Madurai – A city known for its architecturally stunning temples, symbolizing unwavering devotion towards God. Madurai holds the credit of being one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. The ancient artifacts and scriptures showcase the cultural richness of this vibrant city. A city with 365 days of festivity, welcomes outsiders with respect and compassion. Be it food, people or temple; the city of Madurai reflects authenticity and a civilization untouched for decades together.
The Chithirai Thiruvizha or Chithirai festival is one of the longest festivals to be celebrated in the world. The festival is celebrated with extreme grandeur in the Month of April each year and lasts for almost a month.
LEGEND BEHIND THE FESTIVAL:
Chithirai festival is the culmination of two auspicious festivals; Meenakshi festival and the Azhagar festival. The historic legend behind this festival is indeed divine.
Malayadwaja Pandian was the King of Madurai who belonged to the Pandya dynasty. The King and his wife Kanchanamalai were childless. Upon consulting revered Saints, an auspicious ceremony called ‘Puthrakaameshti Yagna’ was held in this regard. When the ceremony concluded, a small girl child emerged from the holy fire. The couple was overjoyed and named the God-sent child as ‘Meenakshi’ (after their Clan Deity). ‘Meenakshi’ was believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Parvati (Consort of Lord Shiva). According to a prophecy she would marry Lord Shiva when she would come of age and take up the responsibility of ruling Madurai.
Since childhood, Goddess Meenakshi exhibited extreme valor and acquired warfare skills. At a very young age she was crowned as the Ruler of Madurai after her father’s demise. Meenakshi, upon her cornotion as the Queen of Madurai, set out to conquer all three worlds. One after the other she went on a conquering spree and finally reached the abode of Lord Shiva.
Upon seeing Lord Shiva, Meenakshi lost her heart to the Lord of Kailash and gave up her conquest. Lord Shiva accepted to marry her, knowing that she was the incarnation of his consort Parvati. Meenakshi too realized this fact. This celestial marriage took place in the holy city of Madurai.
The celestial marriage is replicated each year with thousands of devotees thronging the temple. The festival commences with a flag hoisting ceremony followed the cornotion of Meenakshi as the Queen of Madurai. Thereafter celebrations over Meenakshi conquest is bought to reality for the people to see. Finally the celestial marriage with Lord Shiva is conducted with pomp and grandeur inside the Meenakshi Temple.
Azhagar (Kallazhagar or Alagar) who is the incarnation of Lord Vishnu is Meenakshi’s brother. Alagarkoil is on the other side of the banks of the river Vaigai. The celestial Marriage was being held on this side of the river. Kallazhagar, desperate to attend his sister’s wedding, was stopped by his loved ones while on his journey to Madurai. Upon reaching the banks of the river when Azhagar enters the river, the news of wedding being solemnized reaches him. Angered by this, Azhagar goes back, sending only the royal gifts he had brought with him for his sisters marriage.
This is the legend behind Chithirai festival and is depicted in the same way, bringing all the events associated, right in front of our eyes. Before the Marriage Azhagar is welcomed by the people of Madurai, this is known as ‘Ethir Sevai’.
On the eve of the celestial Marriage Azhagar enters the Vaigai River, this ceremony is called as ‘Azhagar Aatril Iranguthal’, symbolizing the legendary episode wherein Azhagar is unable to attend Meenakshi’s Marriage. This ceremony is held in the middle of the Vaigai River enacting the legend after which other ceremonies are held. The idol of Azhagar is dressed as Dasavatharam which are the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, after which Azhagar leaves for Azhagarkoil in a ‘Poopallaku’ (Chariot heavily decorated with flowers).
Yet another ceremony associated with this festival is the liberation of Sage Suthapas who was cursed by Sage Durvasa for ignoring him. Sage Durvasa’s curse turned him into a frog. Lord Vishnu as Azhagar freed Suthapas of the curse. Symbolically the conclusion of this festival is with the ceremony wherein a frog representing ‘Maandoga’ (Frog) Maharishi is freed from his curse. A stork is made to fly depicting this liberation.
The Chithirai festival comes to a conclusion with Azhagar leaving for Azhagarkoil wherein few other ceremonies are held.
Chithirai festival 2012 in Madurai:
The Chithirai festival has a series of auspicious events which are as follows:
|Kodi Yetram (Flag Hoisting)||The flag hosting ceremony signals the commencement of Chithirai Festival||23rd April 2012|
|Pattabishekam (Coronation)||Coronation of Meenakshi as the Queen of Madurai||30th April 2012|
|Digvijayam||Celebration of victory over conquering all directions||1st May 2012|
|Thiru Kalyanam||Celestial Marriage of Goddess Meenakshi and Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva)||2nd May 2012|
|Ther Thiruvizha||A chariot procession leaves the Meenakshi Temple after the Celestial Marriage||3rd May 2012|
|Azhagar Aatril Iranguthal||The symbolic ceremony wherein Azhagar descends into the Vaigai river in order to attend Meenakshi’s Wedding||4th May 2012|
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