Tamil Nadu is an inception place of many cultures in India. It is a state where the century old festivals and custom still prevails. And at the center of this highly cultural state, Madurai city has its own special traits. Apart from all the temples and beautiful geographical location, Madurai is special for one other thing, the Chithirai Thiruvizha festival.
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL
Being one of the oldest and lengthiest festivals in the world, Chithirai Thiruvizha attracts millions of people across the state and different parts of the world to unite in this holy celebration. While going down the pages of Indian history, the rivalry among the followers of Shaivism and Vaishnavism catches the eye. Well, this rivalry has continued for ages but the most distinguished attempt that was made to unite the both sects of Hinduism has to be the Chithirai Thiruvizha festival during the Chithirai (சித்திரை-Tamizh month).
The festival continues for a month and it starts with the re-enactment of the marriage between Lord Sundareswara and Goddess Meenakshi. And it has always been a quintessential part of Madurai’s culture.
History of Chithirai Thiruvizha
Well, Madurai has a very rich historical background and this festival has its fair share to it. According to the local fables, the festival is no less than four centuries old. Yes! You heard it right, the festival of Chithirai Thiruvizha is almost four hundred years old and it still is a huge crowd puller like the old times. It still witnesses millions of attendance and the number just keeps on increasing every year.
Though the festival was originally celebrated in Sholavandan but it was shifted to Madurai. It was the noble King Thirumalai Naykar who shifted the festival to Madurai centuries ago with the idea of uniting the followers of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. As stated earlier, the rivalry between the believers of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva was a major problem back then. So, an attempt to stop the rivalry and spread love and peace was much needed. Thus, the idea of Chithirai Thiruvizha originated. And it can be gladly said that the attempt which the King Thirmulai Naykar made was a grand success.
The festival gladly celebrates the greatness of all the major Gods and Goddesses that each cult believes. Since its start, the Chithirai Thiruvizha is celebrated as a one-month-long festival and it takes place in the month of Chithirai according to Tamil calendar. As the festival is celebrated in the month of Chithirai, so the name was changed to Chithirai Thiruvizha when it was relocated from Sholavandan to Madurai.
There is a beautiful story associated with this festival which the people of Madurai narrate to everyone. The story has passed down through the ages and this legend has contributed greatly to this festival. According to the legend, Goddess Meenakshi, the younger sister of Lord Azhagar (another name of Lord Vishnu) fell in love with Lord Shiva.
They decided to get married and Lord Shiva promised his lady love to marry in the holy land of Madurai. As per the customs, the would-be couple invited Lord Alagar to their marriage. On the day of the marriage, Lord Alagar started his journey from his sanctum at Alagar Hills towards Madurai to attend his sister’s wedding.
He was carrying valuable gifts for his sister. So, he disguised himself as a robber to save his belonging from any impending danger. The way to Madurai from Alagar hills was covered in dense forest; so it was delaying the journey of Lord Alagar. Moreover, he had to hide from time to time to save himself from being noticed by the patrolling royal guards. Thus, he was getting late for his own sister’s marriage.
After travelling for a long time, he reached the Vaigai river. While crossing the river to reach Madurai, he learnt that the marriage ceremony has already completed. He felt very insulted and anger surged through his veins. To calm Lord Alagar down, Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Shiva came to the Vaigai River. After a lot of convincing, Lord Alagar was calmed and he chose to celebrate the marriage properly. So, he created a “mandapam” and gave all the gifts that he was carrying to the newlywed couple. And then he departed for his sanctum at Alagar hills without entering Madurai.
This beautiful story forms the basis of the festival. The legend is still popular among the people and it will continue to be so for the centuries to come.
There is a multitude of events associated with this one-month long celebration. The first event that marks the beginning of the festival is Kodi Yetram. A special flag is hoisted at the top of Meenakshi Temple by the chief priest and it marks the beginning of Chithirai Thiruvizha. The next ceremony is Pattabisekam which is a coronation ceremony of Goddess Meenakshi and it is followed by Dikvijayam and Meenakshi Tirukalyanam respectively. These events celebrate the love between Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Shiva followed by the re-enactment of their holy marriage.
The very next phase of the celebration includes Ther Thiruvizha. In this event, people pull the chariot of Meenakshi. Ther Thiruviza is followed by Etir Sevai. The holy event of Alagar Vaigai Elenthuarulal marks the end of the Chithirai Thiruviza. In this last event, Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi goes to meet Lord Alagar near the Vaigai river as told in the legend.
Modern Day Celebration of Chithirai Thiruvizha:
The people of Madurai are always true to their culture; so they have been following the same customs and the traditions for celebrating Chithirai Thiruvizha for the last four hundred years. This grand festival always comes during the month of April and May during the summer. During this happy occasion, the people of Madurai invite their relatives to their abode to celebrate the festival along with them.
The processions of the festival start at Masi Street and they are very colourful as well as a huge crowd puller. The wedding of the gods happens on the 10th day of the festival and it is considered highly sacred as well as important by the local women. Masi Street is the place where people gather for the processions and celebration of the Chithirai Thiruvizha.
This is a festival of colours and rejoice and the celebration helps people to unite shedding all the differences. It celebrates love, peace and unity like no other festival in the world. And that is what makes Chithirai Thiruvizha exceptional and special.