''Margazhi'' month - a period of tradition-bound Hindu temple festivals

Tamil month of Margazhi (Mid Dec. to Mid Jan).facebook.com

In the vicinity of  Hindu temples,  the soul stirring and  soothing  mystical sound of classical music and chants of divine hymns in Tamil and Sanskrit on God Vishnu and other deities  normally will rant the dark, chilly and gloomy  early winter morning  across Tamil Nadu when people  feel cozy  and cuddle up under the thick blanket in deep slumber.  Not to be disturbed, people normally would prefer catching up more sleep induced by the cool and congenial weather. Forgetting about the next depression in the  Bay of Bengal, the  euphoria of bhakti grips the ardent devotees relegating  a sense of foreboding of heavy rains to the back stage. In the Tamil month of Margazhi,  the atmosphere  charged with religious fervor  and spiritual exhilaration,  is more pronounced in South India, in particular, in all Divyadesam shrines  than others  for two reason: 01. The long-drawn Vaikunda Ekadasi festivities falling  during this period and 02. Chanting of holy hymns ''Thirupavai'' composed by Sri Andal Nachiyar, the  foster daughter of Periyazhzwar and observation of Paavai Nombu by women. 

Margazhi.  a divine and an auspicious month for the Hindus, starts from mid-December to mid-January (also called Dhanur month; waxing phase of moon) encompassing  Sukla Ekadashi and Makara Sankranthi. Sri Krishna (God Vishnu) is the prime deity in this month and the Lord  said in the Bhagavad Gita, ''I m Margazhi among 12 months''. Obviously, divinity is imparted to this month

Sorgavasal Thirappu,Sri Parthasarathi temple, Triplicane,Chennai, TN.www.youtube.com

2019 ''Sorgavasal Thirappu'', Srirangam, TN. tamil.samayam.

 Besides Arudra Darshan (associated with Shiva temples), two important temple festivals are celebrated with pomp and bhakti in Tamil Nadu,   Vaikunda Ekadasi festival is celebrated on a grand scale at Sri Ranganathar temple, Srirangam, TN and other Sri Vishnu temples at Tirupati, Kumbakonam and Kanchipuram.  At  the Bhadrachalam Sri Rama Temple, Andhra state, it is celebrated on a grand scale. At Vishnu temples in Kerala  it is held as  Swarga Vathil Ekadashi and the presiding deity (Utchavar) is taken in a  procession around the shrine within the  temple premises. This year the ''Sorgavasal thirappu'' -  opening of the celestial gate to Heaven will be on  Dec. 25th in the Vishnu temples in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and elsewhere.  

The Thirupavai festival assumes much significance  at the popular Sri Villiputhur Andal temple ( about 81 km from Madurai city) in Virudhunagar district where Kodai Nachiyar was born and adopted by Peryazhwar, one of the Tamil Azhwar saints who had built the temple there. On the 16th of December, Thrumanchanam (abishekam)  was done to Goddess Nachiyar  Andal and God Sri Vatapatrasayi (Sri Vishnu).

 Thiruppavai  in Chaste Tamil was composed by Andal (Goddess Lakshmi) whom Periazhwar had found  under the tulsi plant in the temple garden (hence the name Srivilliputhur Andal temple). The saint named her as “Goda”- meaning “gift of god”,

Location map. Srivilliputhur. nammavirudhunagar.blogspot.com

The interesting aspect of Andal festival is all through the month of Magazhi    each day in the early morning there will be chanting of Thrupavai  and puja to the main deity. The tradition has it that Sri Andal herself  made a flower garland each day for God Vishnu and chanted  Thirupavai pasruram and, at last,  married  the lord at  Sri Ranganatha Swami  temple, Srirangam  by merging with him in the sanctum. Hence, Rangnathar becomes Rangamannar (at Srivilliputhur). The  divine verses of Thirupavai  are sung in all Vishnu temples across Tamil Nadu and other southern states and the tradition has been around for  centuries. Each day one verse is chanted beginning with the ‘Margazhi neerattu’festival  and the ‘pachcha paraputhal’. The final two verses are also chanted in most temples everyday. The presiding deities, Andal and Rengamannar, are offered vegetables and  sugarcane. On Bhogi, the final day of the Tamil  month, a farewell or Piriya Vidai is performed and Sri Andal Neerattu Utsavam is followed by Sri Andal Thirukkalyanam. The same ritual of singing the Thiruppaavai  is observed in homes as well. 

