Pongal (January)them from being washed away by the rains and floods. According to another the third day of Pongal is celebrated because Lord Shiva once asked Nandi, his bull, to go to earth and deliver his message to the people - to have an oil bath every day and food once a month. But Nandi got it all mixed up when he delivered the message, and told the people that Shiva asked them to have an oil bath once a month and eat every day. Shiva was displeased, and told Nandi that since the people would now need to grow more grain, Nandi would have to remain on earth and help them plough the fields. Mattu Pongal is also called "Kanu Pongal", and women pray for the welfare of their brothers. This is similar to the festivals of Raksha Bandhan and Bhai Dooj celebrated in some states of North India.
India is bestowed with the bliss of festivity. A major segment of the population here depends on agriculture. As a result, most of the festivals are also related to the agricultural activities of the people. These festivals are celebrated with different names and rituals in almost all the parts of India. Pongal is one of such highly revered festivals celebrated in Tamil Nadu to mark the harvesting of crops by farmers. Held in the middle of January, it is the time when the people get ready to thank God, Earth and their Cattle for the wonderful harvest and celebrate the occasion with joyous festivities and rituals. The four-day Harvest festival is celebrated all over the state in January. The festival begins on the last day of the Tamil month with Bhogi Pongal, on Bhogi all people clean out their homes from all corners, and collect all unwanted goods. In the evening, people will light bonfires and burn what can be burnt, followed by Surya Pongal, the day on which the celebrations actually begins, is the first day of the Tamil month Thai. On this day, Surya, the sun God is worshipped and women will wake early on this day to create elaborate kolum on the grounds in front of their doorway or home. Kolums are created with colored rice flour placed on the ground carefully by using one's hand. It is on this day that Chakkara Pongal, a delicacy of harvest rice cooked with jaggery, ghee and cashew nuts is offered to the Sun God. The third day, Mattu Pongal is dedicated to the Cattle when cows are bathed and adomed with colorful beads and flowers. Jallikattu, the bullfight is held on the last day known as Kannum Pongal. There are few interesting legends behind the Pongal celebrations. The most popular among them related to the celebrations of the first day of the Pongal festival goes like this - Lord Krishna lifted the Govardhan Mountain on his little finger to shelter his people and save
Jallikatu Bull Fight
On the 4th day, Kanya Pongal, coloured balls of the pongal are made and are offered to birds. A kind of bull-fight, called the 'Jallikattu' is held in Madhurai, Tiruchirapalli and Tanjore in Tamil Nadu and several places in Andhra Pradesh. Bundles containing money are tied to the horns of ferocious bulls, and unarmed villagers try to wrest the bundles from them. Bullock cart races and cock-fights are also held. In Andhra Pradesh, every household displays its collection of dolls for three days. Community meals are held at night with freshly harvested ingredients.
Ballads, folk dances, dramas and songs have rich cultural heritages, 'Jallikattu' or bull fight' played in Madurai, Trichy areas are more ferocious than the bull fight which is the beloved sport of Latin speakers in Europe and south America.
Natyanjali Dance Festival (February- March)
Festivals have great value in Chidambaram. The Natyanjali festival dedicated to the Cosmic Dancer (Lord Shiva) is celebrated every year during February-March. Lord Nataraja, according to Hindu mythology is the cosmic dancer. He is also called "the Lord of Dances". Natyanjali festival opens on the auspicious occasion of the Maha Shivaratri day and of course in the right kind of venue - the 'Prakara' of the Chidambaram temple. The magnificent temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, built a thousand years ago, provides a beautiful backdrop for the erever they happen to be. Devotees flock in hundreds to the Perur temple near Coimbatore during the Panguni Uthiram festival, which is celebrated in Marcevent. The setting is truly divine-Chidambaram's gold-roofed temple, with pillars depicting Lord Nataraja in 108 poses from Bharatanatyam - Tamil Nadu's classical dance. This is an opportunity for all dancers, from all over India, to perform and to pay their tribute to Lord Nataraja. Natyanjali festival is jointly organised by The Department of Tourism, Government of Tamil Nadu, The Ministry Of Tourism, Government of India and The Natyanjali Trust, Chidambaram. The festival lasts for 5 days. The nearest airport is at Trichy, at a distance of 160-km. The railway station is a 20-minute walk southeast of the Nataraja Temple. Express and passenger trains leave for Chennai four times daily, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur twice daily, Tiruchirappalli and Madurai. Chidambaram is well connected by road with Chennai, Pondicherry, Madurai, Thanjavur, etc.
