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Tag: wedding

Chithirai Festival- Kallazhagar comes to Madurai

Chittirai festival happens every year in the month of Chitrai (or Chaitra) at Madurai when the celestial wedding of Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai to Lord Sundareswara is celebrated. This is witnessed by thousands of people at Madurai and all over the world.

Earlier in my site, I have written this story under the title “Legend of Madurai”.

As a part of this festival, Lord Azhagar, who resides 20 kilometres away from Madurai, comes and steps into the River Vaigai but does not come and witness the wedding. This act of stepping into the river is celebrated as a great event.

This is the story behind this event.

Azhagar Kovil is a quaint village with a hill situated about 20 kilometres from Madurai. The place is very beautiful, lush with vegetation with the River Silambaar flowing by. Silambaar is also known by the name “Noopura Gangai”. Here Lord Vishnu is known by the name Soundararaja Perumal or Azhagar (the handsome one). It is believed that when Lord Vishnu took the form of Trivikrama and raised his foot to measure the earth, Lord Brahma poured water from his ‘kamandala’ to wash the Lord’s feet and few drops of the water washing the Lord’s anklet fell at this place and this river was born. Hence the name ‘Noopura Gangai’ or “Silambaar”. “Noopur” in Sanskrit means anklet and “Silambu” in Tamil means the same.

Once a sage by name Suthapas, lived in this beautiful place propitiating Azhagar. Suthapas could withhold his breath and stay under water for long and in order not to be disturbed while praying, he used to go deep under the waters of Silambaar and withhold his breath and meditate.

One day, as he was meditating, sage Durvasa was passing by the river with a group of Rishis. Durvasa, with his yogic powers knew that a sage was inside the river and as was his temperament expected the sage to come out and pay obeisance to him, he being so senior.

Suthapas, on the other hand was so deeply engrossed in his prayer that he failed to notice the presence of Durvasa and the other sages on the banks of the river.

Durvasa mistook this as arrogance and cursed the sage.

‘So arrogant you are, to remain under water, you are not fit to be a human being, may you become the frog that you are! Mandooko Bhava! (Become a frog)” cursed the sage in an angry voice.

The voice shook Suthapas and before he could realise what was happening, he noticed that his body was turning to become amphibian.

He rushed to the surface of the river and fell at the feet of the sage. “Pardon me O Great sage! I was deeply meditating on the Lord that I did not realized your presence. Please pardon me for I never intended to disrespect anyone” he pleaded.

The ring of truth in Suthapas’ voice brought Durvasa to his senses. He realized that he had indeed cursed a person without reason. However, it could not be undone immediately. Durvasa prayed for a moment to Sri Narayana and said to Suthapas, “O Suthapas, you will be known as Mandooka Maharishi and you will go to the banks of the Vaigai River and continue your prayer to Sri Narayana. This Azhagar will come to Madurai and relieve you from the curse” So saying he blessed Suthapas and went his way.

Suthapas, now Mandooka slowly moved to a village by name Thenur, near Madurai, by the banks of the Vaigai River and continued his meditation there. After many years, Azhagar came to Madurai. Since he had to pass through forests, he dressed like a bandit it is said and therefore the name “Kalla Azhagar”. The Tamil word for bandit is ‘Kallan”

Kallazhagar came to Madurai with his entourage and blessed Mandooka and relieved him of his curse. He blessed the sage with visions of his ten ‘avatars’.

This festival of Azhagar coming to Thenur was being performed for many years by the Vaishnavites as a separate festival where Kallazhagar used to go from Azhagar Kovil to Thenur and back.

The Chittirai festival with Goddess Meenakshi’s wedding used to be celebrated by the Shaivites at Madurai. Credit goes to the great ruler Tirumalai Nayakkar for combining this Azhagar festival with the Chitrai festival. Nayakkar not only wanted to create bonhomie between the Shaivites and Vaishnavites, but wanted all communities to participate and prosper by this festival by inviting Azhagar to Madurai during the celestial wedding of Goddess Meenakshi.

