Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar are joined in wedlock during the Chithirai festival

Pilgrims in their thousands converged on the Meenakshi Temple on Tuesday to witness Madurai’s iconic event – the joining of Goddess Meenakshi, the presiding deity, and Lord Sundareswar in holy wedlock, popularly referred to as the Thirukalyanam or Celestial Wedding, one of the highlights of the ongoing 12-day Chithirai festival.

The sprawling temple premises was packed to capacity with devotees hours before the scheduled auspicious time for the “wedding”.

Minutes before the ‘auspicious’ time of 8.17 a.m. to 8.41 a.m. the procession arrived bearing the deities Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar on a palanquin, before seating them on the bedecked wedding stage.

The proceedings began around 8 a.m. with the chanting of hymns by a battery of temple priests amidst pin drop silence despite the presence of 13,000 people, which is the maximum seating capacity around the sanctum.

The rest of the seething mass of pilgrims had to stand outside and view the event on LED screens.

Two priests played a key role in the holy nuptial. Nettur Swaminatha Bhattar performed the rituals on behalf of Goddess Meenakshi while Prakash Deivasigamani Bhattar represented Lord Sundareswarar.

The Gods had their own guests too. The deities from the Tirupparankundram Temple- Lord Subramaniasamy and Lord Pavalakanivai Perumal- were on hand to bear witness to the divine union.

As the wedding venue reverberated with mantras, the two ‘Sivachariars’ exchanged garlands symbolising the marriage and a ‘thali’ was put on Goddess Meenakshi at 8.40 a.m.

“As per tradition, the celestial wedding is performed by a few families and ours is one. This is a divine task and I feel grateful for this opportunity,” said Prakash Deivasigamani Bhattar.

Immediately after the ‘thali’ was placed on the idol of Goddess Meenakshi, a large number of women devotees replaced their thali string in keeping with the custom and belief that it would herald a new life for them.

P. Jayaraman, Joint Commissioner and Executive Officer of the Meenakshi Temple, expressed satisfaction with the organising of the event.

“We allowed devotees to enter the wedding venue from 5 a.m.. Barring a few complaints from people who were not allowed through a particular gate, the event went off smoothly and we will make it better next year,” he said.

There were six LED screens at different points beaming the celestial wedding and 10,000 ‘prasadam’ packets were ready for distribution the night before. Every devotee was presented with a bag containing a temple photo, water bottle and prasadam.

The day-long celebration concluded with ‘Poo Pallakku’ in the evening as the deities were taken around the temple streets.

The event is steeped in legend. Temple expert M.Arunagiri explains that Goddess Meenakshi is believed to be the sister of Lord Pavalakanivai Perumal, who sits at Tiruparankundram.

On the eighth day of the Chitirai Brahamotsavam, she becomes queen and hence the coronation ceremony (pattabhishekam) is performed. On the ninth day, after conquering neigbouring kingdoms, she meets Lord Siva and that is observed as ‘Digvijayam’, which is celebrated on April 22.

“The Goddess had three bosoms. When she met Lord Siva at Mount Kailash, her third bosom disappeared and that day she knew he is her consort. That is now celebrated as Tirukalyanam on the tenth day,” Dr.Arunagiri explains.

Legend also has it that Meenakshi rules Madurai during the Tamil months of Chithirai, Vaikasi, Aani and Aadi while Lord Sundareswarar rules for the rest of the year.

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