Panguni Uthiram is a much talked about festival of many temples throughout South India. Devotees flock to temples nearby and some of the famous temples which assumes a lot of importance during this festival is Perur-near Coimbatore, Palani, Kapaleeswarar-Mylapore, Vadapalani Murugan temple, to name a few. The festival falls during March-April. Panguni is special because of the coming together of the star Uthiram and Pournami.
Says Historian Chithra Madhavan: It is believed that the wedding of Rama and Sita was celebrated on Panguni Uthiram. So divine marriages are celebrated on this day. As an annual event all temples take their utsava murthis to the kalyana mandapam of the temple and perform the marriage of the presiding God and Goddess there. For instance, the Thirukalyanam of Siva-Parvati, Lord Subramanya, Vishnu-Lakshmi, Rama-Sita is celebrated in a grand manner in all temples.
Quoting from the book ‘Sri Varadarajaswami Temple-Kanchi' by Prof. K.V. Raman, she says, “In the Arulala Perumal (Varadarajaswami Temple) in Kanchipuram, the Panguni Pallava Utsavam lasts for seven days when the sacred text Hastigiri Mahatmyam (the sthala-Purana of this temple) is read in the 100 pillared mandapa in front of the deity.
The Panguni Utsavam is a unique festival in this temple which lasts for seven days and culminates on the Uthiram day with the marriage of Goddess Malayala Nachiyar or Serakula Nachiyar to the Lord. People throng in thousands to witness this divine marriage.
An epigraph of 1582 A.D. of the reign of the Vijayanagara monarch Sriranga Raya mentions an endowment for offerings to be made during this festival which is specially called Serakula-Nachiyar Panguni Uthiram Sathumurai. The images of Serakula Nachiyar and Senai Mudaliyar (Vishvaksena) are taken in procession to a garden named Dalavaya Toppu where offerings were made.
“In the Ahananuru, a Tamil work of the Sangam period (III C B.C. – III C A.D.), there is a mention about a festival in Panguni which is equated to Uthira Vizha.
Referring to an article ‘Festivals in Kanchi' by Bhani Chari in the book ‘Kanchi- A heritage of art and religion' (edited by Nanditha Krishna), Chithra Madhavan says that “Shakti Uma Devi performed puja for the Lord in the form of Devi Kamakshi. At the end, the wedding of Siva and Shakti took place here as prayed for by the celestials. An inscription on a gopuram of the Kamakshi Amman temple in Kanchipuram mentions a gift of two villages for Puja on the occasion of the Panguni Utsavam.”
The festival is also associated with various rituals. For instance, devotees carry a kavadi (semicircular canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on shoulders), milk pots or pull a chariot in fulfilment of vows. A special feature is the alagu, where devotees pierce the body with spears and hooks as an offering to the Lord for having helped them to avert a calamity.
The festival is exceptionally celebrated at Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple. “No other temple has this big a procession of the 63 Nayanmars during the eighth day of the Panguni festival,” says historian, V. Sriram. He explains that the unique aspect of the procession is that as the palanquin of Lord Kapaleeswarar moves forward, those of the Nayanmars will move backwards, facing the deity. Also the deities in the procession will be brought in groups — (Karaikal Ammaiyar; Mangaiyarkarasi; Isaignani) the women's group; Appar, Sundarar, Manickavasagar; Gnanasambandar and Poompaavai; to name a few. Another unique aspect of the procession is that deities from other temples such as Kolavizhi, Vairamudi Swami, Mundakakanni Amman, Thiruvalluvar Vasuki and others take part. It is thus a community event of the deities.
The festival can be dated back to the 7th Century, he says. “Thanneer pandals have always been an integral part of the festival. Even now, we have some of them who have been doing this service at the fest for more than 150 years such as the Thandavarayan thanneer pandal. Even two decades ago the Mada streets had a number of houses which used to keep their doors open for the devotees during the fest. Anyone could climb on the top of the houses to witness the Arupathumoovar or the car festival. Pouring water, to keep away the summer heat, over those who pull the car has been a regular practice,” says Mr. Sriram.