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Home > Temple Festivals > Cittirai Festivals
Cittirai Festivals
Meenakshi TempleIt is a ten day festival held in Meenakshi Temple at Madurai in Tamil Nadu. It celebrates the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi, queen of Madurai, and of Sundareshwar (beautiful god) who is a form of Shiva.

The temple of Meenakshi (the fish-eyed goddess), wife of Shiva, is famous for its size and architectural excellence. While the genera-lly the Dravidian temples have but four Gopurams (soaring gateways with exuberant sculptures), the Meenakshi temple has eleven. Madurai is an ancient city and was the capital of the Pandya and Nayaka dynas-ties. The present temple was built in the seventeenth century.

Legend has it that the emperor Kulasekhara Pandyan was the founder of the ancient city of Madurai. He was succeeded by Malayadwaja Pandyan. Malayadwaja Pandyan and his consort Kanchanamala who did not have any children of their own, worshipped with the desire of obtaining progeny. During the course of their ceremonial prayer, a baby girl appeared in the sacrificial altar miraculously.

The Royal couple brought up this child as their own and named her Tataatakai. An odd feature about the baby was that it had three breasts instead of two, and that a divine prophecy decreed that the third one would miraculously disappear, at the princess`s sight of her consort to be.

Tataatakai grew up to be a valorous queen; she was also known as Meenakshi, the one endowed with fish like eyes. Tataatakai embarked upon a Dig Vijaya or a tour of victory, across the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. In the course of her travels, she came to Mount Kailash where she encountered Shiva; upon standing in front of Shiva her third breast disappeared and a valorous warrior princess transformed into a blushing bride.

Shiva directed Meenakshi to return to Madurai, and promised her that he would join her in eight days as her groom. Accordingly Meenakshi returned to Madurai, and at the appointed time, the divine wedding was celebrated with pomp and splendour. Maha Vishnu, believed to be the brother of Meenakshi is said to have given the bride away.

Legend has it that Meenakshi and Sundareswarar ruled over the city of Madurai for a long period of time. Sundareswarar also goes by the name Sundara Pandyan. Ugra Pandyan the son of the divine couple is believed to be none other than Subramanya.

Cittirai FestivalsThe main feast of the temple is the annual celebration of the marriage of the goddess with Shiva. Meenaskhi Kalyanam is the wedding festival of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwar. Meenaskhi Kalyanam, the wedding festival of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwara is celebrated for ten days from the second day of the lunar month (i.e. two days after the new moon).

According to Hindu tradition, the brother of the bride plays a significant role during the marriage celebrations of his sister. Meenakshi, a manifestation of Parvati, is the sister of Vishnu in his form of Krishna who is known as Alagar and has his own special shrine at Alagar Koil about 21 kms from Madurai.

After the marriage ceremony is over the two idols of Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi are taken out in colourful procession around the outskirts of the city. The procession is characterized with royal decorated umbrellas, fans and traditional instrumental music. The devotees accompanying the deities are dressed in yellow and red, both highly auspicious colours. They sing devotional songs on the way and splash coloured water on the passersby. The priests and servants of Alagar Koil and Meenakshi temples enact the scenes of the drama relating to these myths. Thousands of devotees from all over the country gather in the city of Madurai on this occasion.

The second part of the Cittirai Festival is, more popularly, known as Vaigai River Festival. According to a tradition perpetuated since the seventeenth century, the journey of Vishnu, i.e., the procession carrying the brother to his sister`s marriage celebrations at Madurai, is annually frustrated by the news that the marriage was completed before Vishnu could arrive at the scene. Even though he, Alagar, leaves his temple in time to enter the Vaigai river bed on the morning of the Chitra full-moon day.

For some unknown reason, the exact time of the marriage celebrations is not made clear to Alagar. So, while he is crossing the river to enter the old city for the marriage celebrations of his sister, he is informed by Kudalalagar (another form ofVishnu), whom he meets at the riverbed that the wedding has already taken place. This is considered an act of extreme insult and Alagar, even though he sends his wedding gift to Meenakshi, refuses to enter the city. All the same, the image of Vishnu giving his sister Meenakshi in marriage to Shiva (Sundareswarar) is there in the marriage scene depicted at the Meenakshi temple. The journey of Alagar to the Vaigai river is said to be for the benefit of his devotees and to commemorate his promise of giving darshan to Rishi Mandukaso that he may be released from the cycle of re-birth.
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