The two week long Chithirai Festival is one of the biggest celebrations in Madurai. It re-enacts the wedding of Lord Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva) and Goddess Meenakshi (Lord Vishnu's sister).
When is the Chithirai Festival:
The Chithirai Festival begins on the fifth day of the bright half of the Tamil month Chitrai (April in the English calendar). In 2013, the official dates of the Chithirai Festival are from April 13-25.
Where is the Chithirai Festival Held:
The Chithirai Festival is held at the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. The parades takes place in the streets around the temple (known as the Maasi streets).
How is the Chithirai Festival Celebrated:
The Chithirai Festival begins with a flag hoisting ceremony, however the most important celebrations occur towards the end of the festival. In 2013, the most important dates are:
- April 21: Coronation of the Goddess Meenakshi (Pattabhishekam).
- April 22: Procession of Goddess Meenakshi.
- April 23: Celestial wedding of God and Goddess. The deities are paraded in their wedding attire around the temple streets, before being brought into the grandly decorated hall inside the temple.
- April 24: Procession of temple chariots (Car Festival/Thiru Their).
- April 25: Return of Lord Kallazhaga (Azhagar Aatril Eranguthal).
Legend has it that Lord Kallazhaga (Lord Vishnu) came mounted on a golden horse to Madurai from Azhagar Kovil, a famous Vishnu temple near Madurai, to participate in the celestial wedding of his sister Meenakshi. However, he arrives late and misses the wedding. Furious, he gets into the river, and then proceeds back home. One of the biggest spectacles of the Chithirai Festival is this procession.
What to Expect During the Chithirai Festival:
The Chithirai Festival is a great opportunity to experience local life in Madurai, and see a traditional Hindu wedding ritual. It attracts huge crowds of people, who flock to Madurai from surrounding areas. The festival is celebrated with a great deal of excitement and hype -- with the enthusiasm of a real wedding. The celebrations extend all over the city, and the streets are flooded with devotees.
Chithirai Festival Travel Tips:
- Most the activities take place outdoors and the weather will be hot, so wear light clothing and comfortable shoes. Also be sure to carry water and sunscreen.
- Start early in the day.
- Take extra care of your belonging, such as wallet and camera. It's easy to lose them in the crowd.