After Two Years, Madurai’s Chithirai Festival Returns To Former Grandeur

Madurai Meenakshi Amman’s annual Chithirai festival, due to be celebrated from April 12-21, is expected to attract large crowds of devotees this year due to the easing of pandemic restrictions.

With the easing of pandemic-induced restrictions, the annual Chithirai Festival at Amman’s iconic Madurai Meenakshi Temple is expected to attract large crowds of devotees again this year. The festival, celebrated during the Tamil month of Chithirai, had been a muted affair for the past two years due to the pandemic. This year, the festival is to be celebrated from April 12 to 21, with the Azhagar Iranguthal ceremony held in the waters of the Vaigai River.

The main attractions of the festival include the re-enactment of the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam – the divine marriage of the deities who preside over the temple – and the procession of floats. “There were no festivities during the first year of the pandemic. Also last year, the rituals were performed by the priests, but devotees could not attend the festival,” says Maaryappa Murali, secretary of Madurai Tamil Sangam. “This year people feel more comfortable because even the mandatory mask restrictions have been removed. There is already an air of joy around the temple. We must remember that in addition to its religious elements, the Chithirai Thiruvizha is part of Madurai culture. It is rooted in the soil of this city. Countless shopping and cultural fairs take place in the city during the festival. All this attracts people of all religions.

In April 2020, rituals including the hoisting of the temple flag and the procession of chariots were canceled, with temple authorities announcing that the Thirukalyanam would be broadcast live to devotees. This year’s flag hoisting took place on April 5, leading to an increase in temple attendance as anticipation for the Chithirai festivities peaked, the New Indian Express reported.

Another familiar sight awaits devotees attending the festival this year. They will likely see the famous “Visiri” (fan) thatha, as 92-year-old Natarajan is now nicknamed. The nickname comes from the large peacock-feathered fan that Natarajan carries to the festival every year. He uses his fan to help relieve the crowd of heat. In an interview with Jaya Plus during the pandemic, Natarajan said he did this as a service to God and it was a major source of income for him. Natarajan also used to attend major temple festivals including Rameswaram and Sabarimala. Over the past two years, however, COVID-19 has left a dent in its income.

K Chelladurai, co-commissioner of the temple, told TNM that arrangements have been made for the attendance of 15,000 devotees. It is a joyful time as people will be able to gather for the festival again, he said. Tamil Nadu Finance Minister and Madurai MP Palanivel Thiagarajan has been working with various officials and state departments to prepare for the month’s festivities, according to a report by The Hindu.

James C. Tibbs