Chithirai Festival or Chithirai Thiruvizha or Madurai Meenakshi Amman Thirukalyanam is an annual regional festival celebrated in Madurai’s famous Meenakshi Amman Temple.
History Of Chithirai Festival
According to mythology, Lord Parvathi was born to Malayadhwaja Pandian as Meenakshi. According to a divine voice, Meenakshi would be married off by Lord Shiva who would come and visit her when the time is right. Soon, Meenakshi became the queen of Madurai and she started conquering regions around Madurai. At last, she reached Kailasham and met Lord Shiva as her opponent in the battleground. Meenakshi fell in love with him and Lord Shiva assured that he would visit Madurai to marry her. On an auspicious day, Lord Shiva visited Madurai and married Meenakshi. This is the history of Meenakshi Thirukalyanam, which is the first half of the Chithirai festival.
Lord Vishnu, who is considered as the brother of Lord Shakti, wished to view the marriage. He took the form of a thief and travelled through forests of Alagar hills. On the way, he was delayed when he lifted off Mandooka rishi’s curse. Thus, he missed the marriage. He was crossing the river to reach Madurai, when he heard the news of the marriage.
In anger, he stayed on the banks of the river. Lord Shiva and Meenakshi visited him at the banks. Lord Vishnu offered his blessing and returned back, without setting foot inside the city of Madurai. This procession of consoling Lord Vishnu is the second part of the festival.
When Is Chithirai Festival Celebrated?
Chithirai means the first month in Tamil Calendar that starts from mid of April and ends at mid of May. Chithirai festival is celebrated during this month. The first half of the festival is celebrated in Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple and the rest of the festival is celebrated in Kallazhagar Temple of Madurai.
This festival falls on the fifth day after the full moon night of April. Thus, every year, the beginning date of the festival varies. In 2020, the festival starts on April 25th and ends on May 10th.
How Is Chithirai Festival Celebrated?
The priests re-enact the entire history of the festival with the idols. They conduct grand rituals with songs and music to indicate each story incident.
1. Kodi Yetram
This is the initial ceremony of this festival. During this ceremony, the main priest of the temple hoists the Dwajasthambam flag on the flag post inside the temple. This flag is the indication that the festival is beginning. The flag would stay on the pole until the festival is completed.
This is the coronation festival, in which Lord Meenakshi is crowned as the queen. According to legends, she ruled Madurai for four months. Lord Shiva and Meenakshi ruled Madurai for eight whole months.
During this ceremony, the queen conquers numerous kingdoms. The scenes will be enacted with songs or special dances. At last, she sees Lord Shiva in the battleground and falls in love with him.
4. Meenakshi Thirukalyanam
This is the main event of this celebration. On this day, the idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswara are married off. The rituals start with prayers to the Viboothi Vinayakar. Special rituals and bhajans are conducted. People wear the holy ash on their forehead. The main deities are decorated in silk cloths and special garlands. The entire temple will be decorated as a marriage hall. More than 50 priests take part in this ritual to conduct the celestial wedding.
After the wedding, the idols would be taken on a palanquin around the streets. This procession is called Yannai Vahanam oand Pushpa Pallaku.
5. Chariot Festival
This festival is celebrated on the day after the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam. The idols are sent on a procession through the main streets.
6. Ethir Seva
This celebration starts on the fourth day of the festival at Kallazhagar Temple. During this ceremony, the idol is dressed up as a thief and taken around the streets for procession.
7. Alagar Vaigei Elenthuarulal
In this ceremony, the idols of Lord Shiva, Meenakshi and Kallazhagar are made to meet in a mandapam, at the middle of River Vaigai. After rituals and celebrations, which represent Lord Vishnu giving presents to his sister, Lord Alagar is taken back to the Kallazhagar Temple.
Importance of Chithirai festival
This festival is a celebration of culture and tradition. This is one of the longest celebrations of Tamil Nadu. In South India, the followers of Lord Vishnu are seen as upper class and followers of Lord Shiva are seen as lower cast. This festival is a grand way of bringing the two classes together, bridging any societal gaps.
Customs and Traditions of Chithirai festival
During this festival, the entire story of the marriage and the adventure of Alagar would be enacted. It is an interesting festival to enjoy. The locals will be dressed in their traditional attire and traditional art forms are quite common during this celebration. Some of the devotees take part in one month of fasting to take part in the rituals and to pull the chariot in procession.
Tourist Attractions in Chithirai festival
- Take part in the rituals and processions
- Dance, music, drama, and story recital performances take place during this festival
- The area around the temple will be filled with stalls and carnival rides. This is the best place for cultural shopping.
- At Tamukkam Grounds, an annual exhibition is conducted by the government. The Ferris Wheel of this exhibition is quite famous among locals.
- The celestial wedding takes place around 9 in the morning. More than 10,000 people would be visiting. Up to 6000 people are let into the temple during the marriage ceremony, in first-come, first-serve basis. So, be early.
- Entrance ticket will be INR 200 or INR 500 based on the entrance gate.
- Foreigners can get access to special viewing areas.
- A grand feast takes place in a nearby school, Sethupathy Higher Secondary School, after the marriage.
- You would be expected to stay on your feet for several hours and you will not be allowed to wear footwear, so be prepared.
- April and May are the hottest months and Madurai is very humid region. Carry ample amount of water, wear sunscreen, and dress appropriately.