Festivals of Tamil Nadu

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. A brief narration 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.

Rare Festivals

Festivals are celebrated nearly every fortnight in Tamil Nadu.  However, a few major religious festivals are rare events.  Considered as the Mahakumbh Mela of the south, the Mahamagam Festival of Kumbakonam happens once in 12 years.  Lakhs of devotees congregate to take a holy bath at the sacred tank of Adi Kumbeswara Temple.  Celebrated when planet Jupiter enters Leo, the Mamagam marks the auspicious time when all the holy rivers of India come to bathe in the sacred tank and rid the accumulated sins of people who took a dip in their waters.  The last festival took place in 2016 and the next will take place in 2028.
The ancient Varadaraja Perumal Temple at Kanchipuram witnesses another rare festival.  The original idol Athi Varadan, made of wood from the Athi tree, lies at the bottom of the temple tank.  Once in 40 years, the idol is removed and placed outside for 10 days of public worship.  The last event took place in 1979 and the next one is slated for 2019.

January

Pongal

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 a open corridor and newly harvested rice and milk are cooked. As the milk boils over, people shout in chorus " Pongalo Pongal! Pongalo Pongal!!".  Tamil Nadu Government has declared 1st 'Thai" as the Tamil New Year day and a legislation to this effect was enacted on 01.02.2008.  Therefore, the people of Tamil Nadu now celebrate Pongal and Tamil New Year day on 1st 'Thai' with redoubled joy.  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 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 calle "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 see their blessings.

Jalli Kattu - Bullfight

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 dreams 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 last for nearly 3 months.

Dance Festivals - 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 co 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 artistes.  Folk dances also form part of the festivals.  Mamallapuram is just 58km. south of Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu.

February, March & April

Sivarathri

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 Kapaliswarar 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.

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

The Summer Festival is celebrated in hill stations like Ooty, Kodaikanal, Yercaud etc.  It is 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 river will be in spate after trains.  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 'Koluttattai' using about 80 kilos or rice, jaggery, coconut all dhall is prepared.  It is backed for 3 days and offered to the deity.  Lakhs of people from all over Tamil Nadu throng there on that day.  Pillaiyarpatti is near Karaikudi about 500km 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 fold 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

Navarathri

Festival of nine nights: 'Navam' means nine and 'rathri'  means night.  It is the festival of Goddess 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 f wealth and the last 3 days are devoted to Saraswathi, the goddess of learning.  On the ninth day, a pooja for 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 vehicheles 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 in 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. 10/- to Rs. 5000.  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's 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 occur 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

Deepavali

This is the most important festival that brings joy to both the rich and the poor.  This is also called 'Naraka Chathudasi', on which day the fear some 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.

Arudra Darshan or Thiruvadhirai Festival

It is festival observed by Saivaites or the devotees of Siva.  The cosmic dancer Lord Siva gives darshan on this day. It is observed all Siva temples.  Very early in the morning special ablutions are done to the dancing idol of Siva and He is taken in a procession.  On this day in the houses, people prepare a sweet called 'Kali' 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.  A colorful and enchanting programmed of dances like Bharatha Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Odissi and Kathak are performed.

Karthigai 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 i 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 litres 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 trace 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, al 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 festival like Ramzhan, Bakrid, Milad-un-Nabi etc.  and all the Christian festivals like the New Year Day, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, 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'.