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Festivals

FESTIVALS OF MADURAI

 

Pooja & Sevas

Amongst the Hindu Pantheon, even though the three primary responsibilities are assigned to the Creator – Brahma, the Preserver – Vishnu and the Rejuvenator – Paramasiva, the Supreme Gods are Shiva and Vishnu. Of the two, Vishnu is said to be “Alankara Priva”, one who loves being adorned with various embellishments and jewels while Paramasiva is said to be “Abhiseka priya” – one who is pleased with ablutions. Hence the rituals in the Meenakshi temple lay a lot of importance on the offerings for Paramasiva and his consort Meenakshi.

The temple pujas (ritualistic offerings) fall under three categories, namely: nitya pujas which are done daily, masa abishekam which are ablutions performed once a month and thirdly visesham or festivals which are celebrated once a year. Daily pujas are offered according to the Agama Shastras (sacred Hindu scriptures) and are practically the same as they are in many Saiva temples. The ritual today is practically what it has been for hundreds of years. The pujas seem to have been performed six times in the day starting from the Tiruvanandal pooja in the early morning to the Palliarai pooja at night. The Nitya puja at the two main shrines comprised the abhishekam (sacred bath), dipa-aradhanai (offering of sacred flame) and naivedyam (offering of food). The abhisheka articles included are honey, tender coconuts, two sorts of sandal, plantain fruits, pacha karpuram (edible camphor), civet, sugar, curds, parimala dravyam or perfumes, benzoin (a certain fragrant gum), and vibhuti (sacred ash).

The following were used for preparing the naivedyams (food offerings): black gram and green gram, jaggery, tamarind, salt, pepper, cumin, seeds, mustard and til seeds, dry ginger, cardamom and rice. The naivedyam include edible items made out of rice batter, pulses and cereals. During the day, the Nityotsavar, Pallakku Sokkar (the form of Paramasiva that goes out in procession in a palanquin), was taken on a procession three times a day around the prakaram inside the temple with accompanying music and all honours. These pujas and customs are observed till date.

Picture: The day begins with the rendering of the famous Thevaram in praise of Lord Shiva during which saivite scholar go around the temple singing the hymns.

 

Chithirai Tiruvizha

 

Chithirai Festival or Chithirai Tiruvizha is an annual celebration in the city of Madurai during the Tamil month of Chithirai (April-May). It lasts for one month of which the first 15 days mark the celebrations of the coronation of Goddess Meenakshi and the Divine Marriage of Lord Sundareswara and Goddess Meenakshi, and the next 15 days mark the celebrations of the Journey of Lord Azhagar (brother of Devi Meenakshi) from the Kallazhagar temple in Azhagar Kovil near Madurai to the marriage ceremony in Madurai.

 

Meenakshi Pattabhishekam

(Coronation of Devi Meenakshi)

Madurai city is often called the ‘City of Festivals’. Major festivals of Meenakshi temple are the Chithirai Festival, and the Avani Moolam Chithirai Festival. These are primarily meant for public benefit that occasion, and go by the name “Sambhavi Deekshai’. The festivals particularly benefit those who are unable to go to the temple and worship the Lord; the Lord himself decides to come around the streets in procession.

Chithirai Festival is one such famous festival, which takes place for twelve days. On the eighth day Coronation of Meenakshi Amman is celebrated. On that occasion, the chief trustee of the temple takes the role of the Pandya King and presents the Sceptre to Goddess Meenakshi in a very impressive ceremony. After Goddess Meenakshi is crowned as the queen of the Pandya kingdom, on the ninth day of the festival, she moves around engaging in war with all the countries in the world in all eight cardinal directions and conquers the entire world. Only Tiru Kailaaya, the abode of Paramasiva remains. She enters Kailaaya but on seeing Paramasiva, her third breast disappears as was predicted would happen when she met her Consort. She dissolves in deep love for Paramasiva and preparations are made for the divine marriage ceremony of Meenakshi and Paramasiva (who descends in the handsome form of Sundareshwara as per Meenakshi’s wish that he should appear extremely handsome.)

 

Meenakshi Tirukalyanam

(Divine marriage ceremony of Devi Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwara)


The Divine marriage ceremony of the Divine Couple of Sundareshwara and Meenakshi

 

On the tenth day of the Chithirai (Vedic month of Chithirai corresponding to April-May) festival, the Divine marriage ceremony of Devi Meenakshi with Lord Sundareshwara is celebrated. The festival starts on the 5th day of the waxing moon of the Vedic month Chithirai (April-May). This takes place at the junction of the west Aadi Veedhi and the north Aadi veedhi near the Tiruppugazh Mandapam in Madurai. In this festival both Lord Subramanya and Pavalakkanivay Perumal (Lord Vishnu) also participate. Two Shaivitie priests assume the role of Sundareswara and Devi Meenakshi respectively and exchange the wedding garlands. The Tirumangalyam (a piece of jewel  the bridegroom ties around the bride’s neck as the wedding knot) is presented to Meenakshi and traditional ceremonies as in any Hindu marriage are also performed.

