Madras HC Orders Protection for Women, Traditional Practices at Chithirai Festival

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The Chithirai Festival, celebrated annually in April, marks the occasion when Lord Kallazhagar, elder brother of Goddess Meenakshi, enters the Vaigai River

The Madras High Court has directed the police and district administration to ensure that water gets sprayed traditionally on Lord Kallazhagar during the Chithirai festival in Madurai.

Additionally, the court has ordered the police to prevent any spraying of water on women, young and old, participating in the event.

"Only those persons who have undertaken austerities and who have taken vows and whose names have been registered with the temple management should be allowed to spray water on the idol when the Lord enters the River and that too only in the traditional mode. This should be a highly regulated affair," the bench of Justice GR Swaminathan ordered. 

The order was passed in a writ petition filed seeking direction to restrain use of high pressure pump on Lord Kallazhagar's deity. The petitioner also urged that only traditional hand pumps made out of goat skin be used for the purpose, without any electronic motors in the Chithirai Festival during the entry of the Kallazhagar deity into Vaigai River.

The Chithirai Festival, celebrated annually in April, marks the occasion when Lord Kallazhagar, elder brother of Goddess Meenakshi, enters the Vaigai River. The presiding deity, Arulmighu Sundararaja Perumal @ Kallazhagar, resides in Alagar Kovil, about 18 km from the river. During the festival, Lord Kallazhagar is carried in a palanquin over several days. A tradition during this event involves dedicated individuals spraying water on the deity using a leather bag known as bellows.

However, A Nagarajan, a devotee of Lord Kallazhagar, filed a petition in the high court, claiming that the traditional spraying of water during the festival has deviated from its original practice.

He alleged that water is now sprayed using a pressure pump fitted into the leather bag, resulting in a forceful spray rather than a gentle one.

This forceful spraying poses challenges, with the priest standing next to the idol bearing the brunt and facing slippery conditions due to the pressure, he claimed. 

In addition, Nagarajan brought to the court's attention the issue of women and girls being harassed during the event.

Court observed that the forceful spraying of water by excited youngsters indeed poses a risk of damage to both the idol and the Lord's jewelry. Additionally, it causes considerable hardship to the priests and other temple staff. "All this has to be avoided and prevented", court said. 

Therefore, court held that the district administration as well as the jurisdictional police are responsible for ensuring the smooth conduct of the festival.

Court ordered the District Collector, Madurai to issue appropriate instructions.

It is the duty of the Commissioner of Police, Madurai City and the Superintendent of Police, Madurai (Rural) to ensure their compliance not only during this month but also in future, court directed while disposing of the petition.

Case Title: A.Nagarajan v. The District Collector, Madurai and Others