What Is India News Service
Saturday, July 30, 2005


Tamil Nadu


Art, Culture & Heritage

Dance | Folk Music & Musical Instruments | Drama


Fairs - Pollachi Fair | Kanakamoolam Fair | Cattle Fair Of Thiruvannamalai | Fair in Madurai 

Hindu Festivals - Introduction | Pongal | Chitrai Festival | Vaikasi Visakam | Vaishnava Festivals | Avani Moolam | Navaratri | Deepavali | Karthigai Deepam | Thirupalli Ezhuchi | Thiruvadhirai | Vaikunta Ekadesi | Maham | Maha Sivaratri | Panguni Uttiram | Kambam Festival | Monthiyan Festival | Nadapavai Festival | Koda Festival | Kumbabisheka 

Among the most important fairs in Tamil Nadu is the Pollachi fair, which takes place on Thursdays. On these days, Pollachi puts on a crowded appearance. It is an established market for the products of the Annamalai hills, Palghat area and the Pollachi valley. The merchandise sold includes paddy, garments, pulses, coconuts, groundnuts and all varieties of oil, fruits, vegetables, hides and skins and poultry. Elephants captured from nearby forests and also timber (for which those forests are famous) are sold.

The Kanakamoolam fair is held at Vadaseri in Kanyakumari district on Thursdays and Sundays. Vegetables, coconuts and curry leaves purchased from this market are taken to various places in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The Monday market also in the same district is conducted at Iramid on Mondays. Handloom products, cattle and poultry are sold at this fair.

The cattle fair of Thiruvannamalai held during the famous Karthikai Dheepam festival is one of the busiest fairs and lasts for four days. It is estimated that nearly 20,000 cattle are brought to the fair. All varieties of animals, cows, buffaloes, bulls, sheep, goat and ponies are sold here. 

The fair held in Madurai along with the Chitrai festival is a land mark for all agriculturists in that district. Rural folk life is incomplete without fairs. Women buy some article or other at these fairs and festivals as moments of their visit.


Tamil Nadu has perhaps the largest number of religious observances in the year. Most of the temple-festivals take place in September-October and in the post-harvest months of March-June. The duration of each festivals is from three to ten days more. The main deity is dressed in colorful resplendent costumes and adorned with very valuable and rare items of jewellery of the distant past. The deity is mounted on specially constructed carriers called 'Vahanams' and taken round the temple in processions. Madurai, Srirangam and some other towns have been planned for this purpose, each street being named after the temple festival, the route of which passes through it. The idea of taking out the portable deity in such procession is to enable the sick, the old, the disabled and the members of the communities forbidden to enter temples to get a direct view of the deity and to offer prayer.

Caparisoned elephants, gaily bedecked lead this processions to the delight of children. Ornamental silk umbrellas are used to protect the deity from the sun's scorching heat. On the main days of the festival, at night when the deity is carried through important streets every house hold receives the deity with lighted lamps, coconuts, fruits, and flowers are offered to the deity and prayer is made in the form of archana (glorification of the lord). Through out the festival period, religious discourses devotional song-recitals by Thevaram and Prabandam singers in groups, music concerts and performance of folk-arts go on right through the night and devotees make it a point to attend these until the deity returns to the temple in the small hours of the morning. 

To invoke the blessing of the god, the common folk arrange street dramas, often on the Harischandra, the enacting of the scene where Harischandra appears along with his wife and dead child, in the crematorium is believed to bring in rains. 

Festival gatherings are made use of to take a look at prospective brides and grooms to arrange matrimonial alliances. These serve to strengthen the earlier alliances, invitations being extended to such kith and kin for feasts.

Folks believe that there will be rain or at least inclement weather on important festival days. For fear of ill-luck at the individual or at the village level. Folks try to be clean as possible. Woman having their menstrual period are prevented from participating in the festival. They are considered to be in a state of pollution.

As a part of the festivals, prescribed songs are sung in the prominent temples. The Kapaliswarar and Parthasarathi temples in Madras, the Ekambreswarar temple in Kancheepuram and the Nellyappar temple in Tirunelveli, have certain traditions regarding such singing. 

In Chittoor, a village 40 km from Coimbatore the incidents connected with invasion of the ruler of Kongu on the Chera country are repeated in the festivals for the local deity Chittoor amman. Scenes of warfare are depicted and school children sing songs from a musical called Konkappadai.