 

Temple Chariot festival

The chariot festival or Ther Tiruvizha or Rathotsavam is performed the day after Meenakshi Tirukalyanam – the divine marriage ceremony of Devi Meenakshi and Sundareshwara. The King and Queen of the Pandya Kingdom Lord Sundareshwara and Meenakshi come to see their subjects in separate well decorated chariots. The festival attracts many people in the Masi streets of Madurai as viewers.

All the big temples would usually possess a temple chariot (car) on which the presiding deities of the temple would be taken out in procession. The bigger the chariot is, the more prosperous the temple and prouder are its citizens. The celestial chariot, depending on its size,  would have two to nine wheels to move around. Sundareshwarar’s Chariot is the most enjoyed by the priests of the temple and people of the city.

The temple chariot construction: The first row of the temple chariot carries the images of legendary creatures from the Puranas (Hindu history) and the second layer carries those of Gods/Goddesses and a now extinct animal – Yali. It is in the third portion that one will be able to see figures of dimension 1×1.5 feet that depict the sculptures of Lord Paramasiva depicting the scenes from the Tiruvilayadal Puranam (Divine Plays of Sundareshwara). The third, fourth and fifth portions show the customary dance, and the distinctive stick dance as well. These dances would have been performed in front of the chariot in earlier years as the chariot embarked on its journey.  

Picture: The grand celestial chariots with its exquisite craftsmanship is thronged by the people of Madurai and visitors from outside Madurai.

 

The Azhagar Festival

The Azhagar Festival is held to portray the significance of Lord Kallazhagar also called Sunderaraja Peruman’s formal visit to the marriage of Meenakshi (who is but the manifestation of his sister Parvathi). He arrives at Madurai from Azhagar Kovil with all the attendant paraphernalia specifically brought from the bride’s residence at the time of marriage. As he reaches the northern portion of the river Vaigai, he comes to know that the marriage ceremony is already over. He was delayed as he chose to come in disguise to prevent theft of the finery he was carrying for the marriage ceremony.

Deeply upset, he gives the marriage gifts to Meenakshi and Sundareshwara in a mandapam (pillared hall) in the middle of river Vaigai and goes back from the northern side. The Vaigai river floods at that time but Kallazhagar crosses it on horseback. When he rises from the river Vaigai, Pavalakkanivaai Perumal, who is present in the Murugan Temple of Thirupparankundram, is there to welcome him.

Kallazhagar is on horseback bringing gifts for his sister Devi Meenakshi during her wedding faces a flooding river and manages to cross the rising river on horseback.

Presenting Gold Staff to Dharumi

The deities of Lord Sundareshwara and Devi Meenakshi. Sundareshwara is seen holding written verses that he handed hands over to Dharumi

The Pandya king was once taking a walk in his garden with the queen when he perceived a sweet aroma emanating from the tresses of his queen. He wanted to know whether it was a natural aroma or an artificial one, for which purpose he announced a competition among the learned poets of his court. He declared, whoever composes a convincing poem on the issue would be rewarded with 1000 gold coins. He ordered a staff to be filled with thousand gold coins to be hung at the gate of the Sangam (royal court) hall to be claimed by the winner.

Dharumi was a poor devotee of Somasundarar (Sundareshwara) and belonging to the Adi Saiva community who was daily praying to the Lord seeking funds for his wedding ceremony. Somasundarar was overcome by compassion towards Dharumi’s plight and wrote a verse on the issue of the king’s doubt, gave it to Dharumi and sent him to claim the gold staff from the king. While all the poets in the Sangam assembly appreciated the verse and had no hesitation in according the prize to him, one amongst them named Nakkeerar objected to it claiming that the verse was faulty in content. Dharumi went back to the Lord and narrated the entire event, upon which Somasundarar himself took the form of a poet and debated with Nakkeerar to win the argument and handed over the gold coins to Dharumi. This episode is reenacted on the fourth day of the Avani Moolam festival even to this day (month of Aug-Sep). This episode is the 52nd one in the “Tiruvilayadal Puranam” that describes all the divine leelas plays  of Sundareshwarar in Madurai.

 

Puttu Tiruvizha

Puttu Tiruvizha (Festival) is one among the 64 Tiruvilayadals  (Divine Plays) of Lord Sundareswarar. It is celebrated at the Puttu Thoppu in Madurai city every year in the Tamil month of “Avani” (Aug-Sep). The Meenakshi Amman Temple will remain closed on this occasion, since the deities will be taken out for the festival.

