facing him on the Kailasham Mountain when she went there to conquer it.
This is the grandest of celebrations of the festival of Chithirai. It marks the wedding of Goddess Meenakshi with Lord Sundareswara (Lord Shiva). The celebration like that of a wedding is celebrated each year on occasion, reliving Lord Shiva's visit with his Devas and rishis to Madurai to marry Meenakshi.
The Ther Thiruvizha takes place on the very next day of Meenakshi Thirukalyanam. It is an event in which the idols of Lord Sundareswara and Goddess Meenakshi are taken out in a chariot in the streets of Madurai. It is seen as the first meeting of the newly married rulers with their subjects. A large procession is taken out, in which people participate in large numbers, seeking blessings by looking at and pulling the chariot.
Local traditions consider Lord Alagar as a brother of Goddess Meenakshi. The celebration of Ethir Sevai marks the event when Lord Alagar changed his appearance to that of a robber to save himself from any attack while he was on the way to attend the wedding of Meenakshi with Sundareswara.
Alagar Vaigai Elenthuarulal
According to the legend, Lord Alagar lived in Alagarkoil. He was on his way to attend the royal wedding of Meenakshi with Sundareswara. He traveled all the way from Alagarkoil towards Madurai. However, when he reached the Vaigai River, he came to know that the wedding ceremony was already done with. He met with Meenakshi and Sundareswara in the Vaigai River. The fact that the wedding got over before his arrival infuriated him, and he decided not to enter the city of Madurai at all. He gave the gifts to the couple and returned to Alagarkoil. The event is replayed according to the narration every year by the devotees in a mandapam prepared in the middle of the Vaigai River.
How to Reach Madurai
To reach Madurai by train, the nearest railway is located within the city, namely, Madurai Junction Railway Station. However, the major railway station, well-connected to other parts of the country, is the Chennai Central Railway Station, located at a distance of 465 kilometers from Madurai. A train can be taken from Chennai Central to reach Madurai.
Going by airways, the nearest airport is the Madurai Airport, which is located at an approximate distance of 10 kilometers from the central city.
The Chithirai festival is one of the most significant festivals of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It witnesses lakhs of people from all over the country as well as abroad each year. The devotees of the Shiava and the Vaishnava traditions have kept their legends alive by performing them on an annual basis, providing the tales and their beliefs in a way never to be forgotten. The Chithirai festival is a most spectacular festival, which is an absolute delight to witness and become a part of.