He planned this in a beautiful manner and created a beautiful lore for this purpose…

Goddess Meenakshi invites her brother Kallazhagar for her wedding with Lord Sundareswara. Kallazhagar promises to attend and starts from Azhagar Kovil well in advance. But he has the tendency to stay at every place his devotees ask him to stay and bless them and so by the time he reaches the banks of Vaigai, the wedding is over. Goddess Meenakshi and Sundareswara, along with another incarnation of Vishnu, come to meet and welcome Kallazhagar.

 Kallazhagar is very much angry and disappointed that the wedding has been performed without his presence and turns to go back but is overwhelmed by the affection of the people who revere him and agrees to go to Vandiyur with them to relieve the curse of the sage Mandooka.

Here, it is understood that Tirumalai Nayakkar shifted the venue of this ritual in 1653 AD from Thenur to Vandiyur probably because Vandiyur was nearer to Madurai. He built a ‘Mandap’ at Vandiyur by name “Thenur Mandapam” where the Lord Kallazhagar could be worshipped and the ritual of granting relief to Mandooka Maharishi could take place.

After blessing the Maharishi, Azhagar goes back to Madurai and blesses his devotees with the visions of the ten ‘avatars’ (He is decorated in the forms of the ten avatars one by one) through the night and stays for one more day at Madurai. The next day in a floral decorated palanquin, Azhagar leaves for his abode Azhagar Kovil.

This event is celebrated year after year with pomp and gaiety and for any person born and brought up at Madurai, the mention of the Chittirai festival and Azhagar brings lots of nostalgia and joy to the mind.

The moment Azhagar reaches Madurai, he is welcomed with flower showers, crackers and music – the traditional Nadaswaram and Thavil (drum). Ladies welcome the Lord with ghee lamps made of rice flour and jaggery and sprouts called Mulappari. It is a sight of great religious fervour and joy and the welcoming ritual marks the grand entry of Azhagar into the city. Lots of folk dancers perform dance and music wearing their traditional costumes with their musical instruments in the respective folk styles.

In those days since the festival was in peak summer, maybe to quell the heat and to settle the dust due to huge crowds, there was this practice of spraying water with a leather pouch with tubes attached. This has become like a vow now and people pray for the wellbeing of their families and do this ritual in return. The male devotees offering this vow wear a colourful special dress made of velvet called ‘salladam’. The Pudu Mandapam which was built by Tirumalai Nayakkar is now the house of numerous tailors stitching these clothing and special caps for this vow. Even on this day tailors make good profit in the festival by stitching these special costumes.

Also it is the strong belief that the colour of the silk worn by Azhagar prior to the entry into the river Vaigai indicates how the year would be for the people. When Azhagar comes from his abode he comes dressed as a bandit in bandit costume (to escape from the bandits in the forest route!) Prior to stepping into the river he changes costume.  A number of silk sarees are kept in a wooden box and the priest blindfolded picks out one from the box. If the colour is green, it is believed that the year would prove prosperous. If red, it indicated famine and drought, if white or blue, it would be not too good nor too bad and if yellow, it symbolizes lot of auspicious happenings. So the people who are gathered in lakhs to see Azhagar step into the river wait with bated breath to see the colour of his silk!

On the whole, the Chittirai festival in its entirety brought enormous joy to all as everyone took part in the activities and the city of Madurai wears a festive look buzzing with fairs and melas bringing people from all walks of life together to carry home beautiful memories.

That’s what festivals of our great land Bharat were intended for!

Somu And The Coconut

In medieval India, in present day Tamilnadu, lived a person by name Somu. Somu was the most miserly fellow one could imagine. When he was eating, if he had to shoo away a crow, he would first lick his fingers clean and then only shoo the bird since he did not want the morsels on his finger to fall on the ground and the crow to eat them!!

Because of his miserly nature, he would never attend any weddings as he had to give some gift and he felt that it was a waste. Every night, it was his habit to count the money he had saved and he felt proud that he had saved ten thousand silver coins (rupya) till then.

