Reference to Thulukka Nachiar demeaning, some say

King Tirumalai Naicker shifted the venue of the Chithirai festival from Thenur to Madurai aiming to reconcile the Saivites and the Vaishnavites.

But the Chithirai festival involves not just Hindus but also Muslims. After the ritual dip in the Vaigai, the deity of Lord Kallazhagar proceeds to Vandiyur, where rituals are performed at Veeraraghava Perumal Temple, before heading back to his abode at Alagarkoil. Around 70 years ago, the Muslims are said to have welcomed Lord Kallazhagar to Vandiyur by bursting crackers. Why and when this practice went out of vogue is not clear.

Professor Tho. Paramasivan, former Head of the Tamil Department at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, in his book on the Alagarkoil and its festivals published in 1979, says, according to legend Lord Kallazhagar met Thulukka Nachiar, a Muslim woman who was in love with the deity, at Vandiyur during his annual visits.

The legend sparked debate among historians. Some Muslims felt the legend demeaned the community. “The legend is degrading. There is no mention of any such incident in Tamil literature or history. I have heard there used to be a ritual where Lord Kallazhagar is dressed like a Muslim in one of his Dasavatharams. There is no basis to the story pertaining to Thulukka Nachiar. The Muslims do not participate in the rituals during the Chithirai festival now and I have no idea about the ancient days,” says Imam Hussain, vice-president of Lawyers Human Rights Association.

“If anybody created the story wanting to create harmony between Hindus and Muslims, it could have been presented as Lord Kallazhagar visiting his friends or a family. But why was it a Muslim woman, who the legend says was in love with the deity?”, he asks.

Only 100-year-old

“The 1868 Madura Manual by J.H. Nelson has no mention on Thulukka Nachiar. This shows that the story must have originated only some 100 years ago. There is no historical evidence to substantiate the story as well,” says T. Lajapathi Roy, an advocate.

Quoting from Tho. Paramasivan’s book, Mr. Lajapathi Roy says there is a sanctum for Thulukka Nachiar at the Sri Ranganathasamy Temple in Srirangam. “The book says Thulukka Nachiar is the daughter of a Sultan and that she fell in love with Sri Ranganatha’s idol. There is no such temple in Madurai and the legend is degrading,” he points out.

Mr. Roy also ruled out the possibility that the story might have been created to foster harmony between Muslims and Hindus. “If the motive of the legend was to create harmony between Muslims and Hindus, it could have said the deity of Lord Kallazhagar visited somebody else. It is indeed degrading,” he told The Hindu.

No historical fact

V. Vedachalam, retired senior epigraphist, Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department, says there is no historical fact to the legend.

“Factually, there might not be a deep history associated with the legend. Madurai has always witnessed harmony between all communities,” says S.M.A. Jinnah, an advocate. “Nobody knows the origin of the legend and what it meant originally. There is a possibility that the legend might have emerged to integrate Muslims into the Chithirai Festival. And the legend might have transformed over the decades. Now when one hears the legend, it is definitely demeaning to Muslims,” he concludes.