Tirukalyanam – the Great Wedding
At the heart of the Chithirai Festival of course is the wedding of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar. This being one of the most important festivals in South India, I don’t think there was ever a chance of landing an advance ticket, so it was time to queue.
Now, while I probably could have sorted one of the reserved tickets for foreign visitors, guess I’m a sucker for queuing for hours in near 40C temps hoping to get a same-day ticket. Well, a couple of buckets of sweat later, I was in.
The ceremony itself was quiet short in the end – barely half an hour. It also turned out to very solemn event – up to the point when the knot was tied that is and then you never saw so much happiness – people were beaming.
With ceremonies over and like any good wedding, it was time to get fed. In this case – and on behalf of the deities – it was neighbouring shopkeepers and residents who were feeding the masses and providing free dishes of sweet pongal and biyrani for all.
Wedding over then, the newly married couple make several processions around the streets of Madurai – and none grander than the Great Car Festival early the next morning.
Take two house-sized, hand-carved, wooden chariots – one for him, one for her – each with three to four meter-wide granite wheels, get thousands of energetic locals to haul them at speed through dense crowds – without casualties hopefully – and you’ve got shock-and-awe.
And its not just the two deities and their cars – throw in some jesters and elephants, temple fan-bearers and musicians, the hawkers and the hucksters and now that’s a parade.
Finally, the two cars return to where they started – not that you could tell from shouts of the crowds that it had been five hours in hot sun (fingers crossed – my first video)
And lastly – spare a thought for the guys from the local electricity company – seems half of Madurai was in the dark while the temple cars went by…