Pongal was celebrated on the first day of the Tamil month 'Thai'. The pot in which Pongal is cooked is called "Pongal Panai". The word Pongal means rice cooked in milk and jaggery. 'Pongal' is a celebration of spring on the occasion of the 'ascent' of the sun to the north. It is the celebration of the harvest season. It is celebrated for four days in Tamil Nadu. 

The first day is called 'Bhogi Pongal', the second day 'Surya Pongal' and the third day 'Mattu Pongal'. Bhogi Pongal is celebrated as a family festival. Bhogi pongal is dedicated to Lord Indra. It is the day for spring cleaning. All old and unwanted things are thrown away or burnt. At that time boys beat little drums known as Bhogi Kottu which are specially made for the occasion with buffalo hide. The second day is dedicated to the sun (Surya) when Pongal is boiled by women and offered to the sun. Friends greet one another by asking whether rice is boiled.

The Chakhara Pongal made of rice and jaggery, seasoned with ghee, cashew nut and other spices, is a speciality for the occasion. Mattu Pongal, the third day is a day dedicated to the worship and veneration of the cattle (mattu). The Chakhara Pongal that has been offered to the local deity is given to the cattle to eat. The cattle are bathed, decorated and their horns are painted in bright colors. Colored balls of the pongal are also made and left in the open for birds. In the villages of Madurai, Tirucherapalli and Tanjore, the final day of pongal called Kannum Pongal is indulged in existing past times like 'jallikettu' or manji virattu. Jallikettu is a kind of bull fight. Bundles containing money are tied to the horns of ferocious bulls and armed villagers try to wrest the bundles from them. In Manji virattu young man ride on bull's back for some distance and remove the money bag tied around the neck. Some men were seriously wounded and immediately removed.

Pongal is prepared in two big earthen pots and it is offered to a special miniature Ganesh made of cow-dung. The cow dung Ganesh was decorated with arugampal, thumbai flowers and avarama flowers. special kolam was drawn on the floor, decorated with red sand and the pongal pots placed over it. Turmeric, ginger, sugar cane, yellow garlands and a stick which is used to drive the bulls is offered to Ganesh in puja. 

Chitrai is the first month of Tamils. In this month a festival is held to celebrate the advent of spring. On the full moon day, the images of gods and goddesses from the temples in and around Madurai are taken to the bed of the river Vaigai, in colorful processions accompanied by the hundreds and thousands of people and musicians. The atmosphere is one of mirth and merriment. The festival marks the marriage of Madurai's powerful presiding deity, Meenakshi with Lord Shiva.

It marks the end of one financial year and the beginning of another for agriculturists in Madurai district. Payments for servants engaged in agricultural operations are made on yearly basis i.e. from one Chitrai festival to the next.

Vaikasi is the second month of Tamil Calendar. Temples dedicated to Subrahmanya or Muruga celebrate the Vaisdakam festival. The full moon day is a day of great festivity for Subrahmanya or Muruga, the son of Lord Shiva. At Tiruchendur and Thiruparankundran, devotees carry milk pots and this day is considered as a day of enlightenment. It is on this day that the Buddha Purnima is celebrated - the day on which Gautama Buddha is said to have been born, got enlightenment and attained Nirvana.

Garudotsavam at Kancheepuram Varadarajaswami temple is a grand sight. Generations of devotees have made it a point not to miss even a single Garudotsavam. On Vaikasi Visakam day, which is the birthday of Nammalwar, the lord visits the Nammalwar shrine and bless him. In the month of Ani, the full moon is in the Jyesta constellation-Kettai in Tamil. On this day, Jyesta Abishekam in srirangam, flot festival in Mannargudi and padi Utsavam or festival of steps at the Alagar Temple near Madurai are celebrated. 