Mahamaham Festival at Kumbakonam (February-March)
The Mahamaham festival is celebrated in the honour of Lord Adi Kumbeswara at Kumbakonam. This festival attracts lakhs of people from far and wide and takes place once in 12 years. The center of the Mahamaham festival is the Mahamaham Tank, a holy pool of nectar that flowed out of Lord Brahma's Kumbha after it was broken by Lord Shiva's arrow shot. The Mahamaham tank, trapezoidal, (looking rectangular) in shape covers roughly an area of about five acres and a half with a full capacity depth of ten feet. It is believed that on this auspicious day the tank receives supplies of water from the Ganges and eight other holy rivers and all the deities are said to remain present here on that occasion. Mahamaham bathing festival is concentrated on a single day, the concourse of pilgrims being all the more. The festival at Haridwar , Allahabad , Nashik and those in Andhra Pradesh happen to be bathing in river while the Mahamaham is bathing in a tank, generally followed or preceded by a dip in the River Cauvery at Kumbakonam.
Arubathimoovar Festival ( March-April)
Literally, 'Arubathimoovar' refers to the 63 saints of Shiva canonised for leading exemplary lives of devotion and penance. Bronze figures of these 63 saints adorn the magnificent Kapaliswar Temple at Mylapore, Chennai. Once, every year, they are carried in a colourful procession through the streets of Mylapore.
Arulmigu Thyagarajaswamy Car Festival (March-April)
Tiruvarur town is the head quarters for Tiruvarur district, located at a distance of 58-km from Thanjavur and 25-km from Nagappatinam. Tiruvarur is the birthplace of Carnatic musicians "Sangeeta Mummurthigal " Thyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dheshidar and Syama Shastri. The Arulmigu Thyagarajaswamy Temple at Tiruvarur is one of the biggest in the country and this temple has the biggest temple chariot in Tamil Nadu. The chariot is very beautiful and Arulmigu Thyagarajaswamy Car festival celebrated here in months of March -April attracts large crowds.
In the temple there is an excellent and unique musical instrument called "Panchamuga Vadyam" with five faces. Each face is ornamented; one with a snake, another with lotus and another one is plain without decorations. One has a Swastik sign. Over each face leather is spread and over the central one Deerskin is spread. It is said that Nanchi Devi played on this instrument when Lord Shiva danced.
Car festival at Kaliyaperumal Temple in Ariyalur (March-April)
The Kaliyaperumal temple is a major attraction of Ariyalur. This temple is famous for its "Car festival" which is conducted yearly. The people of Ariyalur celebrate the festival grandly. The car festival is a 10-day celebration for the small town of Ariyalur. The festival starts with the day of "Srinavame" in the month of Chithirai or Panguni (March-April). The grand event of Eganthem Sevai for Varatharajapermual is on 10th day of festival. The festival attracts people from all over the state of Tamil Nadu. The temple is also famous for the Puraittasi Saturdays. Every year in the month of 'Puraittasi' (September), special Pujas, 'Arathanai', 'Abishekams', etc are done on the four Saturdays. This also is a major attraction of the Kaliyaperumal temple. The nearest airport is at Trichy. Ariyalur is accessible by road with the important places within and beyond the state. Ariyalur is located 250-km south of Chennai and 60-km from Trichy towards northeast.