One day he got an invitation from his cousin Ramu, to attend his daughter’s wedding. Ramu came personally with his wife and invited Somu and his wife in a traditional manner. He presented the invitation along with lot of fruits kept on a silver plate and also gifted them a silk dhoti and silk sari. “Somu Anna” he addressed him, “You being the eldest member of our family should certainly be present for the wedding ceremony. Please do not disappoint us”.

Somu was in a fix as he had accepted the silver plate which was easily quarter kilo in weight and also the silk dresses. If he did not attend the wedding, his relatives would all talk badly about him. So after lot of thought, he finally decided to attend the wedding with his wife and therefore with great effort he searched  out an old silk shawl gifted by somebody to him on his wedding and wrapped it up to give it as a gift. He and his wife attended the wedding and gifted the shawl and when they went to eat, Somu told his wife Jamuna, “Arre Jamuna, eat as much as you can as we have gifted a shawl to them, which is a very costly one!” So, he and Jamuna ate till their bellies were bursting. The food was very tasty especially the coconut barfi which had been prepared with ripe coconuts and rich ghee. Somu asked for two more and ate them but before he could ask for more, the batch in which he and his wife were eating finished eating and he had to get up.

Somu could not forget the barfi. It was so….. delicious, that the very thought of the barfi made him drool. Jamuna also liked the barfi very much. So after reaching home, he slowly asked his wife, “Jamuna, how many barfis can you make with a coconut?” Jamuna was shocked that Somu was asking such a question! He generally insisted that only the minimum food should be cooked.  “Well”, she said, “with a big coconut, I can make about twenty five pieces and with a small one, I can make ten to fifteen pieces. Why do you ask?” “Well Jamuna… er…… The coconut barfi in the wedding was so good that I wanted to eat some more. I know it will be costly to buy it from the shop. Here at home, you can use the ghee we sell from our cows. I need to buy the coconut and some sugar only. So… I thought if I can buy …..”

Jamuna was pleasantly shocked. She was a good cook and loved making good dishes but had to restrain herself due to the miserly nature of Somu. “Yes, yes,” she said with glee, “please buy a coconut and I shall make the most delicious barfi for you”.

So, with one silver coin (rupya), Somu set out to the shop. He went to a vegetable vendor and asked him the price of a coconut. “one rupya” said the vendor.” How many do you want?” Somu was shocked. He had not bought a coconut for months together and so he said, “One rupya! Atrocious! Can you not give it to me for twelve annas ?” Twelve annas equalled to almost seventy five paise.  The coconut vendor looked mockingly at him and said, “Twelve annas? You walk down two miles and you will find the whole sale vendor who will give you for that price”.

“Okay”, said Somu and walked down two miles in the hot sun. He came across the wholesale vendor and went to him and asked him the price. “Twelve annas” said the vendor. “Are you looting?”  asked Somu, “you are a whole sale vendor and you are selling at such a high price. Give me at eight annas”

The whole sale vendor looked at him in anger and said, “eight annas eh? Go down the road for another three miles and the coconut farm is there. You will get it there. Hmm!”

“If it will be that cheap” thought Somu, “I do not mind walking that distance” And so he set off to walk the three miles, puffing and panting and soon he reached the farm. There was a small shop outside with only the guard there and Somu told him that he wanted one coconut and asked the price. The guard was shocked as he had not seen anyone coming all this distance walking for the sake of just one coconut. “eight annas” said the guard. “what” said Somu, “I have walked all this distance and you are wanting eight annas? Give it for four annas”. The man looked at Somu wondering if he was mad. The in a fit of anger he said, “Oh, you have walked all this distance for this is it? Then why don’t you walk to the outskirts of this town and you will find coconut trees on the sides of the road. You can yourself climb and take how many ever for free!”

At the mention of the word “free” Somu pricked up his ears and started to walk in that direction immediately. He reached the outskirts and to his delight, found four coconut trees which belonged to no one. He was even more glad to see all of them with ten to fifteen coconuts each. “This is the best decision” he thought to himself.