Padinettam Perukku or flood of the eighteenth is a festival which occurs on the18th of the Tamil month, Adi and is celebrated by people living in the Cauvery delta. The Cauvery will be in full floods on that day, over flowing its banks and submerging all the flights of steps at the innumerable bathing Ghats all along the course of the river, in the districts of Tiruchirappalli and Thanjavur. This is a festival peculiar to the Cauvery in Tamil Nadu. Even two or three days ahead of this festival Chapparams are exhibited for sale all along the approaches to the river. Chapparams are miniature temple chariots on tiny wooden wheels with tapering towers artistically decorated with glittering paper and cut flowers with a niche in the centre, where pictures of gods and goddess can be mounted. From early morning on Padinettam Perukku day, the children would drag these tiny chariots along the metalled streets. In the evening the children put lighted candles in the niches of the chapparams and drag them again along the streets.

Worship takes on many forms, according to the customs prevalent among the different communities that constitute the Hindu fold. People of some communities make images out of mud, offer it kumkum, saffron, sandal paste, incense and gur-mixed rice and coconut called Kappirisi. It is the custom on tgis occasion to wear a saffron dyed thread ,married couples tying it to each other. Bangles, black beads etc. are thrown as offerings to the river Goddess and after chewing betel leaves, women and children return home. Some married couples deposit into the river, the garlands they had worn during their marriage. 

After morning bath in the Cauvery, the Brahmins offer her flowers and milk and to mark the occasion, they prepare and partake of sweet payasamm in their homes. In the evening women and children go out to the river-front with prepared Chitrannam variegated rice food and after offering some to their river goddess, eating the prepared food and return home. The Padinettam Perukku is essentially a women's and children's festival.

It is customary, on this auspicious day to throw, bundle of old cadjan leaf manuscripts which are worn out into the river, instead of offering them to the fire. Gods and goddess are taken from the temple around noon to the mantapas on the Cauvery banks during this festival.

The Avani Moolam festival celebrated in Madurai on the Moolam constellation day in the month of Avani, depicts of the legendary sports of Lord Shiva at Madurai. It is a picturesque festival with distinctive local colour, the eating of pittu, is a part of the day's engagement for the devotees.

Navarathri or Dussera festival is celebrated in the month of purattasi. This festival seems to have been introduced to Tamil Nadu by the Mysore rulers. It is celebrated mostly in the towns or in places connected with kings and chieftains. Observance of Navarathri and exhibition of dolls in their wide variety and colour and costumes is confined to the upper strata of society. The common folk in the villages celebrate the Puravai Eduppu or festival of horse dolls in the temples of Ayyanar in the summer. This festival of dolls has helped to sustain the amazing skill at clay doll-making in Tamil Nadu. The raw materials used are clay, papier-mache and paints.

Deepavali is an important festival of Hindus. It is celebrated by taking oil-bathe, wearing new apparel, consuming a rich and sumptuous feast and firing crackers etc. Several agriculturists families do not attach importance to this. They have neither the money nor the time to celebrate any festival in October. Only the leisured classes have any feeling of significance regarding Deepavali. A few wealthy people celebrate Deepavali at Varanasi having a dip kin the Ganges. 

Karthigai Deepam or the festival Lights is celebrated in Tamil Nadu from the days of Tolkappiam. Every house is illuminated with a large number of flat earthen lamps and there is great rejoicing, children using crackers and lighting lamps.

Vaishnavites in some areas of Tamil Nadu use a type of light prepared by themselves to illuminate their homes. It is called Pori Vaanam and is made of a stick called Kavattaik-kambu with cloth, cloth rope, saw-dust, konkani resin and Maruthankai being the fruit of Maruda trees. This combination produces a sparkling light . Elephant shaped lights (made by the potters) are sent by parents to their daughters on this occasion. 

This day comes in November-December on the Karthigai constellation day is specially important to Thiruvannamalai. Birth in Tiruvarur, death at Varanasi, worship at Chidambaram give salvation to human beings. At Thiruvannamalai, Shiva is supposed to have appeared as a pillar of fire, one of the five elements, on the Karthigai day. The local hills is said to been established by God, so that the holyday may be observed in perpetuity, by the annual appearance of a blaze of light at the top, witnessed by the presiding deity, Arunachaleswarar .

Karthigai synchronizes with the full moon and people greet the deity with shouts of Annamalaiyarku Arohara. In a big copper urn, large quantities of high quality camphor ghee and wicks are placed and as the flame is lighted on the hill at 5.00 pm, ignorance fades to merge with God in glory.

A large cattle fair is held in Thiruvannamalai for ten days along with this festival. On the important days, the deities are taken round in procession on various types of ornamental vehicles, these procession are rare sights.

