Updated: April 14, 2021 10:45:24 pm
Dozens of folk artists, college students and the public carrying placards and posters staged a protest Monday in Madurai, urging the government to change its decision and allow the Madurai Chittirai festival at Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. The festival is held from April 15 to April 26.
A couple of days ago, the Madurai district administration had announced that due to the restrictions imposed by the state government in view of the Covid-19 spread, devotees will not be allowed to gather for this year’s Chithirai festival, the flagship event of the city.
Protests took place across districts in Tamil Nadu. Claiming that the government is acting against their beliefs, devotees asked that if political rallies are allowed, Tasmac, theatres and malls can function, then why isn’t the government allowing religious festivals?
“Close to 400 families depend on this temple festival. If you (government) impose restrictions, how do we survive? It’s just a one-day event. We need our Azhagar and Meenakshi Amma to come out. The government needs our vote but it doesn’t respect our beliefs. All religious functions should be carried out, we will keep ourselves safe,” said Pandi Selvi, a resident of Sellur town near Madurai.
Police personnel asked the crowd to disperse but they refused, prompting the former to use force and detained them. Members of Hindu Munnani Kazhagam put up posters across the city demanding that the government allow the public to take part in the festival.
In 2020, for the first time, the iconic festival was performed in a minimalistic manner. Over five lakh devotees, including many from abroad, visit the place to take part in the event. Close to 120 priests conduct the entire festival, including the final phase where Lord Kallazhagar, brother of Meenakshi Amman and the presiding deity of the Kallazhagar temple, leaves his abode and begins his journey to Madurai to take part in the wedding. Last year, due to the pandemic, the celestial wedding of Lord Sundaraeswarar and Meenakshi Amman — the temple’s presiding deity, was performed with just four priests. Sources at the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Board said similar methods will be followed this time as well. The entire event was live-streamed last year for devotees on the temple’s website.
Pudhu Mandapam, a historical building, would be abuzz during the Chittirai festival. Shopkeepers and dressmakers would get ready three-four months prior to buy the necessary items for their product and stitch different dresses for the deities, artists and devotees. But due to the current restrictions, the Mandapam bears a dull look and the shopkeepers and dressmakers are clueless. Products, already manufactured, are lying unsold.
“We are staring at a bleak future. We don’t know how we are going to repay our debts for buying necessary items. We never received any information from the Alagar temple devasthanam that they are going to prohibit public entry to the festival. Only the government can help us, they need to provide some financial aid for us to keep this traditional business alive or we have no other option but to quit and do some daily-wage wok to feed our families,” said Nagenthran, who has been running a stritcing shop for over three decades.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Madurai district collector T Anbazhagan said the government has taken the decision for the welfare of the public.
“Our aim is not to stop the festival but to protect the people. If the festival takes place and it becomes a supercluster, it will affect close to 15,000 people at a time. We will be running short of beds or other facilities, it will have a very severe impact on our health infrastructure. Throughout the state, the government has prohibited festivals and religious congregations. People should understand it’s a decision taken by the government for their welfare, they should follow it. It’s not right to protest without permission in this kind of situation. They say their livelihood is affected but they also need to understand that people are dying due to the virus. The second wave of Covid-19 is spreading at a much faster rate than the previous one. Just like last year, we have made necessary arrangements for this festival to take place, the devotees can live-stream the festival from their homes,” he said.
A press release from the temple authorities on Tuesday said that the devotees will be allowed ‘darshan’ from 6 am to 9 am, 11:30 am to 12:30 pm, 4 pm to 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm to 9 pm on April 15. Similarly, from April 16 to April 23, people will be allowed darshan from 6 am to 8 am, 9 am to 12:30 pm, 4 pm to 5:30 pm and 7:30 to 9 pm.
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