Thiruvathira celebrations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu

Thiruvathirakali

The sensual dance form called Thiruvathirakali is the highlight of Thiruvathira celebrations in Kerala.

The Hindu festival Thiruvathira or Thiruvathirai is a festival exclusively celebrated by the women of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, Thiruvathira in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (mid-December – mid-January) is believed to be the birthday of Lord Shiva. According to another popular legend it was on this day that Shiva accepted Parvati as his consort. There is yet another legend and according to it, it was on this day that Shiva killed Kamadeva, the god of erotic desire and pleasure.

Thiruvathira falls on January 11, 2017.

Unmarried girls in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu fast on this day to win the blessings of Goddess Parvati who had observed severe austerities to win the heart of Lord Shiva. It is believed that girls who fast on this day will find a suitable husband. While in Tamil Nadu, the women fast from sunrise to moonrise, in Kerala women only observe partial fasting. Also in Tamil Nadu, they start the fasting nine days before Thiruvathirai and end it on Thiruvathirai day. Married women also fast on this day for the wellbeing of their husbands and family.

Thiruvathira is essentially a festival associated with Lord Shiva and Parvati. Temples dedicated to them organize special pujas on this day. In Tamil Nadu, most Shiva temples organize elaborate celebrations on this day. They take the idol out in a grand possession and return it to the temple after circumambulating the town. Thousands of devotees join these processions. At the Chidambaram Shiva Temple in Tamil Nadu, the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva is enacted on this day.

Shiva and Parvati

Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati with their children Karthikeyan and Ganesh

ThuIn Kerala, Thiruvathira is all about celebrating the many aspects of the feminine. Upper caste Namboothiri, Nair and Nambiar women of the state have been celebrating this festival with great enthusiasm since days of yore. Celebrations start early in the morning. Girls and women take a bath before sunrise and visit a nearby Shiva temple for Ardhra Darsanam. Most of them observe partial fasting on this day. Married women start the fasting from the previous day itself.

Thiruvathirakali is the biggest highlight of Thiruvathira celebrations in Kerala. It is a luscious dance form performed to the accompaniment of folk songs depicting Parvathi’s longing for Lord Shiva. Women dance around a nilavilakku (a traditional oil lamp). Their movements are sensual and embody the grace and charm of the feminine. They wear the traditional Kerala attire and adorn their hair with jasmine flowers. They sing and clap their hands while dancing. Thiruvathirakali is performed in the courtyards of Namboothiri Illams (houses of Brahmins) and Nair Tharavadus (ancestral homes of Nairs) in the evenings and the performances typically last until midnight. In spite of being a simple dance form with no complicated mudras or postures, Thiruvathirakali enjoys huge popularity. It is now performed on the occasions of other festivals too.

In Kerala a dessert (koova payasam) is prepared on this day with arrowroot powder, jaggery and coconut. Thiruvathira puzhukku, another food item prepared on this day, is a delicious mix of tuber vegetables.

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