The entire month of Margazhi (December-January ) is a period of early morning bath, prayer, and temple worship completed before dawn, in spite of the chilly weather. The songs sung are Thiryupavai and Thiruvampavai..

Thiruvadhirai or Arudhra Darshan festival on the full moon day of Margazhi is sacred to Lord Nataraja, the dancing Shiva. Streams of devotees flow to Chidambaram to attend this festival at the temples for the Tamil Shaivaits. Lord Shiva is believed to have given darshan to saint Manickavacakar on this day on the completion of his recital of Thiruvampavai. In Perur of Melai Chidambaram, Lord Shiva is believed to have given darshan to Kamadhenu (the divine cow of plenty) on this day. In the small hours of morning oil, milk, honey, coconut-water, and curd are poured over image of Shiva and the ceremony continues till day-break when the lord give darshan to the cow.

In the month of Margazhi, a twenty-day festival beginning with the bright fortnight takes place at Srirangam, the temple for the Tamil Vaishnavites. Thousands of people attend the Mohini Avatara festival or Nachiarkolam (10th day) and Ekadesi festival (11th day). Songs of the Alwars are recited in this festival. On the 18th day, the encounter of the Lord with Thirumangai Alwar takes place and Thiruvaimozhi festival, which the Alwar inaugurated is concluded on the 20th day. On the 11th day and every day, thereafter lord Ranganatha comes through the Paramapatha vasal or the Gate of heaven to receive offerings of several edibles and bless the saints, and returns to the sanctum sanctorum is a ceremonial procession .

Maham comes in the month of Maasi and the images of gods and goddesses are taken out to the sea for a dip. In areas away from the coast, the rivers or the tanks are the centres for this float festival.

The Maham is an annual event. But once in twelve years, its importance exceeds bounds of imagination. When the planet Guru or Jupiter enters Simha sign, the Kumba Mela festival of south India is held at the famous Mahamaham tank at Kumbakonam. Vast crowds gather in Kumbakonam and ordinary folk have a dip in the tank, along with the saints and philosophers. All the rivers of India are said to meet at Mahamaham Tank on this day and so, a purificatory bath in this tank on this particular day is considered equal to the combined effect of dips in all the holy rivers of India.

New-moon night in Massy is the great night of Shiva or Maha Shivaratri is very sacred to the devotees of Lord Shiva. Tradition on this day, Lord Shiva consumed the deity poison which emanated when the ocean of milk was churned by the Devas and Asuras, and this saved the universe.

The worship that was offered to Shiva on that night is being repeated annually. Another version is that at the time of deluge, the whole world was immersed in complete darkness, and the divine mother Parvati restored light to the world, by offering worship to the Shiva on this night. It is said that the rituals observed by the ordinary folk are the same as those observed by Parvati.

Maha Sivaratri is observed in every temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and in every Shaivite Hindu household. The devotees keep vigil the whole night. Throughout the night, the people worship Shiva by chanting "Om Nama Sivaya " or singing hymns in his praise. The next morning they take their bath and after worshipping Shiva, break their fast. Shiva temples are specially illuminated on that occasion and the deity is worshipped in four different ways, during the four periods of night, each three hours. The image is anointed with milk, curd, butter or honey during the four periods.

The marriage of the god and goddess is the annual event in all temples in Tamil Nadu in the month of Panguni. This month is also noted for the Uttiram festival for Lord Subrahmanya or Muruga for ten days. For villagers, this is a very important festival and as it comes off in the off-season, they participate in it fully and give offerings of paddy to the temples.

On the morning of the final day the Vel or the lance, which is the chief weapon of Lord Subrahmanya, is taken out in a procession to the river bank, where devotees make offerings. Along with the deity, a pair of wooden sandals, Kavadi - a palanquin-like structure with bells and other decoration on it and a baton known as the Idumban Thadi are also anointed 

The day following the Panguni Uttiram is set apart for the Idumban festival. On this day, Pujas and offerings are made to Idumban vassal of Lord Subrahmanya. During the course of puja, the deity's spirit is believed to enter many a devotee who will there upon act as though he is in a state of delirium. He will beat himself with the Idumban Thadi and also give out forecasts which can be deciphered only with difficulty. These are said to forecast coming events and the people believe that Idumban himself is doing so through the medium. 

