Tamil Nadu is a land of festivals. Umpteen festivals are observed throughout the year and no fortnight ever passes without a festival. Most of them are associated with religion and temples. People celebrate them with gay and enthusiasm. Brief narrations of a few festivals are given so that tourists can enjoy them realizing their significance. The tourism department too arranges festivals periodically so that the visiting guests may enjoy them and understand the cultural and spiritual values embedded in them.
This is the most important of all festivals to the people of Tamil Nadu. It is often called as "Tamilar Thirunal" or the Prosperity Day of the Tamils. It comes in the middle of January. It celebrates the arrival of fresh harvest and everyone appears in new garments with a beaming smile greeting each other on this day. New earthen pot is put on a hearth in a central place in an open corridor and newly harvested rice and milk are cooked. As the milk boils over, people shout in chorus "Pongalo Pongal! Pongalo Pongal!!” Pongal literally means boiling. The preceding day of Pongal is called 'Bhogi'. It means Bogam or enjoyment and was originally devoted to Indra who is the Bogi or supreme enjoyer. Nowadays, old unwanted things are heaped on the middle of the road and a bonfire is made. Children beat hand drums and go round the roads beating the drums and shouting 'Bhogi Bhogi!’.
It is a three-day festival. The second day is called Mattu Pongal. Bullocks and cows are taken care of on this day and they are worshipped and given nourishing food called 'Sarkarai Pongal'. Poet­ Saint Thiruvalluvar Day is also celebrated on the 15th of January. The third day is called 'Kanru Pongal' or Calf Pongal. On that day the calves are fed. It is also called 'Kanum Pongal!’. 'Kanum' means seeing and people visit elders or relatives and friends and seek their blessings.
Jalli Kattu – Bull fight
On the second day of the Pongal i.e. on Mattu Pongal day, Jalli Kattu or bullfight takes place in almost all villages. Youths come forward to tame the bull as they come ferociously rushing on them. It is a traditional, spine-chilling fight. The winner gets the prize money tied on the horns. Alanganallur near Madurai is famous for this sport.
Republic Day
The Republic Day falls on 26th January. It is a national festival. Spectacular march past, cultural and gay pageantry mark the celebrations in the state capital and the capitals of the districts.
Tourist Fair - Chennai
During January, Tourist Fair is conducted at Island Grounds in Chennai by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corpo­ration. All government depart­ments and public sector enterprises take part in it. Every day folk dances and dramas are conducted. It presents a bird's eye view of Tamil Nadu. All the places of tourist interest and a wealth of information about the progress of Tamil Nadu besides cultural shows and food fairs form part of the fair. The fair lasts for nearly 3 months.
Dance Festival - Mamallapuram
This festival conducted by the Department of Tourism is generally held at Mamallapuram where monolithic rock sculptures of the Pallava kings are built on the shore. The dances are held on an open-air stage near these sculptures. A spectacular dance festival in a beautiful surrounding that brings everlasting joy to the onlookers. Bharatha Natyam - the classical dance of Tamil Nadu, Kuchipudi - similar dance of Andhra Pradesh, Kathakali of Kerala and Odissi the dance of Orissa are performed by renowned artists. Folk dances also form part of the festivals. Mamallapuram is just 58 km. south of Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu.
February, March & April
A festival observed in all Siva temples and Saivaite families. Special poojas and chanting of 'Siva Siva' are done throughout the night. Devotees observe fasting and remain awake throughout the night. Special abhishekam or holy anointing and ablution of Lingams are done from midnight.
Chitthirai Festival
Brahmothsavam or Chitthirai festival is the chief festival celebrated in all temples for 10 days. Every day 'urchavar' or the processional deity is carried in procession on different vahanas like horse,bull,swan,lion,sun,moon etc.The one at Madurai is indeed spectacular with Lord Vishnu landing on a golden horse for his sister Meenakshi’s marriage. One major festival day of the 10 days is the 'Arubathu­moovar Festival' day on which day all 63 Saivaite saints are taken in procession along with Lord Siva. The one at Kapaleeswarar temple, Chennai, is very famous. The 63 bronze idols of the 'Nayanmars' or Saivaite saints are taken in procession - a magnificent sight. Lakhs of people throng during these festivals.
