The two week long Chithirai Festival is one of the biggest celebrations in Madurai. It reenacts the wedding of Lord Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva) and Goddess Meenakshi (Lord Vishnu's sister).
Traditionally, Lord Vishnu has high caste followers, while Lord Shiva is worshiped by those of lower castes. What's interesting to note is that Meenakshi's marriage to Lord Shiva unites people of all castes, hence bridging the caste gap.
When is the Festival?
It begins on the fifth day of the bright half of the Tamil month Chitrai (April/May in the English calendar). In 2018, the dates of the Chithirai Festival are from April 18 to May 3.
Where is it Held?
How is it Celebrated?
The festival begins with a flag hoisting ceremony. However, the most important celebrations occur towards the end of the festival. After the celestial wedding, the location shifts to Kallazhagar Temple (also known as Azhagar/Alagar Kovil) in the Azhagar/Alagar Hills near Madurai, where Lord Vishnu presides as Meenakshi's older brother Azhagar (also known as Lord Kallazhagar).
Legend has it that Lord Kallazhagar traveled on a golden horse to participate in the celestial wedding of his sister Meenakshi. Unfortunately, he gets delayed and misses the wedding.
Meenakshi and Lord Shiva come to the Vaigai River, where he reached, to try and pacify him. However, in his fury he gets into the river to give them his gifts, then goes back home without visiting Madurai. One of the biggest spectacles of the Chithirai Festival is this procession, particularly the moment that Lord Kallazhagar enters the river.
In 2018, the most important dates are:
- April 25: Coronation of the Goddess Meenakshi (Pattabhishekam).
- April 26: Procession of Goddess Meenakshi.
- April 27: Celestial wedding of God and Goddess. The deities are paraded in their wedding attire around the temple streets, before being brought into the grandly decorated hall inside the temple.
- April 28: Procession of temple chariots (Car Festival/Thiru Their).
- April 29: Ethir Sevai festival to welcome Lord Kallazhagar.
- April 30: Lord Kallazhagar enters the River Vaigai.
- May 3: Lord Kallazhagar returns to his temple on a palanquin decorated with flowers.
Attending the Celestial Wedding
The wedding commences around 9 a.m. and is held on a flower-laden stage that's set up inside the temple compound. From 2013, anyone who wants to see the wedding is required to obtain a ticket. A total of 600 free passes will be issued. In addition, 1,500 tickets will be sold for 500 rupees each, and another 4,000 tickets will be sold for 200 rupees each. Bookings can be made online at the temple's website. Alternatively, tickets are sold from designated counters a week before the event. Special arrangements are also made for foreign tourists to see the celestial wedding from Tiruvalluvar Kazhagam in North Adi Street, and to see the car festival the following day.
After the wedding, a grand feast takes place at Sethupathy Higher Secondary School.
What to Expect During the Festival
The Chithirai Festival is a great opportunity to experience local life in Madurai, and see a traditional Hindu wedding ritual. It attracts huge crowds of people, who flock to Madurai from surrounding areas. The festival is celebrated with a great deal of excitement and hype -- with the enthusiasm of a real wedding. The celebrations extend all over the city, and the streets are flooded with devotees.
- Most the activities take place outdoors and the weather will be hot, so wear light clothing and comfortable shoes. Also be sure to carry water and sunscreen.
- Start early in the day.
- The car festival commences at 6 a.m. and goes on for about five hours. A dedicated viewing area is provided for foreigners.
Take extra care of your belongings, such as wallet and camera. It's easy to lose them in the crowd.