He did not know how to climb a coconut tree though he had seen persons climbing coconut trees but if he had to ask anyone to climb, he would have to spend money and so he took off his towel from his shoulder and tied it around his legs like a rope and somehow grappled the trunk and after huffing and puffing for an hour, reached the top. He had imagined he could just pluck the coconut easily, but it was so difficult without a knife. He tugged and tugged at the coconut and plucked one. He wanted another one and succeeded in getting another.

Now, with two coconuts in hand, he could not climb down. As he tried to carefully slide down, “chhhharrraak….” his leg slipped. Shocked, Somu hurriedly caught one of the leaves (known as frond) and in the hurry could not save the coconut in that hand.  “Chapppaaakk…” It fell in the canal nearby. His leg also slipped and in a second, he was hanging holding his one hand on to the frond . He held  the coconut in the other hand.

“Help… help” he yelled at the top of his voice, his body dangling in the air. There was no one nearby. “hello… is not any one nearby? Hello…” he shouted. No use. Nobody was in sight. He cursed himself for wanting to eat a coconut barfi and cursed his cousin for serving the tasty barfi at the wedding prompting him to go on a coconut hunt!!

He hung on to the frond for some time yelling and shouting and after about half an hour, he spotted someone. Yes.. there was a man coming on an elephant. Somu raised his voice and started shouting again.  The man noticed Somu and came nearby. “Help me Sir.. please…” Somu was almost in tears. The man looked at Somu and said, “Look here, I am a senior person in the king’s army and am on a job given by the King. What will you give me for the time I waste in helping you huh?”  Somu’s plight was such that he would have to give anything the person demanded. “What do you want Sir?” asked Somu hoping that the fellow would not ask much.

“Five hundred rupya” , said the man. Somu almost dropped down in shock. Then, composing himself , he said, “Ok Sir, please bring the elephant below the tree. I shall give what you ask” The man brought the elephant below the tree below the frond onto which Somu was hanging. There was still five feet between the elephant’s back and Somu. The man said, “I will stand up on the back of the elephant and help you get down.” So saying, he  stood up reaching Somu’s leg , expecting the elephant to stand still. Alas, at the same time the elephant spotted the coconut lying in the canal nearby and moved ahead to pick it up. The sudden jerk upset the man and in the process, the man caught Somu’s leg and the elephant moved from under his feet!!

What a sight to see it was!! Now, instead of one, two were hanging one after another  from the coconut frond  and the elephant was wandering somewhere nearby. “Help… help…” Both of them shouted. The man was cursing Somu. “The King had given me an important job and now if it is not done…. What a fool I was to come and help you…”

Just then a man on horse was going by. Luckily he happened to be working in the army under the man on the elephant. “Hey Kumar” shouted the man hanging on to Somu’s leg, “come here and help us to get down”. The man looked up and almost burst out in laughter to see the comical sight but held himself in fear of his boss. As he came near, the elephant rider said, “Come quick, this fellow has made me late for work. I will lose my job”  And briefly he told the horseman what had happened. The horseman looked at Somu and said, “Okay I will help you but you will have to pay me two hundred silver coins” Somu almost had a heart attack and in the shock dropped the other coconut. It hit the horseman on his shoulder. The man looked up with anger and said, “How dare you throw the coconut on me? I will not help..” and started moving.

“Wait.. wait.. wait” said Somu, I shall give you three hundred silver coins. Please..  please help” The man waited for few minutes and then decided to  help them. Slowly, he brought the horse near and told them to balance and get down on the horse. The elephant rider got down skilfully as he was used to such things, but Somu in his hurry jumped with a thud on the horse’s back that the horse jumped with shock and  Pachaaaak…,Somu was thrown to the ground. He got hurt but had no time to fret as the elephant man and horseman were peering down at him demanding his address to come and get their share of money.

After they left, Somu picked up the coconut and trudged home slowly. He reached by evening and Jamuna was shocked to see his state. “Take this coconut and keep it in the almirah safely” said Somu. Jamuna was puzzled. What about the barfi, she thought. “Arre, do not imagine even of the barfi. This coconut is very very costly. It cost me eight hundred silver coins!!