Story behind the Puttu Tiruvizha
Puttu Thoppu is situated on the south bank of River Vaigai in Madurai. It is believed that this is the place where Paramasiva performed one of his Tiruvilayadals (Divine Plays). The Lord gave salvation to Manickavasagar and Vanthi ammal, an old lady here on the sacred Vaigai river banks.

The Pandya King ordered every citizen of Madurai to build a massive bund at the banks of River Vaigai in order to protect the kingdom from the flooding of Vaigai. The old lady Vanthi amma was allotted her small portion of the bund to be built. She was unable to carry out the command, so she planned to offer Puttu (made of rice flour and coconut) for those who help her. Nobody come up to help her. Due to her deep devotion to Paramasiva, appeared as a youngster and offered to work for her. Upon eating a fistful of the delicious puttu, he slept off by the river bed not attending to the work. The king monitoring the progress of the work saw him lying down and struck him with a cane. What followed was a huge miracle revealing who the youngster truly was. The blow on him landed on every single person’s back including the King’s own back. The King was shocked and realised that the youngster was none other than Sundareshwara, Paramasiva. Paramasiva performed this Divine Leela (Divine Play) to give liberate the old woman Vanthi.

Grandly decorated deities of Meenakshi (right) and Sundareshwara (left) during the Puttu Tiruvizha Procession

 

Navarathri (Nine nights) Festival

Navarathri (Nine nights) Festival is one of the most popular festivals of Madurai. It is celebrated in the honor of Goddess Meenakshi. The Goddess is adorned and worshiped in her nine forms during this festival. According to the Vedic calendar, Navarathri is held in the nine lunar days that is said to begin after the new moon in the Vedic month of ‘Purattasi’ (September-October). The festivities of Navarathri begin with the first phase of the moon after Mahalaya Amavasya (no moon day) and conclude with Dussehra or Vijaya Dashami, as it is popularly called.

                         
Navarathri Festival celebrates the victory of Goddess Sakti over Mahisasura, the buffalo-demon. The destruction of all demons are nothing but representing the negative attributes inside each of us which need to be destroyed. Goddess Sakti is said to have killed the demon on the eighth lunar day. Therefore, the eighth day of the festival is also known as ‘maha astami’ (astami meaning eight). On this occasion, the devotees of Goddess Sakti observe a fast for nine days. Many people refrain from having non-vegetarian food.

Vaikasi Visakam

Deity of Lord Muruga  holding His spear

Vaikasi Visakam is the festival celebrated in all six abodes of Lord Muruga / Subramanya Temples around the world as the day of His advent on the Planet. It is celebrated in the Tamil month of Vaikasi (May-June) on the Vedic star of Vishakha. Hence this festival is called as Vaikasi Vishakha. Lord Muruga is the son of Paramasiva and Goddess Parvati who incarnated on Planet earth to demolish the devil Soorapadman and save the earth from the demons.

At Madurai Tirupparankundram Subramaniya Temple, devotees take out procession carrying milk pots to perform Abhishekam (sacred bath) to Lord on that day. Also, some devotees take kavadi (a wooden pole attached to a wooden arch and balanced on one’s shoulders) on this day. Thousands of devotees visit Lord Muruga shrines on Vaikasi Visakam, especially at Tiruchendur and Tirupparankundram.

The Pandya king was once taking a walk in his garden with the queen when he perceived a sweet aroma emanating from the tresses of his queen. He wanted to know whether it was a natural aroma or an artificial one, for which purpose he announced a competition among the learned poets of his court. He declared, whoever composes a convincing poem on the issue would be rewarded with 1000 gold coins. He ordered a staff to be filled with thousand gold coins to be hung at the gate of the Sangam (royal court) hall to be claimed by the winner.

Dharumi was a poor devotee of Somasundarar (Sundareshwara) and belonging to the Adi Saiva community who was daily praying to the Lord seeking funds for his wedding ceremony. Somasundarar was overcome by compassion towards Dharumi’s plight and wrote a verse on the issue of the king’s doubt, gave it to Dharumi and sent him to claim the gold staff from the king. While all the poets in the Sangam assembly appreciated the verse and had no hesitation in according the prize to him, one amongst them named Nakkeerar objected to it claiming that the verse was faulty in content. Dharumi went back to the Lord and narrated the entire event, upon which Somasundarar himself took the form of a poet and debated with Nakkeerar to win the argument and handed over the gold coins to Dharumi. This episode is reenacted on the fourth day of the Avani Moolam festival even to this day (month of Aug-Sep). This episode is the 52nd one in the “Tiruvilayadal Puranam” that describes all the divine leelas plays  of Sundareshwarar in Madurai.