Chittirai festival
   The Chittirai festival that takes place in Tamil Nadu state, in MADURAI and Alakar Kovil Temple and points in between, is one of the largest South Indian festivals. It takes place in the Sanskrit lunar month of Chaitra (Tamil, Chittirai), correspond-ing to April or May. It brings together the Shaivite and the Vaishnavite (see SHAIVISM; VAISHNAVISM) communities of the region in a single, two-part celebration. Apparently, this larger festival is in fact a combination of two festivals that once took place a few weeks apart. The joining of the two into one festival was the work of the Telegu king of Madurai Tirumala Nayak (1623–59).
   The Madurai part of the celebration tells the tale of MINAKSHI, the goddess of Madurai, and her marriage to Sundreshvara (Shiva). It is focused on the monumental MEENAKSHI temple, with its four 100-foot towers, at the center of the city. Here, the festival lasts 12 full days, but it is the 10th day, when the huge temple car carrying Minakshi and her husband, Shiva, is pulled by devotees on the streets that encircle the temple, that is most dramatic. This temple car is elaborate and grand with wheels about 10 feet high and a canopy over the divinities that reaches to 40 feet. Devotees vie to pull on the heavy one-foot-thick ropes to con-vey the cart on a circumambulation of the temple. This temple parade is carried out each year after Minakshi and Sundereshvara (Shiva) are married.
   The kings of Madurai were traditionally associ-ated with the god Shiva. The festival’s marriage of the god Shiva to Minakshi not only joins an indigenous, non-Aryan goddess to an ARYAN and Brahmani-cal divinity, but symbolizes a link in sovereignty between Shiva/king and the local population.
   The second part of the festival starts in the mountains 70 miles west of Madurai. There the god Alakar, a form of Vishnu, proceeds toward Madurai and the Vaikai River as part of his annual outing. As it happens, VISHNU is the brother of Minakshi and is going to give the bride away to Shiva. Unfortunately, when he reaches the Vaikai River, in sight of the great temple of his sister, he discovers that he has arrived late at the wedding and must return. The Kallar community, relatively low-caste devotees of Vishnu, play a prominent role in this part of the festival, which lasts nine days.
   Further reading: D. Dennis Hudson, The Two Chitra Festivals of Madurai in Religious Festivals in South India and Sri Lanka. Edited by Guy R. Welbon and Glenn E. Yocum (Delhi: Manohar, 1982); William P. Harman, The Sacred Marriage of a Hindu Goddess (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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