Celestial wedding of goddess Meenakshi of Madurai - part of Chithirai festival

The month of Chithirai (April-May), according to the Tamil Calendar, is a festival month for the Hindu temples - (Star on the Pournami: Chithirai. Chitra Pournami & Varusha pirappu -Tamil New year day  are the most important festivals in this month. The famous Chithirai Thiruvizha is celebrated in Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple. 14 April is the Tamil New Year). Chithirai Festival is a popular one and closely associated with Madurai city of Tamil Nadu. Considered as  the longest celebrated festivals in the world, it lasts for one month and is divided into two parts. In the first 15 days of the festival, there are  celebrations related to coronation of Goddess Meenakshi and the wedding  of Lord Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva) and Goddess Meenakshi. This is a Saivite festival based on Saivite tradition of worship.  The second half consisting of roughly 15 days is dominated by the celebrations of the Journey of Lord Azhagar (lord Maha Vishnu) from Azhagar Temple in Azhagarmalai, near  Madurai. This one is Vaishnavite festival, following Vaishnava tradition This festival attracts around 1 million people from different places of Tamil Nadu and other places. The entire city wears a festive look and amazingly devotees attend the festival with devotion and bakthi unmindful of  hot, dry  summer heat. These two important festivals point out that both Shiva and Vishnu are one, though the people following them follow different traditions. 

It was during the reign  of king Thirumalai Nayakar both festivals became  merged as one single event to prove that Saivaism and Vaishavism  preach almost the same religious tenets with minor variations. Since  his time Chithirai Thiruvizha has become a great and grand  religious event in the the Tamil month of Chithirai. No other Indian cities have closer connection with Chithirai temple festival than  Madurai city. Chithirai Festival dates in 2017 may fall between 29th April till 10th May. No doubt, Chithirai festival is synonymous with Madurai city,  just like Thirussur with  the Poorum festival.

Meenakshi marrying Lord Sundereswarer, Madurai. www.pinterest.com

 Legend has it that Meenakshi  was the daughter of Pandya king Malayathuvasa Pandian and queen Kanchana Malai, The childless Pandya King and his wife  did special prayer to god to be blessed with a child. While doing  Putra Kameshti Yagna,  a small beautiful girl came out of the fire and sat on the lap of the king. A divine voice (Asiriri) from the sky told the royal couple that the child sitting on the lap  was none other than an incarnation of  of Sakthi (consort  of Lord Shiva) and Lord Shiva would  take her as his wife one day at the right age.  As Meenakshi  grew in the royal palace with love and care, she was trained in various aspects of royal administration, including  warfare, etc. She  was crowned as the Queen of Pandya kingdom after her father. As the head of the kingdom, she fought many a battle  in countries scattered in eight directions and, on one occasion, went to  Kailasham (the Place of Lord Shiva) to conquer it. When Meenakshi met Lord Shiva face to face at the battlefield, she immediately felt shy and  fell in love with him. She realized that she was, in reality,  an avatar of Sakthi and Lord Shiva's consort.

Madurai city map MADURA WELCOME

The wedding of Meenakshi (Goddess Parvathi) with Sundareswarer (Lord Shiva ) was to be held in  Madurai and Meenakshi's brother Alagar (Lord Vishnu), was to attend the wedding. His abode was on the Azhagar hills, a rugged, wooded terrain near the city. Azhgar (Vishnu began his  long journey towards Madurai disguising as a robber. This was to protect his valuable possessions. Because he had to cross the dense forest, his arduous journey  got delayed and by the time he had reached near Madurai, while crossing the river Vaigai, he learned that his sister Meenakshi's wedding with Lord Shiva was already over. When Lord Shiva and Meenakshi came to know of Vishnu's visit near Madurai and  of his unhappiness over the conduct of marriage not in his presence, they came to the Vaigai river to pacify him. Having become subdued, Azhagar presented  all the gifts that he carried, to Meenakshi and Shiva in a Mandapam in the middle of Vaigai river, and returned to Azhagar Hill without entering Madurai.

Meenakshi temple, model , Madurai Heritage Madurai
celestial wedding of Meenaskshi, Madurai  aarkaytamil.blogspot.com5

That Lord Vishnu, the elder brother of Meenaskshi could not attend the wedding and returns to his abode Azgharmalai, is a different legend and is part of Chithirai festival that last for roughly two weeks.