Tamil New Year’s Day
It comes in the middle of April heralding the spring season. The Sun raises from the 1st constellation Aries on this day. The year's astrological prospect is read and people worship their family deity and visit temples. The neem flower is used in one way or other as a side dish and eaten along with sweet kheer called payasam. Huge queues will be found in all important temples on this day. Tamil New Year greetings will also be exchanged. This month is called 'Chitthirai' and in olden days, on the full moon day of this month a great festival was celebrated, called lndra Vizha or Vasantha Vizha(spring festival).
Sri Rama Navami
It is celebrated in all Vishnu temples and at homes. It is the birthday of Rama, one of the Avatars of Vishnu. The Ramayanam is recited on this day.
Good Friday
The holy day of the Christians is observed throughout Tamil Nadu.Churches all over Tamil Nadu would conduct special masses on this day.
May, June & July
Summer Festival
The summer festival is celebrated in hill stations like Ooty, Kodaikanal, and Yercaud etc. It 15 mainly a tourist festival. It is called 'Kodai Vizha'. Boat races, flower and fruit shows, are arranged. Cultural programmes are conducted. Trekking in hill stations are also done - a unique thrilling experience. There are competitions of flower arrangements, Rangoli and vegetable and fruit carving - an enticing feast to the eyes.
August & September
Adi Perukku
It is the eighteenth day of the Tamil month Adi, on which most of the rivers will be in spate
after rains. People go to the river banks and worship the river goddess and float their offerings on river. They also carry different varieties of cooked rice and eat them on the banks and spend their time merrily.
Independence Day
15th August is the day on which India won Independence. It is a national festival. The National Flag is hoisted every year on this day. Processions and meetings are held. Flag hoisting ceremony at Fort St. George, Chennai and cultural pageantry mark the occasion. It is a public holiday and public buildings are illuminated colorfully on this day.
Krishna Jayanthi
It is the birthday of Lord Krishna. It is celebrated in all Vishnu Temples and at homes. People prepare different delicacies and offer them to Lord Krishna. Balls of butter are also offered.
Vinayaka Chathurthi
The birthday of Lord Vinayaka or the elephant-headed god. It is celebrated in all homes as well as in all Saivite temples and temples of Lord Vinayaka. The one celebrated at Pillaiyarpatti shrine of Lord Vinayaka is very famous. A gigantic ‘Modhaga' or 'Kolukkattai' using about 80 kilos of rice, jiggery, coconut and dhal is prepared. It is baked for 3 days and offered to the deity. Lakhs of people from all over Tamil Nadu throng there on that day. Pillaivarpatti is near Karaikudi about 500 km. from Chennai.
In all cities and district head­quarters, giant Vinayaka statues ranging from 10 feet height to 32 feet are erected in public places. On the last day which varies from the 3rd day to the 10th day, big processions are held and the image is immersed in the sea, lake or nearby rivers. The procession will be colorful with various folk dances, nadhaswaram etc. performed enroute. In houses, clay image of Vinayaka is worshipped and immersed into wells, tanks or ponds the next day. The image is invariably adorned with a colorful umbrella called 'pillaiyar Kudai.
September & October
Festival of nine nights: ‘ Navam ’ means nine and 'rathri' means night. It is the festival of Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. The first 3 days are devoted to Durga or Parvathi, the goddess of valour. The next 3 days are devoted to Lakshmi or goddess of wealth and the last 3 days are devoted to Saraswathi, the goddess of learning. On the ninth day, a pooja for Saraswathi is performed in a traditional way by piling up books in an orderly way. This day is called ' Ayudha Pooja ' ­on this day all the machines, tools, instruments and vehicles are cleaned and arranged in order and worshipped. The vehicles are adorned with flowers and plantain saplings. This festival is also known as Dussehra. It is also called Durga Pooja. The next day is called ' Vijayadasami ' or the day of victory.
