Tamil Nadu, lying in the Southern most part of the Indian peninsula has a rich cultural heritage. It is known for the celebration of umpteen festivals, and it’s said that not a fortnight passes in this state, without some kind of festivities. As it is home to the city of temples, Madurai, religious celebrations are unique in this state. The tourism department of Tamil Nadu too hosts several festivals too attract guests to the state. Decorated temples, flower rangoli and lots of good food, the festivals in Tamil Nadu are something that everybody should experience at least once in a lifetime.
Here’s a list of some famous festivals celebrated in Tamil Nadu.
Arudra Darshan Festival in Kotagiri
The Arudra Darshan festival also known as Thiruvathirai is a festival celebrated annually in Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu to celebrate the cosmic dance of Shiva. Thiruvathirai’s literal meaning is the sacred big wave which, according to beliefs was used by Shiva to create the universe we now know of. This occurred almost 132 trillion years ago. This festival holds a great significance to the people of Tamil Nadu especially to Kotas in the Niligiri district.
The festival is celebrated in the Tamil month of Margazhi that falls on December and January. It is celebrated on a full moon night and this night interestingly is also the longest night in a year. History says that the Arudra Darshan festival has been celebrated by people for more than 1500 years now. And because it is done in dedication to Shiva, the mighty one, people sing and chant hymns in his praise. He is also praised using different names one of them being Athiraiyan.
The idols of Shiva and Parvati, his consort are taken out of temples so that they can be carried on big processions. Arudra Drashan is one of the biggest events in Tamil Nadu and is celebrated in almost every Shiva temple. On this day, devotees chant Tamil hymns and mantras and not Sanskrit ones.
Significance: In Tamil Nadu, this festival has a great significance. Unmarried women observe fast and do it for the whole day and eat before sunrise. This fast is broken only after sighting the moon. Fasting is also called as Nonbu in Tamil and this goes on for nine days till the day of Thiruvathirai. The best part about this festival is also the delicious food that people make especially the Thiruvathirai kali. It is made of jaggery, rice and coconut and also moong dal. Another special delicacy is the ezhlu that is made of seven different vegetables.
The idol of Shiva in the form of dancing is carried out in processions from every Shiva temple. And in Chidambaram, the previous night, Shiva’s idol is performed with abhishekam also known as the holy shower where they bathe Shiva with nine precious gems. If you want to witness the cosmic dance of Shivam you should visit the famous Chidambaram Shiva temple. This is where this festival is celebrated with much pomp and gaiety.
Avani moolam Festival in Madurai
Avani moolam festival is celebrated in dedication to Shiva. It is a very unique festival celebrated by people in Tamil Nadu in Avani month that falls in the months of August and September. The festival is also organized to commemorate the coronation of Sundareswarar. This year the festival falls on September 11 and the most important part about this festival is the recital of the 64 miracles that were carried out by Shiva. To witness and be a part of this unique festival, visit the Meenakshi temple in Madurai where celebrations happen on a grand scale. Processions are carried out and this festival also includes the making and serving of varied delicacies.
Also called as Puttu festival, Avani moolam as per local legends is said to be based on the sport of carrying soil for wages in the form of rice pudding in those times. And if the stories are anything to go by it is also said that it was on this day when Shiva sent his ganas as horses only to keep the word he gave to Saint Mainkkavasagar. So if you have planned to visit Tamil Nadu in August or September, make sure to experience this festival. It will also give you an insight into Tamil Nadu’s rich culture and history.
The Chithirai festival is celebrated in dedication to Meenakshi and her marriage with Sundareswarar and this is done in Chithirai month that falls on April and May as per Tamil calendar. This is the only time when the temple sees millions of devotees. Also known as Chithirai Thiruvizha, the celebrations take place in Madurai and goes on for a long time, approximately a month. And thus this festival is said to be the longest festival of the world. The first 15 days of this festival is celebrated in dedication Meenakshi and the remaining 15 days for a form of Vishnu called Algar. And if you go to look up for the history of this festival, you will be surprised to know that the Chithirai festival was celebrated in two different events. But now they are done together in one month.
Here is a little bit of history about how the Chithirai festival came into being celebrated with so much pomp.
Meenakshi was the daughter of Malayathuvaja who was a Pandya ruler. The ruler and his wife couldn’t have children in spite of their several tries. They both did special pujas and offerings to God. In one of their pujas, a little girl miraculously walked out of the fire and sat on the King’s lap. At this very moment, the couple heard a divine voice that told them to accept this child and that this child is Sakthi’s another form. The voice also said that when Meenakshi attains a certain age Shiva will come to marry her in another form. And this is how Meenakshi was born. Meenakshi was trained in warfare and was later given the crown of a Queen of Pandya kingdom. Meenakshi created a lasting impression among many with her war skills and finally she also headed straight to Kailayam which was Shiva’s place. She went there to conquer the place, however in a twisted turn of events; she met Shiva and instantly fell in love with him. Shiva, by now had realized that Meenakshi was Sakthi(Shiva’s wife) and as he had assured, he left for Madurai with the Devas to marry Meenakshi and together they ruled the kingdom.
