Friday, January 6, 2017

Thiruvathirai; The Hindu Festival of Kerala and Tamil Nadu

Siva and Parvati from
Image credit: Ashwin Baindur CC-BY via flickr

Thiruvathirai kindles me of my native home memories of putting 'Kolams' in the courtyard and that of the delicious sweet 'Kali' made by my lovely mom. This festival dedicated to Lord Shiva and to his consort Parvati is celebrated on the full moon day of Dhanu month in Malayalam or Margazhi in Tamil. It is believed that Lord Shiva was born on this revered day. At Chidambaram Temple in Tamil Nadu, Sri Natarajar (Lord Shiva) Temple’s six festive Poojas commemorate on Thiruvathirai. Though celebrations seem to be different in both the states, both of them share the same legend behind this festival. According to a belief, Thiruvathirai means sacred big wave using which Shiva created this universe.

Thiruvathirai celebrations in Tamil Nadu

Girls celebrate Thiruvathirai by fasting during daytime. After having food before sunrise, fasting starts. When moon rises during night time, they break their divine ritual of fasting. This is done for a total of ten days that starts nine days prior to the auspicious day of Thiruvathirai. In Tamil, this fasting is termed as Thiruvathirai Nonbu. The delicious sweet called 'Thiruvathirai Kali' made using rice, jaggery, coconut and cardamom is the special of the day. A curry 'Koottu' made out of seven vegetables is also being served.

Thiruvathira celebrations in Kerala

Thiruvathirakali dance: Image credit: By Vineetha Nair, CC-BY via flickr

Thiruvathira is a festival of the women folk in Kerala also. It is said that Parvati Devi met her lover Lord Shiva after a long penance on this revered day of Shiva’s birthday. Shiva became happy and accepted her as his wife. In accordance with this legend, women wake up very early in the morning and take a special bath in the nearby rivers or ponds. Then they adorn themselves with Kerala sarees, flowers and Ilakkuri(a traditional dot worn in the forehead).

The ritual of fasting for their husbands is a symbolic gesture of the dedication shown by Parvati Devi for Lord Shiva. Women are not supposed to eat rice-based foods. Instead, wheat and ‘Thiruvathira Puzhukku’ (a mix of tuber vegetables) become their food for the day. These customs of Thiruvathira are truly a depiction of merge with the nature. A newly wedded woman of Kerala celebrates Thiruvathira in the name ‘Poothiruvathira’.

Thiruvathirakali dance of women folk in the courtyard is a colorful event on this holy day. Lighting a Nilavilakku (lamp), they form a circle around it. Someone sings the Thiruvathira pattu(song) that reveals the state of lovesick Parvathi and her penance together with Shiva’s mighty power. The women start dancing bending and moving gracefully around the lamp. When the song speeds up, they move fast turning and clapping hands with their adjacent ones. Today Thiruvathirakali is included in many programmes organized by Kerala people in temples and in their societies.

Temple celebrations

Nataraja  Image credit: By Peter, CC-BY via flickr

In Thiruvairanikkulam temple of Lord Shiva and Parvati in Aluva in the state of Kerala, Goddess Parvati’s worship for 12 days starts from the day of Thiruvathira. God Shiva’s temple is open all throughout the year. 
Thiruvathirai is most important in the temples of Lord Shiva in Tamil Nadu. Instead of Sanskrit Mantras, Tamil hymns of 'Thiruvasagam' are chanted in temples. During 7-8th century, the Tamil Saiva Bhakti saint Sambandar sung in one of his compositions of 'Tevaram' about how Thiruvathirai was celebrated at Kabaleeshwaram temple.

In Chidambaram, 'Abhishekam' or holy shower to the Lord Shiva is performed with the 'Navarathnam' or nine precious gems including diamonds, pearls, coral, jade and emerald among others. On Thiruvathirai day, the chariot procession is also held in which the dancing pose of Lord Shiva is taken out. The most important Arudhra Darshan festival is celebrated with much zest at the Chidambaram Shiva Temple in Tamil Nadu. The 'Nataraja thandavam' or cosmic dance of Lord Shiva is enacted on this holy day of Thiruvathirai.

Arudhra Darshan

The cosmic dance of Lord Shiva contains the enacting of five activities namely creation, protection, destruction, embodiment and release. How the activity of creation and destruction takes place, that is it's essence. This cosmic dance can be treated as the source of energy of each particle in this universe. Arudhra Darshan is the celebration of this overwhelming dance of Lord Shiva. It is often associated with a 'Shaivite' festival. Arudhra signifies the golden red flame that is related with this kind of dance. Thiruvathirai is complete after worshipping Arudhra by performing the necessary rituals.