On arriving in India it was not long before we were struck by the way in which religion is interwoven into all aspects of Indian life, rather than being compartmentalised to certain days or certain events, as is so often the case in the west. Everything, in India, has a religious aspect. [The office even had to sign the lease on our house during an auspicious time slot].
The recently concluded Chithirai festival centred around the Meenakshi temple in Madurai exemplifies the central role of the gods in Indian life.
This is a 12-day festival celebrating the two gods who reside in the temple – the Goddess Meenakshi herself, who presides, and her consort Lord Sundareswarar. Meenakshi was the daughter of a Pandyan king, and is an incarnation of Parvati, sister of Lord Vishnu, and Sundareswarar is an incarnation of Lord Siva, and so the festival is also seen as bringing together Saivites and Vaishnavites – two sects of Hinduism who have not always seen eye to eye.
The wedding is often depicted as a relief on the gopurams of a temple – our photo is taken at the Meenakshi temple itself.
The Celestial Wedding was celebrated last Tuesday. 13,000 people packed into the temple to witness the event and thousands more saw it relayed onto LED screens around the city. From the temple at Tirupparankundram (see our blog of 21st February) the deities Lord Subramaniasamy and Lord Pavalakanival Perumal came on their chariots to be witnesses to the marriage.
On the same day, Lord Kallazhagar left his temple at Alagarkoil (some 20km to the north of Madurai) riding his golden horse to join the celebrations. Legend has it that he was angered by the fact that the original wedding was solemnised before he got to Madurai, and so now his journey from Alagarkoil is timed to arrive two days later, when he is bathed in the waters of the Vaigai river to cool his anger.
This year, as so often these days, there was no water in the Vaigai, but due to the importance of the festival a certain amount was especially released from the Vaigai dam. I read in the papers in February an estimate of water needs for the district, for irrigation, industry, household use – and for Lord Kallazhagar’s sacred bath, despite the drought. Some things are important.