During this period most of the Hindus celebrate Kolu festival and even in temples Durga or the main female deity is specially decorated in various ways and kept in the main hall for worship. In the houses, dolls are arranged on steps numbering 3, 5, 7, 9 or 11 and the hall is decorated with festoons. Dolls of different deities and ordinary life scenes and of a secular nature are also erected. Every day visitors are invited and Prasadam is also given. The origin of this festival is traced to the Vijayanagar period. Doll exhibitions and sales are also arranged during this time. Especially the ones at Khadi Bhavan and Kuralagam in Chennai are feast to the eyes. People throng in large number to these places to see and enjoy them and also to purchase the dolls, the prices of which range from Rs.1/­- to Rs. 5,000/-. The Ramakrishna Mutt at Mylapore celebrates the Durga Pooja during these ten days, as it celebrates the festivals of all religions and faiths, and on the final day a big image of Kali is taken in procession and immersed in the sea. These ten gay days are full of visitors, visiting and feasts. Children wear fancy dresses. The temples overflow with devotees.
Shrine Velankanni Festival
The renowned church of Shrine Velankanni near Nagapattinam has wondrous legends. The 16th century ship-wrecked Portuguese sailors had built this shrine in gratitude for saving and guiding them to the shore during a severe cyclone. Thousands of people visit the place during the festival, clad in orange robes to the sacred location where the ship landed. The Virgin Mary Church is the ' Courdes of the East ' and is believed to have miraculous power of healing. This festival attracts peoples of all religions: Hindus, Muslims and of course Christians - it is rather a secular gathering.
Kanthuri Festival
This too could be said to be of a secular nature since people of all faiths flock to the shrine of saint Quadirwali believed to be doing good to all. One of the descendants of the saint is chosen as the spiritual leader or 'peer' and honored with offerings. The tenth day is most important. On that day, the tomb of the saint is anointed with sandal paste and later it is distributed to one and all. This holy paste is believed to possess healing powers as it is considered a remedy for all ills. The festival is celebrated at Nagore durgah near Nagapattinam.
Mahamagam Festival
This festival comes once in 12 years. This period is called ‘ Mamangam ' in Tamil. This occurs once in 12 years when planet Jupiter enters the constellation of Leo. It is believed that all the holy rivers of India bathe in the sacred tank here at Kumbakonam on this holy day to wash away their sins ­accrued from the devotees who bathe in them. The Mahamagam tank is situated in the temple city of Kumbakonam. The legend has it that a few drops of divine nectar from the ' Kumba ' (pot of nectar) has fallen into this tank. Lakhs of people take a holy bath on this day. The unique feature is that residents of the whole city become hosts to the visitors. Lord Siva called Adhi Kumbeswara is worshipped here. Kumbakonam derives its name from this ' Kumba ' or pot.
October, November & December
This is the most important festival that brings joy to both the rich and the poor. This is also called ' Naraka Chathurdasi ‘, on which day the fearsome giant Narakasura was killed by Lord Krishna. According to his last wishes his death day is celebrated with festivity. People take oil bath in the early hours of the day, called "Ganga Snanam" or holy dip in the Ganges, wear new clothes, fire crackers and eat sweets. The following new moon day is observed as "Kethara Gowri Viratham" and ladies observe this for the longevity of their husbands. In North India, it is observed as Ramlila on which day great fireworks are a feast to the eyes; they mark the defeat of Ravan by Sri Rama. It is said that it is a day of triumph of the good over the evil. In the North, lamps are also lit in a row in the houses. ' Deepam ' means lamp and 'Avali' means row. On this day, sweets are prepared and distributed. People greet each other with a
traditional question "Ganga Snanam Aachcha?” which means “Have you finished your holy Ganges bath". People visit temples in large numbers on this day.
Vaikunta Ekadasi
This festival is a Vaishnavite festival and it is believed that the gates of Paradise are thrown open on that day. In all Vishnu temples, a decorative gate is erected called 'Vaikuntha Vasal' or the threshold of paradise. Thousands of people come to pass through the threshold of paradise. Bhajans are held and the day is a fasting day. During the night most people stay awake and end their fast with a feast the next morning. The Srirangam temple on the island of Srirangam near Tiruchirappalli and the Parthasarathi temple built by the Pallavas at Triplicane in the city of Chennai attract lakhs of people. It is an interesting sight to see Bhajan groups called 'Bhajanai Koshti' singing the names of Lord Vishnu in high pitch and dancing in a trance around the temple.
