April is not the cruellest month for Madurai, despite the cruel summer. In fact, it is celebration time. For the next few days, the city will be bursting at its seams with the devotees thronging the northern boundary to welcome Lord Kallazhagar into the Temple City.
If it is the Meenakshi Thirukkalyanam, which holds the centrestage in the central and southern parts, it is Lord Kallazhagar's entry into the Vaigai, on the other side of the river, which generates a lot of enthusiasm.
The whole city will be wearing a festive look as residents prepare themselves to usher Lord Kallalagar into their households. Villagers in and around Madurai congregate in the city, occupying every available space at Tallakulam pulsating with colourful lights. A plethora of games at the impressive Chithrai exhibition will be a good treat for the rural conglomeration.
To cap it all, no one could miss the characters, wearing motley dresses and colourful caps (`salladam', specially designed for them).
Even if you fail to take notice, they will be right behind to remind you of their presence, spraying water (which they carry in leather bags hanging from their shoulders).
They don't have any inhibition whatsoever, and if they feel they are ignored, then they will come in front and spray water right on the face of the person who avoids them.
It will be a real `chilly' moment, indeed.
Now, over to the Chithrai festival of the Kallazhagar Temple.
"Though there are so many myths about the Kallazhagar's purpose of visit to the Temple City, the most popular belief is that the deity's visit is to relieve `Mandooga' Mahirishi of his curse," says Sundara Naraynan Battar, hereditary priest of Alagarkoil. "But, the entry into the river was a concept which came much later. Usually, the crowd gathering for the Alagarkoil fest will be more, as many consider the presiding deity at the Temple as their `kuladeivam' (family God). It is a firm belief that the God fulfils all their prayers and so, many consider the deity as a good companion to share their problems with. In fact, the villagers were so obsessed with the Lord that they even shared their earnings with him''.
In the past, the general practice was to take the deity in a procession around Alaganallur and Thenur en route Vandiyur, travelling along the banks of the Vaigai, also known as Vegavathi, for three days. But it was King Thirumalai Naicker, who, in an effort to club the Chithrai festival at Alagarkoil with that of Meenakshi Thirukalyanam, and also to reduce time, laid the present path (the Alagarkoil Road), to provide an easy access to the city. And now, the deity could reach the destination in just a day.
"By doing so, the King saved two days and he planned in such a way that the festival of the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple is fixed on those two days," the priest says.
Marking the festival, members of various communities start their `viradham' on the New Moon day, preceding the Full Moon day, which will go on for the next 15 to 30 days. During the festival, they spray water on the devotees to provide them a brief respite from the scorching heat.
"The practice of spraying water came into being as the sweltering heat and the sandy path caused great inconvenience to bearers of palanquin in those days'', the priest says.
The return journey of the God assumes importance at the Appan Thirupathi, where the villagers organise various functions including the `cock fight', quite famous in this part.
T. Saravanan - The Hindu
қαvї - கவி