The auspicious Tamil month of Margazhi and fascinating Hindu festivals

The auspicious month of Margasheersha, also known as Margazhi,  according to the Tamil Calendar, had just begun a few days ago this year. Much has been written about this holy month and and its religious importance,  so I am not going to harp on the same tune. However, it is imperative to under the basic  importance of this month for the devout Hindus. Discussed briefly here under are the various important Hindu festivals, etc that promote spiritual awakening and devotion.

India being a land with  deeply embedded in spiritual mooring,  people nurture spiritual growth and engagement.  When it comes to Vratam (fasting) and  special pujas (prayer) as part of temple festivals, shadhana, engagement in spiritual discussions, discourses, devotional music, etc., no other Tamil month assumes  greater significance than this month that marks the end of Sun's journey toward the south - Dakshiyana,  denoting the  end of the second half of  the  year often referred to as   Sadhanapada. (after this month, the Uttarayana - northward movement of the Sun begins). 

It is in the second half  of the year - Sadhanapada, we engage in  activities like sowing seeds, etc, besides spiritual engagement, and in the next period - Uttarayana of Kaivalyapada  periodwe  toil and sweat it  out on the land. This is done by farmers and agriculturists. It is a period of enjoying the fruits of one’s own labour. Rice, Rabi crops,etc are harvested in this period. People engage in devotional activities for  better weather and harvest. The cool condition is conducive to sadhana /physical hard work on the fertile  lands. In the 'harvest' season, again we thank the god for his bountiful nature and good harvest.  Thus many colorful Hindu festivals underscore an acceptable meaning and purpose connecting our sustenance on this earth with the grace of Almighty.  

That the spiritual engagement  imbibes a sense of purpose  and direction  on 'the right path' is to be understood.   Sri Krishna (vide: Bhagvadgeeta), is the Margasheersha, indicating that he himself puts the Bhakta - devotee on the path towards the divine.

Deities Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu,  Goddess Para Shakti and others in the Hindu pantheon  are propitiated in this month.  The is the last phase of the second half of the year according to the Hindu Calendar, hence in line,  are an array of Hindu festivals, each assuming its own importance. 
They are:

 a. The Shukla Ekadashi (Vaikuntha Ekadasi):

Vaikunda Ekadasi festival, Srirangam, TN,

Above image:  Namperumal attired in ‘Ratnangi’ passing through the Paramapada Vasal on the occasion of Vaikunda Ekadasi festival at Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam .........................

The Shukla Ekadashi refers to the 11th day of the waxing moon phase.  Vaikuntha Ekadasi is celebrated on a grand scale at famous Vaishnavite temples like of TN like Srirangam, Kanchipuram and Tirupahi (Andhra), and other temples.  The Vaishnavites (Worship of Vishnu)  believe that ‘Vaikunta Dwaram’ or ‘the gate to the Lord's inner Sanctum’ is opened on this day. This also  is known as a 'Mokshada Ekadashi.' Mokshada (the giver of Moksha- salvation (free from rebirth) Ekadashi.

 Special prayers, yagnas and  religious discourses are held at Vishnu temples across South India in particular. The Shaiva sect observes the day as Trikoti Ekadashi, where all the deities in the Hindu pantheon pay obeisance to Lord Sri Shiva - en embodiment of Pancha boothas (five elements)  at once.

b. The Krishna Paksha Ashtami:

Kalabhairava, mount dog. en.wikipedia. org

 The Krishna Paksha Ashtami  is the 23rd Tithi (lunar day) and is also known as “Kala Ashtami” as Kala Bhairava; the fierce form of Lord Shiva is the ruling deity of the day. Also known as Vairavar in Tamil, Bhairava is a manifestation of Shiva's anger. Worshiping Bhairava, it is believed,  on waning Ashtami Tithi will get rid of negative vibrations  and  negative energies and it helps us become more assertive with firm determination. Appeasing the God shall also ensure confidence and determination in mind to engage in our endeavor. Tradition has been that  regarding new venture, education, marriage,  construction  of house, etc.,or long travel, this day is not suitable for such activities. Hindus normally avoid this day. Generally, the day is not considered auspicious to start any new venture, education, marriage, construction or travel. The most appropriate   worship of Lord Kala Bhairava in Shiva temple  and feed stray dogs. Hence it is referred to as Kala Bhairava Jayanthi- the day  Shiva manifested himself as Kalabhairava. People who gain the blessings of Kala Bhairava will attain prosperity,  better health, happiness,  success and most importantly longevity. 
Gain the blessings of Kala Bhairava and ancestors will give us  relief from diseases and prevent mishaps.

c. Thiruvathira or Arudhra Darisanam:

Arudhra Darisanam,

Thiruvathira  or Arudhra Darisanam, a major Hindu festival celebrated in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Arudhra,  in Tamil  it means "sacred big wave"implying that God Shiva, the cosmic dancer is engaged in the job of creation of the universe on one side (and destruction on the other to maintain isostasy  - perfect balance).  At Chidambaram temple T.N.,  it is a10 day festival  held during Thiruvathirai. On the 9th day night (i.e., 10th day very early morning) Maha Abhishekam will be done to Lord Nataraja and Goddess Sivakamasundari at Raja Sabhai at around 3 am.  At Mathira Peedika Devi Temple near Kadakkal in Kollam District of Kerala state, Thiruvathira has a connection with lord moon. Thiruvadirai - Arudra Darisanam is held with sincere devotion  in 5 Sabhas of Sri Natarajar namely 1) Kanakasabha (Gold) - at Chidambaram (Thillai or Tillai), 2) Velli Sabhai (Silver) at Madurai, 3) Ratnasabha (Ruby) at Tiruvalankadu, 4) Tamrasabha (Copper) at Tirunelveli, 5) Chitrasabha (Pictures) at Kutralam.

d. Dattatreya Jayanti:


Dattatreya Jayanti occurs on Poornima (full moon day) of the Margashirsha.  It is a Hindu festival, commemorating the birth day celebration of the Hindu god Dattatreya (Datta), a combined form of the Hindu male divine trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.  
Son of the sage Atri and his wife Anasuya. Once, on instruction from their consorts to test the character of sage's wife Anusuya, the trinity gods came to her' hut  in the disguise of sanyasis (ascetics) and asked her to give them alms naked. Being a virtuous women, she was cool and composed. What she did was, with her mystic power,  she converted them into three babies and breast-fed them. The three gods' consorts sought forgiveness from Anusuya and upon this the pious woman transformed  them into a single baby with three heads and six arms. The Trimurti (Trinity) then appeared in their true form, before Atri and Anasuya, and blessed them with a son Dattatreya. It is celebrated on the full moon day of the Margashirsha (Agrahayana) month according to the Hindu Calendar (December/January). This festival does not have any fixed date; it is  marked by the recitation of the Shri ''Gurucharitra''. Here the presence of the heads, etc implies the three gunas and traits of theTrinity Gods - Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma.

 e. Katyayani Vrata:

Katyayani Vrata  refers to a month-long  worship of the demi-goddess Katyayani, believed to be,  God Sri Krishna's

Kid God' Krishna's pranks.

material, illusory energy. Krishna's cowherd girlfriends, the gopis, worship the demi-goddess to get  Krishna as their husband. The Srimad-Bhagavatam  has a chapter on
"Krishna Steals the Garments of the Unmarried Gopi Girls., one of his pranks being stealing gopika sthrees (cow herad girls') clothes on the river banks while bathing.  The deity of goddess Katyayani is in front of the tree in which Krishna is sitting.

f. Pilgrimage to Sri Ayyappa Swamy of  Sabarimala, Kerala:

Sri Ayyappa Swamy, Sabarimala,Kerala

The pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Sri Ayyappa Swamy  in Sabarimala is popular and it is one of the most revered shrines in south India. During the Mandala Makaravilakku season  (two-month-long annual pilgrim season), more than one million devotees visit the temple hiking rugged trail barefoot, strictly following certain austerity, including fasting .  The shrine is in the midst of dense forest in Western Ghat mountains close to Kerala and Tamil Nadu borders.  Normally, woman below 12 and above 50 (who have attained menopause) are allowed inside the premises as the main deity happens to be a strict celibate. The non-entry of  women of measurable age became a serious issue and the case is before the Supreme Court, Delhi.  Mandala Puja and Makar Sankranti Puja are the two main  events when people undertake the  difficult pilgrimage.