Vaikunta Ekadasi
It is a festival observed by Saivaites or the devotees of Siva. The cosmic dancer Lord Nataraja gives darshan on this day. It is observed in all Siva temples. Very early in the morning special ablutions are done to the dancing idol of Nataraja and He is taken in a procession. On this day in the houses, people prepare a sweet called 'Kali’ and a mixed vegetable dish called 'Koottu' and offer it to the deity and eat and distribute. Arudra Darshan is very famous in the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram.
Natyanjali Festival
It is a dance festival at the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram. It is a homage paid by all the dancers to the cosmic dancer, Lord Nataraja. It is celebrated near the thousand-pillared hall of the temple where 108 dancing poses of Lord Siva are depicted. The poses are from Tamil Nadu's classical dance Bharatha Natyam. Dancers all over India come to pay their tribute by performing dances like Bharatha Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Odissi and Kathak are performed.
Karthigal Deepam
It is one of the most ancient festivals of Tamil Nadu. We have references to this festival in Sangam literature. It is the festival of lights of Tamil Nadu. Deepam means light. Rows of earthen lamps are lighted in front of houses in the evening. Traditional snacks called Appam, Pori and Adai are prepared and offered to deities. The festival is celebrated in all Siva temples. The one at Thiruvannamalai temple is most famous. It is called Annamalayar Deepam. A big lamp on the rocky top of the mountain is lit. A big wick is prepared and 100 liters of ghee is poured and the lamp is lighted. It glows throughout the night. Despite heavy downpours, the light will be burning. Lakhs of devotees gather for this festival from all over India. Thiruvannamalai is one of the Pancha Bootha Sthala or five element places and the element represented here is the fire. A big bonfire is made in front of temples. In houses, crackers are fired. This festival marks the end of the rainy season in Tamil Nadu.
Saaral Vizha
This is a unique festival of recent origin. It is celebrated in Kuttalam or Courtallam where there is a number of waterfalls. During the season, water will be abundant in them and thousands of people gather there to bathe in them. The water has healing powers as it passes through various medicinal herbs before the fall.Courtallam is near Tenkasi in Tirunelveli district. The Saaral Vizha is a unique festival which invigorates our body. The water pours on us like thousand slaps and relieves our pains and aches and makes us fresh. Proper safety arrangements are made and there are separate places for men and women.
Kavadi Festival
This is a religious festival. Kavadi is a flower-decked decoration carried on the shoulders. There are different types of Kavadies called Pal (milk) kavadi, Panneer (rose water) kavadi, Pushpa (flower) kavadi, Mayil (peacock feather) kavadi etc. Devotees of Lord Muruga dancing in a divine trance to the rhythm of beating drums carry this on their shoulders and climb the mountain. The kavadi festival is very famous in Palani, Tiruthani and Tiruchendur and the other shrines of the Arupadai Veedu or the six abodes of Lord Muruga which are mentioned earlier under the sub-heading Temples and Deities.
Music Festival
The music festival is celebrated every year in the capital city, Chennai. During December, all the 'Sabhas' or Music clubs arrange for this. The Music Academy, Annamalai Mandram, Narada Gana Sabha, Indian Fine Arts Society and other sabhas arrange for this festival in various places. At Kalakshetra, a dance festival is also conducted during this time. It is a festival for lovers of music. Research scholars and renowned musicians render vocal and instrumental recitals in various sabhas from the afternoon till late in the night. It is a festival that reflects the culture of Tamil Nadu. Music lovers from all over the world participate in it.
Besides, all the Muslim festivals like Ramzan, Bakrid, Milad-un-Nabi etc. and all the Christian festivals like the New Year Day, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Christmas etc. are also celebrated in Tamil Nadu. Thus, Tamil Nadu abounds with national, secular and religious festivals of all sorts - and it is apt to call it 'a land of colorful festivals and unbiased gaiety'.
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