Chithirai festival: An event teeming with traditions

Visual spectacle, lynchpin of social harmony, and fount of myriad stories, Chithirai festival in Madurai dons many roles

Published: 12th April 2022 05:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th April 2022 05:43 AM   |  A+A-

File photo of seer padham thangigal carrying the palanquin of Kallazhagar; devotees dressed as Kallazhagar seeking offerings from public | k k sundar

Express News Service

MADURAI: The highlight of the Chithirai festival is round the corner — Lord Kallazhagar, in all his grandeur, will enter the Vaigai river on April 16 and thousands of devotees are likely to flood the Albert Victor bridge, and streets and terraces of buildings near the river to have a glimpse of the grand event.

Draped in traditional green silk cloth, the idol of Kallazhagar is brought from his abode at Alagarkoil, 20km from the river, after special abhishekams and poojas the previous night. A family member from Velliyamkundram zamin will wave a piece of cloth in front of the deity ‘pathinettampadi’ Karuppasamy, the guardian deity of Kallazhagar, as a mark of the procession’s start. 

Right from Kallazhagar’s descent from the hill and the procession through the streets to his entry into the river and the ascent back to the hill, the family members offer ‘protection’ to the deity. On the roots of the tradition, P Arumugam, assistant professor at Fourth Tamil Sangam Senthil College told TNIE, “Copper-plate inscriptions dating back to 1653 suggest that paadhai vazhi kaaval (protection to Kallazhagar) was performed by Siruvalai zamin family.

It was after the period of Tirumalai Nayakar (a ruler of Madurai Nayak Dynasty who was instrumental in uniting all communities for the festival) between AD 1623 and 1659 that the tradition was handed over to Velliyamkundram zamin. In those days, Kallars created a disturbance during the procession. Even now,  people from Mangulam perform a ritualistic attack on Kallazhagar when he is in Ambalathukarar mandapam,” he noted.

Similarly, carriers of the palanquin, called seer patham thaangigal, consider this as a service to god. Though they are from different places, they unite for the festival, at the end of which they would be honoured by the temple management. During the Nayakar period, they were offered land, Arumugam said. During Tirumalai Nayakar’s reign, people from 50 villages around Alagar hills dressed as Kallazhagar and Karuppasamy and offered prayers by tonsuring heads, piercing ears, and sacrificing lambs. 

Story of the first honour 
Veeraraghavaperumal would receive the first honour (Mudhal Mariyadhai) from Kallazhagar when he enters the Vaigai on a golden horse. According to legend, Arumugam says, the festival of Kallazhagar used to be held in Thenur near Solavandan. Once, a fire broke out in the mandapam housing the idol and devotees and the king ran out to save their lives.

But a priest named ‘Amuthar’ jumped into the fire, took the idol from the flames, threw it onto the riverbank before fainting. In recognition of his courage, the king said he and his family would be honoured. But Amuthar said Veeraraghava perumal should be honoured instead. Hence, to date, Veeraraghavaperumal receives the first honour from Kallazhagar. 

Arumugam said Thenur (called Sundarrajan Boomi) is one of the ancient villages in the State. “Till now, the people of Thenur offer their first agricultural produce to Alagar Kovil, remove their slippers before entering the village and walk barefoot to the temple as a mark of respect to Kallazhagar.” 

They also believe that this area belongs to Kallazhagar and, hence, abstain from rearing pigs and selling cigarettes or alcohol,” he added.


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