And this is celebrated today as Chithirai festival. As per the popular folklore, the history of Chithirai Thiruvizha is something else. During the wedding of Meenakshi and Shiva in Madurai, Alagar( Vishnu) started a journey covering 20 km from Alagar Hills to Madurai. On his way to Madurai, he decided to disguise since he feared of being robbed and also to avoid many other obstacles. This journey seems like a never ending one and before he could even reach, the wedding was already over. He learned of this when was crossing the Vaigai River and became instantly furious. To pacify him, Shiva and Meenakshi both traveled till Vaigai River and that made Alagar happy. He gave all his belonging to them as his gif and returned without stepping into Madurai.
This is the history of this beautiful festival. With such great historical significance, it is no surprise that people celebrate this with so much dedication and faith. The festival is celebrated by remembering each event that happened.
Festival of Cradle in Madurai
Another great festival that is celebrated in Tamil Nadu is the festival of cradle in Madurai. This festival brings the whole city to life and people gather to celebrate this festival together. The celebrations of this festival are a simple one where Meenkashi and Sundareswarar are placed on a swing for nine days and are gentle cradled. The swing is rocked so that deities can get some rest as per religious beliefs.
The moment when idols of Meenakshi and Shiva are brought to the mirror chamber before being placed on a swing is done on a large scale. The whole city is decorated and full of life. This festival is also celebrated in April and May. So if you want to witness this celebration, visit Madurai during these months.
Natyanjali Dance Festival
The Natyananjali dance festival is all about dance done by various artists as a tribute to Nataraja who is the god of dance. Celebrated in the Natraja temple in Chidambaram(pictured above) in Tamil Nadu, the literal meaning of Natyanajali is Dance offering. If you love art and cultural programs, do not miss out on this one. Almost 300 to 400 dancers from all over India to display their talent in dance in various dance forms like the Bharatnatyam, Mohiniyattam, Kathak and also Kuchipudi. A five day long festival, it is celebrated in February or March. This also means if you visit Tamil Nadu in these months; do not return without experience the dance festival. You are sure to be impressed by the different types of talents that you will come across. The main message of the Natyanjali festival is Unity in diversity and hence the dancers, who come from all over, dress up in their traditional attires and represent their states. You have to see it to believe the diverse cultures that India as a country has. The Natyanjali is organized by the Tamil Nadu Tourism department and also the Natyanjali trust and it begins from Maha Shivaratri.
Another great attraction apart from all the brilliant performances here is the temple where this festival is organized. The pillars and structures are a sight to behold especially for those who love architecture. The pillars of this temple symbolize the different dance postures of Natraja and trust us when we say that this is something that you will absolutely love.
Float Festival in Madurai
The Float festival in Madurai is one of the most significant festivals of Tamil Nadu. Celebrated in the Tamil month of Thai on a full moon night, the Float festival was first started by King Thirumalai Nayak. As per legend, it is says that King Thirumalai Nayak had once made an artificial tank and a temple of Vigneswara right in the middle of an island. After this, he started following the routine of carrying idols of the God in the tank for a boat ride. And this is how the float festival began.
And today, the idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswara are taken to the tank at dawn in a huge procession. The idols are carried in beautiful golden palanquins and placed on a mandapam that is built on the banks of the lake. Devotees in large number come here to worship the idol, post which they taken back to be placed on a raft that has been decorated and adorned with flowers, garlands and also paper lanterns. From here, the custom is still followed by taking the idols for a ride around the lake in the float. This festival comes to life in the evening when the island is decorated and illuminated. The bright lights bring the whole place to life. You will find little lamps lit up that look starry. The lamps make the lake look glowing and shining. The idols remain in the island till evening when it sees more devotees flocking in.
Finally the idols are returned to the temple on a golden horse. This is also another great procession that takes place with much pomp. The Float festival also celebrates the birth day of the King. If you want to be a part of this unique festival, visit Tamil Nadu in January or February. More than anything else, the vibe and aura of the festival is something that wills attract you the most.
One of the most important and popular festivals that attracts people from all across the country is the Pongal festival that happens from January 13 till January 16. Pongal is a harvest festival and is celebrated to offer their thank you to the Sun God for providing energy that helps boost agriculture. A four day festival, Pongal is celebrated by Tamil people all over. This also includes celebrations in countries like Malaysia, Mauritius, Singapore and several others. The most important event of this festival is boiling the first rice of this particular season. In fact the interesting part is that Pongal is not just the name of the festival, it s also the name of the dish that is made during this time. Popular in the south, this dish is cooked in much festival part from this harvest festival. The preparations for this festival begin a month before the actual day of Pongal. Women of every house draw rangoli outside their houses at the entrance also known as Kolam in Tamil using color powder and also rice. The whole city of Chennai and Madurai looks all decked up during Pongal. In fact many people even white wash their houses as a part of their preparations and this month is called as the Margali month.