Panguni Uthiram Festival (March-April)
The Panguni Uthiram festival falls in the month 'Panguni' (March-April). This month is special because of the star 'Uthiram' and 'Pournami' occurring together. Besides, it is on "Panguni Pournami Uthiram" that the marriage of Parvati and Parameshwara, Muruga and Devasena, and Andal (also known as 'Kothai') and Rangamannar (also splet as Rangamannar) took place. Also, Valmiki's Ramayan (also spelt as Ramayana) says it is on this day and star that Sita's marriage with Rama was celebrated. From Brahmanda Purana one learns that on Panguni Uthiram every holy water joins Thumburu Teertha (also spelt as Tirtha), one of seven sacred tanks in Tirupati Tirumala. The ancients chose Uthiram to convey to humans that it is for underlining the glory of Grahasta Dharma (married life) that the Almighty manifests in the marital state as Uma Maheshwara, Sita Rama, and Radha Krishna - despite his changelessness, sans childhood or youth or old age. The Lord is indeed a "Nitya Kalyana Murti". It is our duty to celebrate this day when the Lord, in both Shiva and Vishnu temples, appears to devotees in his married state. On Panguni Uthiram, in all places where Lord Subramanya has a temple, his devotees carry in a Kavadi the requisites of puja for him, in fulfilment of vows. Such vow fulfilment by devotees carrying Kavadis is a special feature of Subrahmanya temples whh every year.
Chithirai Festival (April-May)
The Chithirai festival is held in the famous Madurai temple, 500-km from Chennai. The festivity starts from the Tamil month Chithirai (April-May) and ends on the tenth day. The celebration is filled with pomp and festivity. The highlight is the procession of Lord 'Kallazhagar' (Lord Vishnu) the elder brother of Goddess Meenakshi, who proceeds from his abode - Azhagarmalai 30-km from Madurai, to give away his sister in marriage to Lord Sundareshwar. One can witness an ancient legend unfold right before your eyes as Lord Vishnu rides to his sister's wedding on gleaming real-gold horse chariot. The 'Kallazhagar' entering the river Vaigai is indeed a spectacular sight. On the occasion, a decorated chariot carrying the two idols of the couple is taken around the town to the tumultuous notes of Nadaswaram and beats of drums. A spiritual ambience descends on Madurai. As the procession passes through the streets and in the vicinity of the 'Devasthanam', devotees make offerings of coconuts, flowers, camphor and Agarbattis (incense sticks). A spirit of devotion marked by pomp and gaiety pervades right through the day. The festival draws a mammoth crowd. A trade exhibition and fairs organized here lend festivity to the occasion.
Other Festivals at Madurai
The famous festivals held at Madurai, include "Teppam festival", the annual float festival, wherein the images of Sri Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwar are mounted on floats, and taken to Mariamman Teppakkulam tank, where for several days they are pulled back and forth across the water in the middle of the tank, on an illuminated raft embellished with flowers, before being taken back to the main temple.
Meenakshi Kalyanam at Madurai (April-May)
Meenaskhi Kalyanam, the wedding festival of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwar is celebrated for twelve days from the second day of the lunar month (i.e. two days after the new moon). This is a spectacular festival celebrated in the month of Chaitra (April-May). The festival is characterized with royal decorated umbrellas, fans and traditional instrumental music. Scenes from mythology are enacted and the deities of Lord Shiva, Goddess Shakti and Goddess Meenakshi are taken out in a colourful procession. Thousands of devotees from all over the country gather in the city of Madurai on this occasion. Madurai is connected by air with Mumbai and Chennai. Madurai airport is 10-km away from the city. There are excellent roads connecting Madurai to all parts of South India. Madurai has direct rail connections to Bangalore, Coimbatore, Kollam, Chennai, Rameswaram, Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli, Tirunelveli, Tirupathi and Tuticorin.
Summer Festival (May-June)
There are several beautiful hill stations in Tamil Nadu. The summer festival is held in the 'Queen of Hill Stations', the evergreen Ooty; the exquisite Kodaikanal or the salubrious heights of Yercaud. Cultural programs, adventure sports, boat races, flower and fruit shows add to the splendor of the festival. Also, a splendid opportunity to go trekking in any of Tamil Nadu's other hill stations that promise unforgettable holidays off the beaten track.