The Kambam or pillar festival is celebrated in most villages. The initiation of the festival take place on Tuesday by fetching the flowers of Alari and offering it to the Ayyanar deity. On the same day, the next week, a three-pronged branch of Margosa is brought in and ceremoniously planted in front of the temple. This is a ceremony corresponding to the hoisting of the flag, with this, the festival has officially commenced and no one can leave the village until the conclusion of the festival. For a whole week man dance around the Kambam in the evenings.

On the next Tuesday, the villagers cook pongal in the temple premises. On Wednesday, the chariot is dragged around the streets. A small live lamb is placed down with its neck under the wheel of the moving chariot and is thus sacrificed. This is done at every street corner. The lambs so sacrificed are given away to the dhobis as consideration for decorating the chariot. On Thursday, a score of men pierce their skins with needles and sharpened skewers and take out a procession. The women prepare Mavilakku (a ball of sweetened rice flour with a wick burning at the top fuelled with ghee). Each woman carriers a plate of Mavilakku which is decorated with flowers of the Alari tree. On that night, the deity is taken round the streets in a decorated palanquin. Fire works are displayed to add to the fun. On Friday the celebrations come to a close. The Kambam planted before the temple is up rooted taken ceremoniously around the streets and finally dropped into a well, during this procession the villagers spill colored turmeric water on one another. Women from every house carry Mavilakku to the temple in their palms as offering to the deity.

On the eighth day, the pandaram (priest) enters into a fast. Before he commences the fast, he is taken in procession to a well. He carries on his head the Kambam or a new earthen pot decorated with flowers and leaves of Margosa. After a bath, an amulet is tied to his wrist by a Brahmin priest. The Pandaram then enters the temple and lives with in its premises for the next three days. On the ninth day, a collective offering of Pongal is made to the deity. All the families in the village are notified by tom-tom about the exact time of the offering. Those who offer to prepare the pongal are taken in procession to the village, square where the pongal is prepared individually, offered to the deity and then distributed to the congregation as prasadam.

On the tenth day, the Mavilakku offering is repeated and at the end of the procession, the kumbam is dropped in to the well. The pandaram cuts the amulet tied on his wrist and throws it in to the well. On that night, drama (Therukkoothu) or dance is arranged. Another festival is great importance is the Madurai Veeran festival in villages. Animals are sacrificed during this festival.

This festival is held in the month of Adi at Thiruvalavayannallur near Madurai. The festival commences only if the deity gives permission by the chirping of a lizard in particular direction or at a particular spot, viz. in a mango or a coconut tree. Prayer continues till the lizard chirps. At the chirping, a devotee get possessed and inspired and dictates the mode of celebration. The streets are then decorated with Margosa leaves, tied on straw ropes. On that day the priest of the Ayyanar temple takes a token sod of earth from the temple tank for making models of horses to be offered to the deity. He is paid a nominal fee for preparing the earthen horses.

The horse models are taken to the Ayyanar temple in a ceremonial procession with prescribed services to the village deity Monthiyan, where the horse-models are mounted on a cart. A party of Chakkiliayans, dressed in colourful costumes, come in procession from the temple of Sonachami to the Monthiyan temple. Carrying a palm-leaf basket containing unhusked paddy, a small knife and a small pole. At the Monthiyan temple, the Chakkiliyan pujari places the paddy at the feet of the horse-model, sacrifices a cock and smears its blood on the eyes of the horse-model .While doing so, the pujari has his eyes tied with a piece of white cloth. Then the horse model are taken in procession to the Ayyanar temple headed by the woman of the Kanakkan's family, who carry new earthen pots. At the Ayyanar temple, the deity Ayyanar is worshipped and cooked food and a bloody sacrifice are offered to the Ayyanar. On the fourth and final day, the villagers celebrate 'bull-chasing'. The rope to tie the bulls is prepared by the pallans out of straw and coir. When the rope has been woven it is placed before the Kaniyalan, the clan deity of the Pallans. The Pallan pujari, after some religious oblations gets possessed and hands over the rope to the pallans, which is then taken in procession to the Monthiyan temple, where God's blessings are invoked to the coir. One end of the coir is fastened to a pole firmly run in to the ground. Four persons keep the rope intact at this end. The other end of the rope is tied round the neck of a bull. The bull is decorated with garlands and a token coin and eatables are tied to its neck. The crowd scares the bull which runs amuck around the pole carrying the long heavy rope and gets tired. Of such bulls brought to participate in the chase, the first bull will always be that of a Muslim. After this to the village deity and the festival is happily concluded.