 Andal temple, Srivilliputhur,TN pinrest.com

Goddess Andal and Rangammar(Vishnu), Srivilliputhur, TN pinrest.com

Murals in the prakara,Sri Villiputhur Andal temple, Alamy.com 

For centuries, the Tamil month of Margazhi has been closely linked with  some unique Hindu temple festivals. The same period  marks the pilgrimage to the popular Sabarimala Ayyappan temple, in the state of Kerala  located on the western ghat where the Mandala Puja and Magaravillakku events take place. Devotees, including VIPs  from various parts of India observe  strict Vratam (fasting, etc)  and undertake the pilgrimage to the hill temple. Another religious event   toward the end of the same period associated with the Sabarimala  temple is the holy journey - "Thiruvabharana khosha yathra".

 Sri Ayyappan temple, Sabarimalai, Kerala state.indiatvnews.com

Thiruvabharana khosha yathra Kerala .newindianexpress.com

Above image: The 3-day  procession carrying the sacred golden jewelry - ''Thiruvabharanam'' ‘to the sabarimalai normally will take place toward the end of margazhi - January 15, from Pandalam Valiya Koyikkal  Sree Dharma Sastha temple. The procession will begin  from the Pandalam temple. Kept in three sandalwood boxes, the ornaments are being carried on head by 12 people accompanied by guards and security officers. The ornaments will be worn by the lord during the Puja protocol,.............................................

The sacred golden ornaments of Ayyappan, kept at  Valiyakoikkal Temple inside the  Srambickal Palace owned by the early Pandalam rulers of Kerala,  are taken in a religious  procession (83-km traditional path) to Sabarimala  temple where pujas are done on the idols with the ornaments. The God's jewelry will be returned to the Pandalam family upon completion of Mandala puja.  Christmas festival also falls during this period on the 25th of December every year and lots of people including Hindus and others  undertake  Padayatra (on foot) to Velankanni Matha  Church established by the Portuguese, Velankanni town close to Nagapatnam, TN.  

Margazhi month. kollam in front of Hindu homes, Tamil Nadu.facebook.com

Kollam in front of homes, Margazhi month.you tube

Arudra Darshan is an important Tamil festival celebrated in the first week of Margazhi and is dedicated God Nataraja, a  form of Lord Shiva. The festival falls on the Arudra Nakshatram (star)or Thiruvaathirai Nakshatram and  at the Chidambaram Sri Nataraja temple, TN it  is famous. 

Invariably, most of the Hindu homes are kept clean and tidy  with  huge kolams (a sort of rangoli) with impressive geometrical patterns carefully done with rice flour, etc. In the past, the bright yellow flowers of the pumpkin creeper  used to adore the kolam  in the middle with a blob of cow dung. I have never seen any  kollam with  flowers in the last one decade or so. This age-old  tradition may be followed in the rural or semi rural areas.  

Women worship in a temple 2019, Margazhi month.maalaimalar.com

Above image:  December 17 2019. collective women worship in the early morning at 5.30 am at Kottai Mariamman (Sakthi) temple, Dindugal, Tamil Nadu.  Thiruvillaku puja; The girls and women lit the oil lamp and chanted holy hymns. The temple opened around 4 am  for special prayer, flower decoration, etc. In the evening, there was special alangaram (decoration) for the deity (goddess) and  it was followed by golden chariot pulling around the tshrine within the temple by the devotees. This kind of temple worship is observed in many temples dedicated to Goddesses like  Durga, Lakshmi, Kamakshi and others in the early part of Margazhi month in Tamil Nadu elsewhere in the south.(www.maalaimalar.com/devotional/devotionaltopnews/2019/12/18123700/1276780/margazhi-month-ladies-worship-in-temples)  .........................................................

In Margazhi,  spiritual activities and temple celebrations gain precedence over other pressing social events. Important events/ family functions  such as wedding celebrations, gruhapravesam - moving into a newly-built house, opening of businesses and  other rituals or social events do not take place.

In this month, the Brahma Muhurtham is said to be dedicated to the Devas (celestial). It is the time between  4.00 am to 6.00 am and is believed to be auspicious to  engage in religious activities, music, etc.  In all Hindu temples, the popular festivals are observed with meticulous care and precaution with limited admission of devotees  into the temples because the air is filled with foreboding as the Covid - 19 pandemic is not yet tackled with a  successful vaccine  as of today.