In terms of culture and religion, India is one of the most diverse countries in the world. There is a festival celebrated most days of the year, in some part of the country, but only three national holidays that are celebrated by everyone in India - in all states and union territories. These are Independence Day, Republic Day, and Gandhi Jayanti.
Gandhi Jayanti honours Mahatma Gandhi, considered the "Father of the Nation," and is celebrated on his birthday, October 2nd. The day is one of prayer service and tributes all over India, especially at Raj Ghat, Gandhi's memorial in New Delhi. Popular celebration includes prayer meetings, honorary ceremonies and educating the young on Gandhi and his life.
The Hindu celebrations of Diwali, Holi, Pongal and Dussehra are the most popular religious holidays in India and therefore are considered by the government to be public holidays. More commonly known as the "Festival of Lights," Diwali, is a major Hindu festival which celebrates the victory of good over evil. Celebrations focus on lights and, more recently, fireworks.
The annual Hindu spring festival is called Holi, or the "Festival of Colors." Holi takes place in late March or early April and lasts for five days. The holiday is meant to honour the death of Holika, in order to save Prahlad.
Pongal is a thanksgiving festival, traditionally celebrated at the time of harvesting of the crops, and as a result the celebration is a success-related event.
Duseehra is among the most important festivals celebrated in Southern India. The 10 day celebration, includes activities ranging from worshipping goddesses to exhibiting colourful toys and it is particularly known as the day of worshipping weapons; more recently, "weapons" have been replaced with "tools of the trade," therefore people worship items such as computers, cars, machines, and cooking utensils.
Madurai is famous for its spirit of festivity. There are a number of festivals celebrated in the city, forming an important part of its cultural heritage. People from across the globe gather here to be a part of these festivals. All the major festivals in the Madurai city of Tamil Nadu are celebrated with great pomp and show and the city is swept away by the tides of spirituality. In order to be blessed and to satisfy their desires, people celebrate the festivals with great enthusiasm. Seasonal Festivals.
- Float Festival - January to February
- Chithrai Festival - April to May
- Vasantotsavam Festival - May - June
- Avani Moolam Festival - August-September
- Navarathri Festival - September
Madurai festivals form an integral part of the society of the city. Pongal, Festival of Cradle, dance festivals, Avanimoolam festival, Jallikattu, Navarathri festival and Chithirai festival are some of the major festivals of the city that are celebrated with pomp and pageant.
Pongal festival is celebrated in January. It is celebrated to pay tribute to the Sun God, as well as nature and cattle and it marks the harvesting of crops and is observed in Madurai for three days.
The first day of the festival, which is called Bogi, is marked by lots of festivities. On this day, the people of the city paint their homes, remove old items and decorate with new ornaments. On the second day of the festival, known as Pongal, festoons of mango leaves adorn the houses while the city takes part in the festivities. On the third day, known as Mattu Pongal, the inhabitants of the city pay tribute to the cattle.
Bogi is associated with the legend of Lord Indra and Lord Krishna. It is said that in order to teach Lord Indra a lesson, Lord Krishna persuaded his friends to worship Mount Govardhan, instead of Lord Indra. This angered Lord Indra, who sent rain and flood. Lord Krishna lifted the mount on his little finger and so saved the people from heavy rainfall.
Pongal recipes form an integral part of the festivities. Ven Pongal, Chackra Pongal, Sakkarai Pongal, Rice Pongal, Rava Pongal and Khara Pongal are some of the principle recipes prepared during this time. Other dishes that are prepared during Pongal are soft idlis, pineapple rasam, paper dosai, boonda, rajma curry, rice and green gram dhal pongal, milk payasam and bread idli.
Also known as Manju Virattu, Jallikattu, is celebrated in Madurai in the month of January and is associated Pongal celebrations. This festival of Madurai is celebrated with a lot of pomp and pageantry and is held in an open space, where people of the neighbouring villages gather to watch the bull fights. It is generally held in Alanganallur. Jallikattu is also held in Palemedu, near Madurai.
During this festival, an agitated bull is set free in an open space whilst several people try to tame the animal. In many instances, more than one bull is let loose in the field. It is noteworthy that only men are allowed to participate in Jallikattu (Taming the Bull). Women are exempt from participating in the festival. The winner of the Jallikattu is given a prize, which is generally tied to the bull's horns. It is interesting to note that the game was initially used by the women of the region to find a suitor. According to the legend, suitable grooms were selected on this occasion.
Dedicated to the Goddess Meenakshi and the Lord Shiva, the titular deities of the city, this is one of the most popular festivals of Madurai. During this time thecity comes alive with a number of celebrations.
During the Festival of Cradle, Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar are taken to a mirror chamber in a huge procession, where they are placed in a gently rocking swing for nine days.
The Chithirai festival marks the beginning of the financial year. On this occasion, the images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses are taken to Vaigai River. The deities are carried to the river in a huge procession. Thousands of devotees come together to participate in this auspicious occasion that is marked by revelry and merriment.
Celebrated during the month of September, this festival of Madurai marks the coronation of Lord Sundareswarar, the titular deity of the city. During the festival, the people of Madurai perform a play, which is popularly called 'Lila'. On this occasion, the temple priest of Madurai narrates the stories related to the miracles of Lord Shiva. Of the stories narrated during Avanimoolam festival, the 64 miracles of Lord Shiva that saved the city from the different kinds of adversities deserve special mention. Besides these festivals, one can also come across a number of other festivals in Madurai mentioned below.
Float festival in Madurai is the occasion when God Alagar, also known as Lord Vishnu, married his sister Goddess Meenakshi to Lord Shiva. On this occasion, people of Madurai dress themselves in yellow and red. People also dance and spray color on each other on this auspicious occasion.
The float festival in Madurai is celebrated on the full moon night between the months of January and February. On this occasion, the images of Lord Sundaresa and Goddess Meenakshi are taken out of the Meenakshi temple. The deities, decked with pearl crowns and mounted on a golden bull, are taken out in a procession. The icons of the deities are then floated in Mariamman Theppakulam in Vandiyur.
Mariamman Theppakulam is situated about 5 kilometers Southeast of Meenakshi Temple. A large temple tank, built in 1636, it measures 1,100 feet in length and about 950 feet in breadth. It has an island pavilion at its centre. The island also has a temple that enshrines the image of the elephant-faced Hindu God, Lord Vigneshwara. The water of the Mariamman Theppakulam turns colourful on this occasion. Devotees float the images of the deities in decorated floats. Moreover, the tank is connected through underground channels to river Vaigai. Tirumala Nayak is said to have constructed the granite steps surrounding the tank.
This festival is one of the most popular festivals of Madurai. It is celebrated in the honour of Goddess Meenakshi. The Goddess is worshiped in her nine forms during the festival. Navarathri Festival in Madurai is celebrated in the month of 'asvina' (according to to the Hindu almanac). According to the Tamil calendar, Navarathri is held in nine lunar days that are said to begin after the new moon in 'purattaci' (September-October). The festivities of Navarathri begin with the first phase of the moon after Mahalaya Amavasya and conclude with Dussehra or Vijaya Dasami, as it is popularly called.
Navarathri (Nine nights) Festival celebrates the victory of Goddess Sakti over Mahisasura, the buffalo-demon. Goddess Sakti is said to have killed the demon on the eighth lunar day. Therefore, the eighth day of the festival is also known as 'Mahastami'. On this occasion, the devotees of Goddess Sakti fast for nine days. Many people refrain from having non-vegetarian food.