Nadavavi festival is a corruption of Nadapavai, vavi means a well. Businessmen from the city of Madras attend this festival in Kancheepuram to discharge their vows and provide food and drink to the poor throughout the duration.

This is a local festival of great importance held on the full-moon day in April-May, owing its origin to one Kodi Kannikadanam Thatchachariar and to the money he collected for Varadharaja Perumal temple. He excavated a tank and built a temple in honour of lord Anjaneya (Hanuman) who saved him from dacoits. Alive to the fact that the money was originally collected on behalf of Lord Varadharaja Perumal. It was agreed up on by the devotees of the Lord that he should be taken on his 'birthday' to Ayyangarkulam. Lord Varadharaja is supposed to have emerged from the sacrificial fire on a Hastam. His image is taken to the Mandapam inside the Nadapavai well during the festival. It is a well of architectural splendour, containing beautiful carvings on the pillars and sides. This well is situated very near the Sanjeevarayar temple and can be reached by a graveled path way leading from the temple entrance. The main pillared door way is a deep hollow with a number of steps leading to the well. At the time of festival the well is full and the water overflows and laps the last step. The image of the Lord is brought through the doorway to the steps, immersed in the well and then taken out.

Koda festival or festival for making offerings to the divine Mother is celebrated at the coastal village of Mandukkad in Kanyakumari district for Bhagavati Amman. Devotees afflicted with various maladies come here to pray as a last resort. They find miraculous improvement here even though the best of medical attention has failed them before. The Koda festival comes off in the Malayalam month of Kumbam (Feb-March) ending with the last Tuesday of the month. Offerings include, rice, pepper, jaggery, turmeric, dolls, silver and wood pieces being replicas of parts of the body. On the last day, the priest offers Odukka puja at mid night in an atmosphere of pin-drop silence surcharged with devotion and fear. A liquid made of lime, turmeric and other ingredients is offered to the goddess.

Kumbabisheka literally means the consecration or dedication of a new temple or that of renovated one by pouring sanctified water over the kumbams of Garbagraha tower and over the Kumbams of the Rajagopura tower or Gateway tower. It is done on an auspicious day and it is a long process with preliminary functions like setting the Yoga salas and culminating in mandala abishekam.

Hindus believe that cosmos and all living things are composed of the five elements - earths, water, fire, air and ether. Water symbolizes the life-force. The Kumbabishekam is the ritual relating to water symbolism. Water from the holy rivers, collected at the source by pious men in clean containers is kept in Kumbams or decorated pitchers adorned with flowers and is worshipped in a specially erected canopy, which is performed in the houses called Yagasala. Mantras are recited to add to the spiritual power and to the sanctity of the water. This ceremony signifies the consummation of the pious endeavor of building the abode of the almighty.

Kumbabishekam is also an occasion for periodical conservation of the sanctum sanctorum. To prevent oscillation and to fix the idols security, the images and the peetas (bases on which they are placed) are sealed together by means of Ashtabandhanam, a chemical compound prepared by mixing eight substances viz. kombarakku or wood loc, cukkann thol or lime stone powder, kunkilium or konakai resin, karkaavi or red ochre, mezhugu or beeswax and yerummai vennai or butter prepared out of buffalo's milk. The laborers employed for mixing these components and preparing the desired compound are expected to have purificatory baths before they take up the work and to chant devotional hymns and utter the name of the particular god to whose temple the Kumbabhishekam is to be performed.

A Kumbabishekam is very popular and people from immediate neighborhood go in groups with musical instruments, alavattoms or multi-colored flags representing in pictures mythological scenes, giants-sized umbrellas and other temple paraphernalia.

People travel many miles on foot, on bullock cart or other conveyance. Some of them carry head loads of cooked food or cooking utensils, resting a while on river-beads or in choultries inns for pilgrims. Attendance at Kumbabishekam is considered one of the significant ways for invoking the blessing of god.



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