Tag Archives: Madurai

Chithirai Festival – The Missing Brother

Etir Sevai is the day that the procession of Lord Alaghar finally arrives in Madurai for the wedding of his sister – the goddess Meenaskshi. It’s actually a local holiday, so there was a big crowd out when I caught up with the procession for a couple of hours to traipse around the backstreets of Madurai.

Waiting for Lord Alaghar's Procession to Resume

Waiting for Lord Alaghar’s Procession to Resume

Although his temple is only 20km away, with stops at various temples and 400 mandapams (canopies erected by locals to receive blessings) along the way, it takes the best part of three days to make the trip – in the scorching heat (lots of happy ice-cream sellers here).

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Perumal Temple, Tallakulam

The precession finally reaches and rests up at a small temple not from from the northern banks of the Vagai and that’s when the madness begins – you see, no-one is going to bed tonight.

I didn’t get so many photos of the madness mind you – probably because I was busy dodging armies of teenagers with waterguns – but with the crowds, the roving drumming circles, temple cows and elephants, musicians and wandering monks the place was buzzing.

 

A Temple Cow Working the Crowd

A Temple Cow Working the Crowd

Eventually though, with dawn approaching, the hundreds and hundreds of thousands – who knows how many – move down to the riverbed for the main act. You see, as even the smallest child in Madurai will tell you, Lord Alaghar was late for his sister’s wedding and on hearing this at the river, does an angry about-turn.

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And so, this is what everyone has come to see – the highlight of a month-long festival – Lord Alaghar on his pure gold steed entering and then leaving the Vaigai River. It was all a bit crazy really, but next thing it was all over – and time to catch up on lost sleep.

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Although I did manage to catch one last 4 am procession as part of the festival – with yet more insanely large crowds – that’s largely it for Chithirai this year. By now Alaghar is back to his temple and the newly married couple returned to theirs and all is back to normal in Madurai. At least until this time next year when it happens all over again.

 

 

Chithirai Festival – The Wedding

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.

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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.

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Ceremony over, devotees taking pictures of a televised Goddess Meenakshi and her new husband (at least I think its him)

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.

The Juggernauts

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.

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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.

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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…

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Time for a Party

The lavishness of Indian weddings is well known, but when it comes to the celestial wedding here in Madurai of two of Hinduism’s principal deities it gets taken to a whole new level.

After ten or so days of events preparing for the wedding, the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi to Lord Sundareswarar takes place tomorrow morning, followed then by days more of related events and celebrations.

With the population of the city said to nearly double for the festival, you could say Madurai is bracing itself.

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Above – while out earlier this evening, I did manage to catch a final procession of the two deities before the wedding – this shot is of Lord Sundareswarar with both priests and police keeping close eye on things.

A funny thing happened…

A funny thing happened in Madurai the other evening – it rained… for a city that’s been parched the last couple of years with failed monsoons and that’s been enduring regular water rationing, there was a certain giddiness in the air when for a couple of hours on Wednesday evening last, the heavens opened.

Even the River Vaigai that runs through the city briefly resembled well, a river… There was of course a full report in the Times of India.

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Btw, yep, I’m back in India – it would seem it is possible afterall, to leave India and get a second back-to-back tourist visa – so hopefully there’ll be a few more posts from these parts yet.

 

Catching Up

After been on the road for a couple of weeks with an out-of-town visitor, probably time for a couple of catch-up posts…

Tranquebar

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One of the first stops on this trip through Eastern Tamil Nadu was Tranquebar (or Tharangambadi as it is known locally). A former territory of Denmark’s, Tranquebar took a bad hit from the tsunami of 2004 with hundreds of casualties.

While much recovered, there are still occasional of the hardship that was here. The old fort and much of the old city has survived though.

Just up the road then from Tranquebar is the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest. It was shockingly hot the day we there mind – it was good to get into shade in the swamp – our boatman needless to say hardly broke a sweat…

Thanjavur

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Enroute to Madurai, we paid a visit to Thanjavur – home to the thousand year old great temple – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yep, it’s impressive…

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And finally, after a few weeks on the road, back to Madurai – just in time for the full moon…

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We also took the a chance to hike up one of the small hills around the city. It probably takes a special kind of madness to go climbing with temps in the high 30s, but the view was worth it.

The hill as it happens overlooks the temple at – a fairly important Hindu temple to the deity Murugan and had at its top an Islamic Dargah (Grave shrine) of an Islamic saint.

 

Next stop Kodaikanal – got to get out of this heat…

Jallikattu…

Its not every day you get baton-charged by police between turns of scurrying from tonne-weight bovines. Can only mean one thing – Jallikattu!

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The season for Jallikattu – or bull taming/bull wrestling – restarts in Madurai every year at Pongal. A Tamil rodeo of sorts – villagers from all over Tamil Nadu descend on the Madurai district to be pitted against specially bred bulls.

One of the first major events of the year then is the village of Palamedu (pop 8,187) 25km north of Madurai.

The Cattle

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A special breed of semi-wild cow – the pulikulam – is usually found taking part. There were 500+ bulls involved in Wednesday’s competitions. With a long history of shenanigans, in the last couple of years authorities have started a new regime of checking the animals (and competitors) over – so even the bulls have to queue.

The Crowds

img_1870With schools and most businesses closed for Pongal, Palamedu overflows and getting close to the action requires some maneuvering. Although there were plenty of quieter spots further down the track for families.

The “Taming”

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The bulls enter into the arena from the door at the right of the pictures. Tamers, to win have to grab and hold onto to the bull for a particular distance or time. There are also prizes as well for bulls who – presumably – put on the best show.

The horns are very real by the way. While they are no longer specially sharpened as was done in the past, that still didn’t stop 40+ tamers needing medical treatment. Police in the arena wear stab vests – not so the tamers.

Of course, this is not all without controversy. While ongoing tussles between animal welfare activists and the various central, state and Madurai administrators have brought about, it would seem, much needed regulation, the future of Jallikattu is uncertain. The Indian Supreme Court has gotten involved and while not calling for a ban yet, is said to be keeping a close eye on things.

And Afterwards

When all is done, the bulls still have to be caught by their owners and this often proves easier said than done. This year several bulls escaped the arena – including one who fell into a well.

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Lastly, let me wish you all a belated Happy Pongal – farewell from Palamedu!
 

Wikipedia on Jallikattu
News report of this ear’s Jallikattu (The Hindu)
PETA India on Jallikattu