Aadi is the fourth month in the Tamil Calendar and falls between mid-July and mid-August. This month marks the change in the position of the Sun from Uttaraayanam (northward) to Dakshinayanam (southward); the term “aayanam” meaning movement. In Hindu Astrology, the northward movement of the sun is said to start on the first day of the month of Tthai (mid-January), and the southward movement on the first day of the month of Aadi.
On my way to the GMF head-office, waiting for my bus at the stop, I saw a group of women walking past me barefoot. They all were wearing yellow or orange sarees and had Neem leaves in their hands. I had to get to the office soon, so holding onto my curious mind, I got on the bus and left. Throughout the day, I kept asking the office staffs all sorts of questions - yellow sarees - neem leaves - bare feet - Cauvery - and was amazed to know about this inauspiciously auspicious month of Aadi!
The women in yellow
Traditionally followed, many people consider Aadi as inauspicious and avoid major celebrations like marriages in this month. This is mainly because this month marks the commencement of dawn or night time for the devas, the demigods (‘dakshinaayana punyakalam’). Since the devas as resting, it would be difficult to receive their aashirwadams or blessings. Despite being considered inauspicious, a number of pujas and ceremonies are held in Amman (goddesses’) temples throughout the month. Earlier, newlywed couples were separated during the Aadi month by some communities. The bride’s parents used to invite the bride back home. This was because the women who conceived during the Aadi month used to give birth during April – May, the hottest months. In earlier days, when there were no hospitals the infant mortality rate used to be high during the hot months.
According to how I understand it, the monthly celebrations may be divided broadly into three categories - the start, the middle, and the end. The three major days celebrated all across the Tamil Nadu are - Aadi Onnu (the first day), Aadi Perukku (18th day) and the Aadi Pooram (last day - usually the 28th day).
Aadi Onnu or Aadi Pirappu
The first day of Aadi is observed as Aadi Pirappu or Aadi Onnu. (It is called by various other names at different places and by different communities within Tamil Nadu.) The day begins with the making of huge kolams (Rangoli designs) in front of the home. Doorways are decorated with mango leaves. The day begins with pujas and visits to the temple. There will be a feast on the day with special delicacies including payasams, vadai, poli (jaggery-coconut pancakes) etc. Some people observe ‘tharpanams’ on this day - an ode to their ancestors - for blessings.
I happened to be on a field visit this day, in Thammampatti, a town panchayat in Salem. On my way back from the village, I took the local town bus. I saw many families gathering together to make a fire in their backyards and then roasting coconut on a stick in it. This dish is called ‘thengai suduthal’ (thengai means coconut and suduthal is filling) and is a sweet dish. The coconut is stuffed with roasted sesame seeds, yellow lentils, flattened rice and jaggery and is then roasted on the fire. It is a customary practice among the people in and around the Salem District.
Roasting the coconut sweet-dish
The sweet dish!
Though the Aagamas (collection of scriptures of several Hindu devotional schools) and the Vedas ascribe no special significance to the day and so it is seen and celebrated more as a traditional village festival. In Gangavalli, Salem - the village I had visited - Aadi is celebrated as a sacred month. The birth of Aadi itself known as Aadi Pirappu (or Aadi Onnu) and is an important event. On this day, a special drink is prepared to herald the month and is offered to the village deity or Goddess. It is called Aadi koozh (pronounced as koolu), a porridge made of raw rice and ragi flour with onions, chillies, etc, which is served in houses and in temples.
Koozhu (koolu) distribution
Andal Goddess in the village temple
The 18th day of Aadi month is celebrated as Aadi perukku. Aadi month falls during the peak monsoon season and most of the rivers start to overflow during this period. People celebrate this overflow of water by praying on the river banks. They pray to keep the rivers always filled so that they will have enough water for agriculture.
On this day, the new son-in-laws and their families are invited and given gifts in the form of new clothes, ornaments and sweets. Gold coins are added to the new bride’s thali (sacred thread). This custom is strictly observed in most districts of Southern Tamil Nadu. Varieties of rice are the speciality of this day and it is called ‘Chitrannam’. The celebration includes a riverside or beachside picnic. Families make offerings to the water god. This includes a maavilakku (a lamp made with rice flour and jaggery), lit on the mango leaves, accompanied by flowers, turmeric and a yellow thread. The women let the lamps float in the water and allow it to go with the tide in the river. Later the packed "Chitrannam" is eaten on the river banks.
Remains of the puja at the beach in Mahabalipuram
The festival is observed with great eclat in the temples of Madurai, Srivilliputhur, Tinnevelly, Vedaranyam, Negapatam, Jambukeswaram, Tiruvadi, Kumbakonam, Thiruvidaimarudur, Mayavaram, Srivanjiyam and Tiruvannamalai.
Aadi Pooram also called as ‘Aandal Jayanti’ is a prime festival of Tamilians. This festival is dedicated to Goddess Andal, an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. It is said to be the birth star of the female Vaishnava saint Aandal. Another Vaishnava saint Periyavar found her as a baby by the side of Thulasi-madam (a raised altar with the basil plant) on a Saturday when the asterism of Pooram and the fourteenth phase (Chaturdashi) of the waxing moon were prevalent in the month of Aadi. This story of Goddess Andal is known throughout the state of Tamil Nadu and her devotion to Sri Ranganatha (a form of Lord Vishnu) is famous.
The celebrations of Aadi Pooram are very splendid in almost all the Lord Vishnu temples located in Tamil Nadu. The day also holds immense significance in Goddess Shakti temples scattered all over the country. In the Siva temples, the day of Aadi Pooram is observed as the festival of ‘Valaikappu’. In the event, glass bangles are offered to Goddess Andal and then distributed among all devotees. It is believed that by wearing these bangles, the couples will be blessed with offspring and also when pregnant women wear these bangles; it shields their child from all the evil forces.
Bangles and flowers kept for sales as offerings outside the temple
Other events and celebrations
Aadi month is the month of religious activities. Women do pujas every Tuesdays and Fridays and fast on both these days throughout the month. People from different places come to Samayapuram temple, Trichy - one of the biggest shrines of Andal goddess in Tamil Nadu - and seek blessings. The visit is special as the people come dressed in Yellow and orange clothes walking all the way barefoot from their homes. This Padayatra (trip on foot) takes hours to days for people. They visit the Cauvery river and take bath before reaching the temple.
Women taking a dip in Cauvery river and getting dressed
The sumangali (married) women put on turmeric for auspiciousness
The full moon day and the new moon day are also celebrated with much vigour. The goddess is decorated and dressed in silk clothes and jewellery. A number of naivedyams (offerings) are prepared and are offered to the goddess.
Despite being considered inauspicious, the month of Aadi is celebrated with much vigour and enthusiasm by people of all age groups. I am glad that I was able to witness the celebrations and could be a part of it.