Saral Festival (July)
Courtallam is famous for its season, which lasts from June to September, the hottest period of the plains. Thick clouds gather and streaks of lighting flash across the sky. The southwest monsoon, vigorous in Kerala get reduced when arrested by the towering peaks, escape through the Aryankavu Pass and when they reach Courtallam becomes mild. It does not pour in torrents but is a drizzle called "Saral" in Tamil.Throughout the day, the overcast clouds sprinkle water over the region and the temperature drops considerably. It is a rare and a pleasant experience to stroll in the "Saral" becoming neither wet nor dry. Courtallam is visited annually by thousands of visitors for the several falls, which clot the town. The Saral festival makes a celebration out of a simple, daily ritual bathing! And indeed, a bath at the picturesque Courtallam waterfalls is no ordinary event. The healing waters of the roaring Courtallam are famed for their medicinal properties. The festival is held in the month of July. Cultural programs, competitions, fun and frolic make this festival remarkable. The nearest airport is at Madurai, at a distance of 150-km. The Courtallam falls is just 1 1/2 hours away from Tirunelveli. By road, Courtallam is also easily accessible from Trivandrum (approximately 185-km away).
Literally, this means the festival of 'nine nights' taking unique and different forms in different states of India - all to propitiate the goddess Sakthi, for power, wealth and knowledge.
Cape Festival at Kanyakumari (October )
Kanyakumari, also known as "Cape Comorin" is located at the southern most tip of India, where the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea meet. A dip in the ocean here is considered holy. This is the only place in India, where the sunset and moonrise can be viewed simultaneously on a full moon day. The Vivekananda memorial set amidst the sea is a place known to give mental emancipation. The Cape festival is celebrated on a large scale for three days at Kanyakumari. The festival is marked by a series of cultural programs.
The sixth day in the bright half of the month of Aippasi (Oct 15 - Nov 15), is celebrated in Saivite temples all over Tamilnadu, and with an extra measure of grandeur in temples dedicated to Subramanya. Skanda Sashti commemorates the destruction of evil by the Supreme General Kartikeya, son of Shiva.
Karthigai Deepam (November-December)
Karthigai Deepam is the oldest festival of South India , which is also the most elaborate and the most important festival. Karthigai Deepam falls in the Tamil month of Karthigai when the star Krithigai is on the ascendant and usually occurs on a full moon day. This festival is also called as "the Festival of Lights". The month of Karthigai is of special importance to Tamil people, which derives its name from the star 'Krithigai'. Lord Shiva, with His divine light, created Lord Muruga, in this month. The popular legend behind the celebrations goes like this- Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma began to quarrel as to who was the more powerful of the two. While they were fighting, Lord Shiva appeared before them in the form of a huge pillar of fire. Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma gave up quarrelling and decided to find the top and the bottom of the pillar. Accordingly, Brahma assumed the form of a swan and moved upwards. Vishnu transformed himself into a boar and started digging deep into the earth. But even after searching for several years, neither of the two was able to find the ends the pillar. Finally, they realised that the pillar was none other than Lord Shiva. Soon afterwards, Lord Shiva appeared as a hill (Arunachala Hill) at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. Indeed, the very names `Tiruvannamalai' and `Arunachala' translate as `holy fire hill.' The Shivalinga in the temple here is the agni linga. The tiny lamps lit during the Karthigai festival (Karthigai Deepam) are believed to be the miniature replicas of the fire linga. Every year thousands of devotees from Chennai and elsewhere flock to Tiruvannamalai to see the spectacular Karthigai Deepam there. The Deepam is lit in a gigantic, circular metal vessel that can hold about 2,000 litres of ghee. It is five and half feet in height and five feet in diameter. For making the wick, 30m of 'Ghada' cloth is used and is burnt with 2 kilos of camphor on the night of 'Karthigai Pournami'. The Jyoti can be sighted from nearly 35-km around. The lighting of the beacon on the top of the hill is the culmination of ten days of hectic activity in the temple town. The lighting of the Maha Deepam will take place simultaneously with "Deeparadhanam" to the five deities in the temple at the foot of the hill. This town Thiruvannamalai is situated in 187 kilometers away from Chennai.
