Society

The boys who play God

Sarveshwaran seated in Lord Siva’s chariot during Chithrai Thiruvizha

Sarveshwaran seated in Lord Siva’s chariot during Chithrai Thiruvizha   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Meet the children who enact goddess Meenakshi and Lord Shiva at the Digvijayam ceremony during Chithrai Thiruvizha

Ashok Bhattar and his family are excited. Exactly 10 days from now on April 16, his eight-year-old son, M Sriharan will be donning the role of a lifetime — that of goddess Meenakshi — and enact the Digvijayam ritual, a key element of the Chithrai Thiruvizha.

Sarveshwaran who played Lord Siva in last year’s Digvijayam ceremony

Sarveshwaran who played Lord Siva in last year’s Digvijayam ceremony   | Photo Credit: S JAMES

Ashok is a priest at the Meenakshi temple; inside their house on West Pattamar Street, his mother, grandmother and older sister excitedly check out the new pattu pavadai set that has just arrived from the tailor. It’s a beautiful green attire with large peacock motifs. The accompanying jewellery set is also ready, his mother tells us, taking out the ornaments. The little boy, meanwhile, is unperturbed and is playing nearby. He is not interested in trying them on now and his mother has a task ahead of her dressing him up as the warrior queen.

“The boys are part of a dramatic play that is being enacted from the days of the Pandya kings,” says Raju Bhattar, a senior priest. “Those days, women were not allowed in public and so, the role of lord Siva and Meenakshi were both played by boys and the practice has continued,” he says.

Tharun who played Meenakshi in last year’s Digvijayam ceremony

Tharun who played Meenakshi in last year’s Digvijayam ceremony   | Photo Credit: SOMA BASU

Sriharan is a Class II student of Mahatma CBSE School. His sister, who’s in Class VIII, has shared the news not only with her friends, but her brother’s too. As he plays with his toys, I ask him if he will be happy if his friends came to watch him. He gives a shy nod. Does he know what he is supposed to do? “Yes,” he replies. “I will be holding a bow and arrow made with flowers and shake it. And I will have to sit in the chariot for many hours,” he says.

Tharun dressed as Meenakshi and Sarveshwaran as Lord Siva during last year’s Digvijayam ceremony

Tharun dressed as Meenakshi and Sarveshwaran as Lord Siva during last year’s Digvijayam ceremony   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Every year, a new child is chosen for the role. Last year this time, the household of Prabhu Bhattar was in a similar cheerful mood. His son P S Tharun had dressed up to play Meenakhsi. The procession started at 7.30 pm and ended long past midnight, he remembers. “I was both sleepy and hungry,” says the Class II student of Vikaasa School. “I had to do a fighting scene but the bow and arrow was made of flowers,” he says and runs to play with his football.

Sriharan who will play Meenakshi in this year’s Digvijayam ceremony on April 16

Sriharan who will play Meenakshi in this year’s Digvijayam ceremony on April 16   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

For his parents, it was a matter of honour that their child was chosen to play the important role. “There were thousands of people on the streets to watch them,” says Prabhu. His mother watched the live telecast on a local TV channel. They spent around ₹3000 on the costume and jewellery.

“We selected a bright purple dhavani for him. He had to put on matching jewellery except the nosepin because it is believed that the goddess doesn’t wear it when she goes into the battlefield,” says Prabhu. The make up, complete with flowers, was done at the temple’s chief priest’s house, where the boy chosen to play the role of Shiva, was given the finishing touches to his make up. A Class II student at Harvey School, C Sarveshwaran says he enjoyed the moment as both of them were first taken in a mini procession to the temple. “I was given a golden bow and arrow and I loved it because many friends came to see me sitting in the chariot,” he says. His father Suresh Bhattar walked along the chariot the entire route. The boy who will dress up as Shiva this year, however, is yet to be finalised.

During the procession, lakhs of people follow the boys sitting close to the deities in the chariot; they are constantly under the arc lights and are not allowed to eat till the procession is over. The surprise element, however, is that not many know that it is a boy who plays Meenakshi.

The Selection

Only boys below nine years are allowed to enact the Digvijayam ritual.

They are usually the sons of the priests at Meenakshi Temple

The chief priests pick the children for the roles every year.

The Procession

The Digvijayam procession starts from the East Tower and goes anti-clockwise to culminate at the North East Tower of the Meenakshi Temple. Given the crowd, it takes five to six hours to complete the route.

Digvijayam

The Digvijayam procession is taken out on the ninth day of the Chithrai Thiruvizha (the day after pattabhishekam and before thirukalyanam) when goddess Meenakshi’s battles across eight directions are enacted.

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 3:01:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/meet-the-children-who-enact-goddess-meenakshi-and-lord-shiva-at-the-digvijayam-ceremony-during-chithrai-thiruvizha-in-madurai/article26745672.ece

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