Jamuna fell down with shock not at the price but at the fact that her husband spent so much and was telling it coolly to her!!

Blind Luck

This is a folk tale from the North of India.

Long long ago, there lived an old man near the city of Varanasi. His wife had died young and he had two sons. The elder one, Sonu, was blind at birth and the younger one Monu was a happy go lucky fellow hardly caring to educate himself or do any work.  Sonu, though blind had been bestowed with a rare power and that was to understand the language of the birds and animals. He would listen to their language and come to know of the happenings around him.

The old man had some wealth and so they were living peacefully. However, the man fell ill after some time and was lying in his death bed.

He called both his sons near him and said to Monu, “Monu, please do not leave the side of your elder brother ever. Even if you have to beg and eat, please take your brother with you and share the food. Please promise me this…” Monu kept his palm on his father’s palm and promised and the old man fell dead. After the rituals for the man had been performed, both the brothers sustained on the little wealth that had been saved by their father. After some time, the wealth was over and Monu started selling the assets one by one and finally sold the house also and spent the money.

Finally, they had to resort to begging. As his father had told him, he did not leave his blind brother and took him along wherever he went. The people of the city pitied the brothers in the beginning but slowly started to think that Monu being a healthy fellow could go for a job but had resorted to begging and they refused to give them food. Monu started feeling that his brother was a burden as he could not find food for himself and kept on thinking on why he should stick to the promise made by him to his father. So, one day, he decided that he would leave his blind brother in the forest. He told his brother that they were going for a walk and took him deep inside the forest and told him to stay there till he brought him fruits. He also bound one hand of his brother to a tree saying that since it was a new place, it would be difficult to locate him when he came back with fruits, if he went astray.

Sonu, being a simpleton, believed in what his brother said and waited under the tree, his one hand bound to the trunk of the tree. He kept on expecting his brother to come and he was feeling very hungry. Time passed but there was no sign of Monu. Slowly, it dawned on Sonu that his brother had betrayed him. He could sense that it was nearing evening. He could hear the shrill calls of the birds returning to their nests and could also hear the far off growls of the wild animals.

As he thought of his fate in the dark unknown forest, he was terrified. Further, he could not even run away because his hand was bound to the tree. After a few moments, he remembered that he had a small knife in his cummerbund. With the free hand, he pulled out the knife and cut off the ropes. Suddenly, he could hear the growls of the animals nearer and in sheer desperation, climbed up the tree to a safe height and sat on a branch.

As the sun set, many animals converged under the tree on which he was sitting. Amongst them were a lion, a cheetah and a bear. Though Sonu could not see them, being able to understand the language of the animals and birds, it was interesting for him to hear their conversation. Soon it was pitch dark.

“Hey cheetah!” said the lion, “Tell us some new secret you know!”

“Hmmm…… Well, do you know that this very tree under which we are standing is a magical tree?”

Sonu now pricked up his ears as the conversation continued.

The cheetah continued, “Do any one of you know that the pulp from the bark of this tree, if put into the eyes, can cure a blind man?” “Oh, is it?” asked the lion. Sonu, astonished at what he had heard just then, scratched the bark of the branch on which he was sitting with the knife he had and found that a pulpy substance oozed out. He applied the substance in his eyes and lo and behold! He could see even in the pitch dark of the night. He looked down to see a cheetah, a bear, a lion and various other animals and was amazed at his newfound sense.

The bear now spoke, “Hey, I know a secret too!” “What?” asked the others. “Did you know that the princess of this kingdom is always ill? And nobody knows why. But I know…” The animals looked amused as the bear continued. “There is a small black cat curled up underneath the princess’s bed and not even the princess or her maids or security guards know about it. The cat carries the evil spell of a witch. If the cat is removed from underneath her bed, the princess will be okay immediately. But the poor king not knowing this is asking doctors from all over the country to treat her…Ha ha ha…., now Lion, you tell us the secret you know”. Sonu listened with awe.