Margazhi Music season, Tamil Nadu:

 In Tamil Nadu, Carnatic  music  performances  are  common in important cities. In particular, in Chennai almost all sabhas are packed to the capacity during this Margazhi season.   An engaging mix  of greatest forms of Art, Music & Dance Festival occupies the Carnatic music lovers during the months of mid-December and mid-January.   This Margazhi Festival season is a worthy engagement, an opportunity to relax and quietly  listen to soul stirring music and  colorful dances  by stalwarts. It is also a rare chance to get immersed in  soulful devotional songs of Thirupavai. The month of Margazhi (December 14 to January 14) is  synonymous with rendering of Thirupavai at Vishnu temples, particularly, in Tamil Nadu. Andal or Kothai Nachiyar is the one who composed  heart rending Thirupavai devotional hymns  in chaste Tamil. That a whooping 300 plus concerts take place during this  season is itself a proof how the elite people  of Chennai city are addicted to age-old traditional Indian music and dances. Included in these concerts are fascinating solo performances by great music  players  who showcase their mastery over the traditional  instruments, including percussion forms.

Sri Thygaraja Aradhana at Thiruvaiyaru (Thanjavur), Tamil Nadu:

Sri Thygaraja Aradhana, Thiruvaiyaru, TN.

Invariably, Sri Thygaraja Aradhana (Sanskrit; meaning act of glorifying God or a person) falls in Margazhi at Thiruvaiyru on the banks of the Cauvery river, close to Thanjavur city. An annual  musical tribute by the Carnatic musicians  in honor of the great saint and Telugu poet who wrote countless compositions  in chaste Telugu. The prospective Carnatic Music students are expected to have a good grasp of Sri Thygaraja's compositions. The festival is also observed in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana. It was at Thiruvaiyaru,  Saint Sri  Tyagaraja, an ardent devotee of Sri Rama,  attained Samadhi in 1847,  a few days before his demise, he became a Sanyasi.  Born on 1767 at Tiruvarur, TN, the saint  settled down at Thirumanchana Veedhi in Thiruvaiyaru and engaged in religious activities, Bhajans, etc.  He never sought material happiness; he  is believed to be the incarnation of sage Valmiki, who wrote the Ramayana.

 stone image of Sri Tyagaraja Swamy, samadhi/Temple

The Aradhana is observed on Pushya Bahula Panchami day when the saint attained samadhi, where the musicians will render the saint's Pancharatna Kritis.

Paavai Nonbu, Tamil Nadu:

Paavai Nombu, Mgazhi monthe.

 Paavai Nonbuin in the Tamil month of Margazhi is an important festival dedicated to Goddess Andal.  Devotional Andal songs of Thirupavai  reverberates at all  Sri Vishnu temples.Thirupavai has inspired countless classical dancers. The colorful display of dances is choreographed in different styles  and Andal songs are set to music for them. Mrs Vaijayanthimala (ex Famous Hindi  and Tamil actress) has made a grand contribution in spreading Andal's famous Tirupavai by her impressive  choreography, style and presentation. This is also true of great dancer and stalwart Padma Subramanuam, the youngest daughter of late K. Subramanium,MA. BL, the father of Tamil Cinema who directed lots of successful vintage movies. She presented  quite fascinating Thrupavai in ballet form before many audiences.   

Andal, who holds  Paavai Nombu sees this world as an amazing creation of the almighty where the alluring attractions are transitory. The most  precious  thing is to get God's divine grace that will get us salvation free from birth and death cycles.