The Chithirai festival in Madurai is among the world’s longest annual celebrations (lasts for about a month). It is celebrated in an attempt to unite the Vishnavites and the Shaivites. It does so by re-enacting the wedding of Lord Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva) and Goddess Meenakshi (Lord Vishnu’s sister).
Held in the famous Meenakshi Temple, it’s a festival that has been celebrated since ancient times, it has never failed to attract the attention of both national and international tourists. If a trip to Madurai is on the cards, check out these five fascinating facts about the fest
5. A Four Hundred Year Old Festival
The heart of Madurai is the chosen location for this festival, which has been celebrated since a long time ago. History has it that this festival dates back four hundred centuries. Since then it has been a crowd puller and still is. Lakhs of people gather here to celebrate this occasion. It’s wonderful to be a part of a historically significant festival. Earlier the festival was celebrated in Sholavandan, but then King Thirumalai Naykar, changed the place of celebrations to Madurai.
4. Worshippers Arrive At the Location in Bullock Cards
You will come across old black and white pictures of the Chithirai festival where people would arrive at the temple in bullock-driven carts to worship. To keep this tradition alive, most people stick to it and still arrive at the temple premises on bullock carts. Many say that their past generations would always travel by bullock cart to reach there and had always wished the next generation to follow in their footsteps. This is why this ritual is still alive among the masses. The improving condition of the roads has been a boon for the visitors, as the travel time has come down from a week to a day.
3. Two different Festivals: Meenakshi and Alagar
Historically speaking, originally there used to be two different festivals namely the Meenakshi festival and the Alagar festival. They were celebrated in two different months. The Shaivites celebrated the Meenakshi festival. It is believed that Meenakshi is the daughter of the Pandya king who is also another avatar of Goddess Sakthi, the wife of Lord Shiva. She was born out of the fire and grew up to become a fearless warrior. After conquering the world she attacked Kailayam where Shiva lived, but fell in love with him. Both married and Shiva ruled the Pandya kingdom from then on.
The Vaishnavites believed that there was an ascetic named Mandoorka rishi who was once bathing in the holy waters of the Alagar Hills. Durvasar Maharishi, a powerful and short-tempered god entered an on finding Mandoorka not welcoming him cursed him to become a frog. To revive from the curse Mandoorka travels to the river Vaigai where the 10 avatars of Vishnu bless him.
2. Merging of the two festivals by King Thirumalai Naykar
King Thirumalai Naykar was the one who shifted the festival to Madurai, but the biggest achievement was to unite the followers of Shiva and Vishnu under the umbrella of a festival, which would celebrate both the Gods and Goddesses believed by each. Since then on it has been celebrated as one big month-long festival, which takes place every year during the Tamil month of Chithirai. The name therefore changed to Chithirai Tiruvizha after its transformation.
1. A List of Events at the Festival
The Chithirai Festival being a month long affair includes several events. First is the Kodi Yetram.The chief priest of the Meenakshi temple hoists a flag, which marks the beginning of the festival. Nest is the Pattabisekam – a coronation ceremony for the gods. After this is the Dikvijayam, which is followed by the Meenakshi Tirukalyanam. These are the celebration of the love affair and the marriage of Meenakshi with Shiva. Next is Ther Thiruvizha, where people pull the chariot of Meenakshi. This is followed by Etir Sevai and the event of Alagar Vaigai Elenthuarulal. With this the festival closes.