Antiquity Of The Festival
Evidence from Tamil literature proves that this festival is one of the oldest in the state. In ancient Tamil literature, the oldest available work Tolkappiyam gives in concise verse form rules for Tamil grammar as well as other topics. Scholars agree that this work dates back to 2,000 or 2,500 BC. In one of the formulae Tolkapiyar in his treatise uses the phrase "like the lamp's flame pointing upwards." This phrase, says one of the commentators, refers to the beacon lit on the Annamalai Hill, which burns brightly without flickering in the wind, and flares up towards the sky. In another epic "Jeevakachintamani" written by a Jain poet, Thiruthakka Thevar, the poet describes how people celebrated the Karthigai Deepam festival. In other ancient Tamil literature of the Sangam period, the Karthigai Deepam festival is described vividly. In "Karnarpadu", the poet in one of the stanzas, describes how in the Tamil month of Karthigai (is ii Kartik month!) during the time of the Krithigai star, the lamps lit by people blossomed on earth, bringing rain in its wake. In another Tamil work, the "Kalavazhi Narpadu" dating back to the third Sangam period (after 1,000 BC) the poet says, "In the battle the blood oozing out from the dead soldiers' bodies is like the red coloured flame of the lamps lit during Karthigai Deepam festival". In another Sangam work, "Pazhamozhi", in stanzas ending in proverbs, one stanza ends with this phrase, "like the beacon on the Hill."
A Longer Deepavali Celebration
This festival is considered as the extension of the Deepavali festival. In some houses, they double the number of lamps every day from the day of Deepavali and this way, they end up with a number of lamps on the day of Karthigai Deepam. On this day, people clean their houses and draw 'Kolams' (Rangoli) in front of the house and also place some lamps on it. They place the lamps ('Agal') in the puja room and light them and after the 'Deeparathana' (puja) the lamps are moved to the different places in the house. The lamps glow all over the streets on this day.
Dance Festival at Mamallapuram (December 25th To February First Week)
The internationally acclaimed and globally renowned "Mamallapuram Dance Festival" is organised by the Department of Tourism, Government of Tamil Nadu every year in Mamallapuram - the renowned and ancient 7th century centre for Pallava culture and arts. The Dance festival starts on the 25th of December every year and is conducted on all Saturdays and Government holidays, upto February first week. Dancers and musicians of repute from India and abroad thrill the crowds every year. Folk dances of India are an added attraction. Chennai (58-km) is the nearest airport with both domestic and international terminus. The nearest railway stations are Chengalpattu (29-km) and Chennai (58-km). Buses are available from Pondicherry, Kanchipuram, Chengalpattu and Chennai to Mamallapuram daily.
