Festive times and childhood memories

This recent post by Kavi, sent R on a nostalgic dive to those days, growing up in Madurai as a kid. Its been 10 yrs since his last Chithirai thiruvizha, but he can still remember those memories like it was yesterday!

Update: Thanks to R's mom for this link. It has pictures and details of this year's festival. Take a look.

R says,

I have gone many places and seen a lot of things, but absolutely nothing compares to the great festivities, devotion and excitement of the Chithirai thiruvizha.

The festival is basically a celebration of the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi (Parvati) to Lord Sundareshwarar (Shiva). The thiruvizha begins with the procession of the deities along the four Masi streets, around the famous Meenakshi Amman temple. We were in the thick of action as we lived on West Masi street.

Every evening during the festival the doorstep would be washed clean in the evening and an intricate pattern (kolam) would be drawn using rice flour. Then we would wait excitedly for the sound of the drums, signalling that the procession has begun. The musicians were followed by elephants or camels (it was different every day!) and we kids were always at the front door to watch the animals go by. I guess it was the animals and the carnival feel that got us most excited. It was like watching a live circus at your doorstep. By this time a good crowd would have started lining the streets and the excitement increased proportionally to the size of the crowd. Ofcourse smart bussinessmen cashed in on such occasions. A roadside ballon-man, a sundal seller and others would move 1 step ahead of the procession and sell their wares.
Ofcourse the traditional pooja for the deities were also a part of the celebration. My mom and grandmother would be ready with the pooja items and offerings to the Gods. Then we would hear it, faintly at first and growing louder. More musicians and devotees chanting as the Gods came in procession, seated on a different vahana each day. Led by devotees carrying lanterns, the deities would stop in front of each home that had an offering. The priest would conduct a quick pooja, and the Gods, blessing us would move on to the next household.

This would go on daily for about 10 days, with the special day being the poo pallakku (Chariot of flowers). On this day, the vahana would be replaced by a "chariot" filled with roses! The crowd was always extra-large for this procession.

And if this was'nt fascinating enough, the next day brings the giant chariots, "Thaeru". These gigantic raths were pulled by thousands of devotees as they capriciously makes their way around the Masi streets. You should see the streets at that time. Absolutely jampacked with no room at all. Thankfully, we had an ideal vantage point at the terrace of our home. Imagine sitting on the terrace of a three-story home (used to be one of the tallest in the street then) and being dwarfed by the huge rath. It was indeed a humbling sight. Siting in the raths would be a young boy and a girl playing the roles of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwarar as they are wed.

The story goes that, Lord Kallazhagar (Vishnu), Goddess Meenakshi's brother is delayed getting to the wedding, and finding out he is a day too late, goes back angry and crosses the Vaigai River.

As a part of the Chithirai festivites there is also the Chithirai Poruthkatchi (exhibition). It is usually held at the Tamukkam fields. There were numerous stalls displaying everything under the sun, the latest housewares, to clothes to footwear. You name it, it was there. Half the things sold were junk, but it still was a big hangout in the otherwise entertainment-scarce Madurai. The exhibition atmosphere used to be electric, flashing lights, loud music, the big ferris wheels, the merry-go-arounds and try-your-luck stalls were a treat for us kids. And how can I leave out the exhibition food? It is always strange that the food made there tastes so much better than some of the food I have eaten. The puffy pink panjumithai (cotton candy or candy floss), the big Delhi appalams (they were easily 20 inches dia with a sprinkling of spices), the hot millagai bhaji (hot peppers dipped in batter and deep fried). Yum!

The Houston rodeo is the closest thing to the Chithirai thiruvizha I have been to. If you ever get a chance to visit Madurai during the Chithirai thiruvizha, I would advice you not to miss it for the world! Every year my mother talks about that year's festival and I vow I'll be there following year. But never get to do it. Might be next year! V was in India last year during the Chithirai thiruvizha and thought she did'nt find the time to stay for all the 10 days, she did see the procession a couple of days!

I donot have any pictures of the festivities and it is always been a dream to shoot a series of photos during the thiruvila and till then I'll have to make do with this photo of the gopuram of the Meenakshi Amman kovil!

Update: Thanks to R's mom for this link. It has pictures and details of this year's festival. Take a look.


Kavi said...

Your post brought a lot of memories too ! You lived in the thick of action on Meenakshi's side. I lived in the thick of action around Azhagar's side ! Other side of the wall, sort of !!!

Yes Yes Yes..i remember cotton candy. There is no better an 'electric' candy than that ! Gave a special twist to the evening !

Next year ! next year !!