The Lion gave a growl and started his secret. “Hey buddies, do you know, there is a village by name Soonapur at the end of this forest and true to its name, the village has become very scarcely populated due to a strange happening there” Sonu and the animals listened with great interest. The lion continued, lowering his voice. Sonu had to strain to listen to what the lion was saying. “All the children in Soonapur die as soon as they are born and all the elders in the city are suffering from a strange illness for the past two months. Their spinal cords have become twisted all of a sudden and they are becoming hunchbacks. None of them know why this is happening and they are at a loss to know what to do to stop this happening.” The lion stopped and all the animals stared at him, expecting him to continue. The Lion continued, “There is an old Peepul tree near an abandoned temple in the village and there lives a black cobra in a hole in the tree. If anyone feeds milk to the cobra in a black pot early exactly at mid day, it will drink it and leave the tree. Then the spell of the village will be lifted”

Sonu had listened with total concentration and was extremely excited. Soon the voices were lowered and the animals slept under the tree. At day break, the animals got up and went their ways. Sonu enjoyed the brightness of the light which he was seeing for the first time in his life. He savoured the beauty of the forest, its trees, waterholes and all and slowly walked in some direction. Luckily he spotted the village Soonapur soon. He was surprised that what the lion had said was true. He enquired with the people about the tragedy and was pained to hear their story. He consoled them and promised that he would put an end to their tragedy by that evening. He got a black pot from one of the villagers and some milk and went in search of the abandoned temple. He found the tree and the hole before midday and placed the pot with milk in front and prayed with folded hands. After a while, a black cobra slid down from the hole and drank the milk and glided into the thick vegetation swiftly.

The next minute the people of Soonapur felt a tingle in their spines and were surprised to find their backs becoming straight. Sonu was returning from the temple, when all the people rushed out and showered him with lot of money and gifts. Sonu told them to wait until he went on another mission and promised that he would be back soon.

He walked on and on and by the night, reached the capital city. Though it was very late, he reached the palace and asked for an audience with the king. The gatekeepers refused but seeing his insistence, they went and reported the matter to the king. The king called and asked Sonu about his mission and Sonu claimed that he could cure the illness of the Princess. The King was furious as he thought Sonu was a joker and said, “Look here, I have tried the services of the best doctors in this country and it has been of no avail. If you have come here to play any kind of joke, beware! This sword of mine is very sharp and can chop your head in a second”. Sonu was least flustered by the king’s words. “Your Highness, said he, I am confident that your daughter will be up by tomorrow noon, and when I cure her, will you give what I want?

“Yes” said the king totally sure that the boy would be the prey to his sword the next day.

The next day, Sonu went to the chamber where the princess lay. The chamber was the highest room in the king’s fort and out of the window in the chamber; one could see the deep river gushing with fury miles and miles below. He asked all the security men and maids to leave and they all obeyed as it was the king’s order that Sonu should be given what he wanted, to cure the princess. Sonu went in and closed the doors. He opened the window and peered underneath the bed of the princess. The princess was in deep sleep. There was a tiny black cat curled up under the bed. In a moment, he picked it and flung it down into the river through the window.

After a while, the princess jumped up from bed. “Why was I sleeping so long? I am hungry” she said as Sonu opened the door to the curious onlookers which included the king. The princess ran up to the king and hugged him. “Papa, why did I sleep so long?” she asked in her sweet voice. The king saw that she was perfectly okay and was overwhelmed with joy. Even without Sonu asking for it, he offered the princess hand in wedding to him and overnight Sonu became a Prince, the son in law of the king.

He spent happy days and went back to Soonapur and met the people, who were very happy and showered him with gifts. As he was going back to the palace, he saw a beggar in tattered robes and the beggar was sobbing. Sonu recognised that it was Monu and went up to him and talked to him. Monu was extremely surprised at the blind luck which had befallen his brother. He was ashamed when Sonu was still affectionate to him even as he had ditched him in the jungle. He asked for forgiveness and Sonu, a good person he was forgave him readily and gave him money to start a new business and Monu turned a new leaf and they all lived happily ever after.

 

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