The festival of Pongal almost dates back to 1000 years or more. Many studies suggest that this festival was celebrated during Medieval Chola empire times.
The next day us also known as Bhogi which is done to honor Indra who is said to be the main source of water to the farmers in the form of rains. People usually on this day give up on anything that is old and buy new things which are also a part of celebrations. The giving up of old items is done at dawn when people gather and light a bonfire. It is in this bonfire where people throw their old belongings. Apart from this, each house is cleaned and painted with new colors and also decorated. In recent times, these preparations can be seen only in villages and not in cities. People in village also decorate and paint the horns of their animals like oxen and buffaloes.
The main event of Pongal is called as the Thai Pongal that is observed on the second day of Pongal. It also corresponds with Makara Sankrathi. The word Pongal means overflowing that is also a symbol of prosperity. On this day milk is cooked in a vessel and when the milk starts to overflow freshly harvest grains of rice are added to this milk. This Pongal is then served to everyone along with some really delicious sweets. On this day too, the Tamil people draw Kolam in front of their houses and decorate their doors with banana leaves. People wear new and traditional clothes and the husband and wife apparently discard the vessels that were used for the puja.
The third day of Pongal is the Mattu Pongal which is mainly celebrated for cows. The cow is also decorated with beads, flowers and bells with garlands. The cows here are fed Pongal and are also worshiped. Religious practices like these can be witnessed only in India and it indeed is a beautiful sight. The cows are then taken for a stroll around the village so that people van also happily and merrily be a part of this procession and celebration. Once this is done, at dawn the people then pray to Ganesha. Another very interesting ritual on this day is lighting a torch that is made of coconut leaves and move it around the cattle at least three times and then drop it at the end of the village. This is a practice done to ensure that any kind of evil influences over the cattle are removed. The last day also known as the Kaanum Pomgal day is the fourth day of Pongal. This day also marks the end of Pongal festival of the year Kanum in tamil means ot visit or meet. An dom this day famiie smeet up and brothers especially do something for their married sisters by gifting them which is more like a token of love. Landlords also gift their tenants with clothes or food. Women also use a turmeric leaf that if filled with leftovers rice and pray for the safety and prosperity of their respective houses. And this is how the Harvest festival of Pongal comes to an end.
Pongal is celebrated with much pomp and joy in both Chennai and Madurai. Thought the cities don’t have the same feel and traditions any more, villages however follow most of these practices and traditions religiously.
Madras Music Season
The Madras music festival is another great festival celebrated in Chennai, formerly known as Madras. Hosted annually in December and January, this music festival goes on for some six weeks. Musicians from all over flock to Chennai to be a part of the many Carnatic music concerts that take place here. The traditional style of this music festival is to allow experts of Carnatic music to perform and to appreciate other talents. Young artists make the most of this platform to display their talent and skills. In fact even the audiences come from all over the country to witness such musical talents. Said to be the biggest music festival in the world, artists who perform here are not just Indians abut also foreigners. It is estimated that a total of 1500 artists come to perform here and most of these artists are well renowned and appreciated widely. However in 2015, this music festival had to be postponed because of the floods. And this was the first of its kind to postpone such a bug event.
The Madras Music Season as it is popularly called was first made by a group of people in 1927 that in future went on to set up the popular Madras Music Academy. There were many concerts that were held every year in different places and the music seasons was always held in March or April. Later the timing of this event was changed to December. The pleasant weather conditions attracted more tourists and with each passing year the number of tourists only grew. Chennai in March is unbearably hot and hence the decision to move the event to winter was a good one.
In so many years the Madras music festival has only grown and prospered. Today it is said to be one of the biggest cultural events of the world. Any kind of Carnatic music and compositions can be witnessed here. These performances are held and organized by various sabhas. For instance, a Carnatic sabha organization helps concerts happen and also appreciates by bestowing titles to the ones who perform the best among the lot. They also give away many awards. These performances are generally held in halls that can accommodate at least 300 people and the smaller halls usually accommodate maximum 75 people.
Tea and Tourism Festival
The Tea and Tourism festival happens in Ooty and attracts lot of people from all across the country. It is conducted annually and this festival has given great recognition to Ooty. Tea has always been the major attraction of Ooty with so many tea plantations. This magical drink of this region has attracted people for many years now giving a refreshing feel to anybody who drank it. To celebrate the existence of such great tea in Ooty, the Tourism Department and also the Government of Tamil Nadu came up with the idea of this unique tea festival. It has been conducted successfully for two decades now and has seen many visitors. This festival is held in January and February in the beautiful Nilgiris. Spanned for three days, visitors get to see and also taste myriad varieties of tea. The Tea and Tourism festival is celebrated with so much pomp and dedication that you get an insight into the culture of Ooty. Cultural programs, visits to Tea estates and also tea factories are organized to make this festival a little more entertaining. You can make the most of your trip to Ooty and be a part of these celebrations. The splendor and magic of Ooty can be relived through this festival. There is also no dearth of accommodation in Ooty. So you can be a part of this festival all the three days if you wish.