Dancing in a hypnotic trance to the rhythm of drums, devotees of Muruga carry the 'Kavadi' a flower decked decoration, all the way up the Palani Hills to fulfil their vow. According to Hindu mythology, Idumban is said to have carried two sacred hillocks on two ends of a pole laced on his shoulders. The ancient Tamils when they went on pilgrimage, carried the offerings to the gods tied on the either end of the long stick, which was balanced on the shoulders. In order to lessen the boredom of the long travel they used to sing and dance about the gods. Kavadi Aattam has its origin in this practice. Special songs were created to be sung while carrying the Kavadi Sindhu. This dance is performed only by men. It is done by balancing a pole with pots fixed on either end, filled with milk or coconut water. The poles are made from Purasai or Teak wood. On top, bamboo strips are bent like a half-moon, covered with saffron cloth and further decorated on the sides with peacock feathers. This is mainly a religious dance, performed in worship of Lord Murugan, the second son of Siva. The dance is accompanied by Pambai and Naiyandi Melam. The most potent propitiatory rite that a devotee of Lord Muruga undertakes to perform is what is known as the "Kavadi". The benefits that the devotee gains from offering a Kavadi to the Lord are a million fold greater than the little pain that he inflicts upon himself. Generally, people take a vow to offer the Lord a Kavadi for the sake of tiding over a great calamity. Though this might on the face of it appear mercenary, a moment's reflection will reveal that it contains in it the seed for the supreme love for God. The worldly object is achieved, no doubt, and the devotee takes the Kavadi; but after the ceremony he gets so God-intoxicated that his inner spiritual chamber is opened. This is also a method that ultimately leads to the supreme state of devotion. Agni Kavadi is the most difficult Kavadi-offering. With the Kavadi hanging on his shoulders, the devotee walks through a pit of burning coals. The devotees all around the pit sing hymns in praise of the Lord. The beating of the drums and the burning of the incense make the entire atmosphere awe-inspiring. The real devotee gets into a state of ecstasy and easily walks over the fire. The Kavadi festival is celebrated at all shrines of Lord Muruga. Dancing in a hypnotic trance to the rhythm of drums, devotees of Muruga carry the Kavadi all the way up the Palani hills to fulfill their vow. Ettukudi Kavadi Festival is a famous festival celebrated during the months of April-May. Devotees from places and villages around this temple come here with Kavadis, milk pots, coconuts, cocks and goats. This is a major crowd pulling festival where one can see the true Tamil culture in its habitat.
Celebration At Palani
At Palani Thaipusam is a ten-day festival held in the Periyanayaki temple. Since the festival falls in January - the post harvest season, the exuberance of the agriculturists and their lusty participation lends unique splendour to the temple. The most remarkable feature of this festival is the parading devout 'Bhaktas' (devotees) bearing Kavadis. The yellow robed 'Bhaktas' coming from several distant places dance their way through the streets to reach the Muruga Sannidhi to the accompaniment of music, both instrumental and vocal. Many strangely and ghastly traditions, like the lips pierced with mini silver lance, and locking of the mouth with metal ring to maintain perfect silence and drawing of small make shift chariot with its chain hooked into the back of devotees strike the eye of spectator during the festival. Palani is well connected by road and there are frequent buses from Chennai, Madurai, Coimbatore, Dindugal and Tiruchi. Nearest railway station is Palani . The nearest airport is Coimbatore & Madurai. The Hill Station Kodaikanal is 60 KM from palani.
Music and Dance Festival , Chennai (Latter Half Of December And Early Part Of January)
The Chennai Music and Dance festival celebrated during the latter half of December and early part of January is a cultural extravaganza that has no parallel anywhere in the world. A unique feature of this art festival is the fact that upcoming artistes also get a chance to exhibit their talents to this city of music and dance lovers at large along with the well-established artistes. Art lovers from various parts of the world visit the city during this season and in nearly all of them there is always a rush for tickets. It's a celebration of the classical music and dance of South India, with songs in all the main languages - Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada. At each venue there's usually a lecture and demonstration in the morning, followed by several concerts, each lasting around three hours, in the afternoon and evening.
A truly secular festival - where devotees flock to the shrine of saint Quadirwali, believed to do equal good to people of all faiths. One of the descendants of the Saint is chosen as a Peer or spiritual leader and is honoured with offerings. On the tenth day of the festival, the Saint's tomb is annointed with sandalwood - and later the holy sandal paste, renowned for its healing powers, is distributed to everyone.
Wondrous legends surround the church-the most famous being that of the ship-wrecked Portuguese sailors, who in the 16th century, vowed to build a great shrine for the Virgin Mary, for saving their lives in a terrible storm. The Velankanni festival attracts thousands, clad in orange robes to the sacred spot where the ship landed. Equally famous are the Virgin Mary's miraculous healing powers - earning for the church the name 'Lourdes of the East'.