The Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple’s annual Chithirai festival, which is set to be celebrated from April 12 to April 21, is expected to pull large crowds of devotees this year due to the easing of pandemic restrictions.

Representative image of the Madurai Chithirai ThiruvizhaWiki Commons/ Kdharshan
news Culture Sunday, April 10, 2022 - 18:48

With the pandemic-induced restrictions easing, the annual Chithirai festival of the iconic Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple is once again expected to pull large crowds of devotees this year. The festival, celebrated during the Tamil month of Chithirai, had been a muted affair in the last two years owing to the pandemic. This year, the festival is set to be celebrated from April 12 to April 21, with the Azhagar Iranguthal ceremony held in the waters of the Vaigai river.

The festival’s main attractions include the reenactment of the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam – the divine wedding of the temple’s presiding deities – and the chariot procession. “There were no festivities during the first year of the pandemic. Last year too, the rituals were carried out by the priests, but the devotees were unable to attend the festival,” says Maaryappa Murali, secretary of the Madurai Tamil Sangam. “This year, people feel more at ease as even mandatory masks restrictions have been removed. There is an air of joy surrounding the temple already. We must remember that besides its religious elements, the Chithirai Thiruvizha is a part of Madurai’s culture. It is ingrained in this city’s soil. Countless shops and cultural fairs come up around the city during the festival. All this attracts people across religions.”

In April 2020, rituals including the hoisting of the temple flag and the chariot procession were cancelled, with the temple authorities announcing that the Thirukalyanam would be live-streamed to devotees. This year’s flag hoisting was conducted on April 5, leading to an increase in the footfall to the temple as anticipation for the Chithirai festivities peaked, The New Indian Express reported.

Another familiar sight awaits devotees attending the festival this year. They will likely get to see the famous ‘Visiri’ (fan) thatha, as 92-year-old Natarajan has come to be called. The moniker comes from the large peacock-feathered fan Natarajan carries to the festival every year. He uses his fan to help offer some relief to the throngs from the heat. In an interview to Jaya Plus during the pandemic, Natarajan said that he had been doing this as a service to god, and that it had been a major source of income for him. Natarajan also used to attend major temple festivals including that of Rameswaram and Sabarimala. Over the past two years, however, COVID-19 has left a dent in his income.

K Chelladurai, Joint Commissioner of the temple, told TNM that provisions have been made for the attendance of 15,000 devotees. This is a joyful time as people will be able to gather again for the festival, he said. Tamil Nadu Finance Minister and Madurai MLA Palanivel Thiagarajan has been working with various officials and state departments to prepare for the month’s festivities, according to a report by The Hindu.

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