Several festivals are held throughout the year in Madurai.
These festivals attract crowds from far and wide and by far represent some of the grandest
celebrations of the Indian subcontinent.
The annual Bhramhotsavam celebrated in the month of Chittirai
(Aries) is the most important one and it ties in the legends related to the Madurai temple
such as the coronation of Meenakshi, the Divine marriage etc.
The Chittirai festival also coincides with the annual festival at Tirumaaliruncholai.
The Divine marriage involves a procession of deities from Tirupparamkunram
as well, and hence during this time the entire area in and around Madurai
is transformed into one of a great celebratory space.
The Chittirai festival begins on the 5th
day of the bright half of the month of Chittirai. The key events fall on
the 8th, 9th and the 10th days of the festival. The
eighth day of the Chittirai festival witnesses the coronation
of Meenakshi and procession on silver thrones,
while the 9th day is the digvijaya festival. The 10th
day (Chitra Purnima) marks the wedding of Meenakshi
Legend has it that Vishnu
gave his sister away in marriage to Shiva.
In commemoration of this legend, an image of Vishnu is brought in
procession from Tirupparamkunram to Madurai.
Since Subramanya is the presiding deity of the Tirupparamkunram temple,
an image of Subramanya leads the procession. Following the wedding,
images of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are taken out in a
grand procession on a palanquin and a silver elephant
respectively. (It is to be noted that the Tirukkalyaanam festival is
celebrated on Chitra Pournami in all Shiva temples
celebrating the annual Bhramhotsavam in the month of Chittirai).
During this time, Kallazhagar from Azhagar Koyil (Tirumaaliruncholai)
makes a visit to Vandiyur, near the Vaigai river, on the
eastern outskirts of Madurai. It is believed that Kallazhagar
realizes that he is too late for his sisters wedding, so refuses
to cross the river and returns disappointed to Azhagar koyil.
Historically, the chittirai festival used to
be celebrated in Maasi, hence the festival processions use the Maasi
streets. The festival apparently was moved to the month of Chittirai in
the period of the Naik kings so that the timing would synchronize with
that of Azhagar Koyil.
The Ther (chariot) festival is celebrated on
the 11th day of the annual festival.