The month of Maargazhi

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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By Justice Markandey Katju

The month of Maargazhi ( called Maagh in North India ) has started in Tamilnadu and other South Indian states on 17th December and will last till 16th January, which is called Pongal in South India, and Makar Sankranti in North India. It is regarded as the most sacred month among Tamlians and other south Indians ( in North India the Maagh Mela is held every year in my home town Allahabad-Prayagraj where Hindu saints from all over India congregate and give their sermons ( pravachans )).

Lord Krishna has said in chapter 10 verse 35 the Bhagavad Geeta " In the 12 months, I am Margazhi" (Masanam Margaseersho Asmi) ''.

बृहत्साम तथा साम्नां गायत्री छन्दसामहम् |

मासानां मार्गशीर्षोऽहमृतूनां कुसुमाकर: || 35||

bṛihat-sāma tathā sāmnāṁ gāyatrī chhandasām aham

māsānāṁ mārga-śhīrṣho ’ham ṛitūnāṁ kusumākaraḥ

During this month the earth is furthest away from the sun.

I reached Chennai on 30th November 2004 to take over as Chief Justice of Madras High Court, and soon thereafter Maargazhi began.

Throughout this month a song called Thiruppavai, a devotional song in praise of Lord Krishna, is sung very early in the morning, more often by women ( though also by some men ). It is chanted after bathing one and a half hours before sunrise, which is called Brahma Mahurtha.
This song was written many centuries ago (maybe a thousand years ago) by the poet-saint Andal, a young woman originally named Goda who lived in the town of Srivilliputhur (which I later visited). It is sung throughout maargazhi not only in Tamilnadu but also wherever Tamilians are found, even in America and Canada. In Toronto, which I visited in 2021, I found it was sung by many Srilankan Tamil ladies.

Since I became the head of the judiciary of Tamilnadu, I decided to learn something of the culture of the people of Tamilnadu. I therefore got a copy of Thiruppavai (in English translation), and read it carefully.

What struck my mind most was the accurate description of the Mathura countryside, though that was far away in north India (about 2490 kms) from Tamilnadu. There is accurate depiction of herds of cattle with tinkling bells, musical sound of butter churning, conch sounds from temples, chirping of birds, girls bathing in ponds, and other minute details of the ambience of Mathura region, which I have visited several times, and I can vouch for the accuracy of these details.

In those days there were no modern methods of transport, no aeroplanes, trains or cars, so obviously Andal (Goda) could not have travelled far from Srivilliputhur. How could she describe in such detail the ambience of the Mathura region, which is so far away in north India with such accuracy? This is still a mystery to me, and requires research.

A major highlight in the month of Maargazhi is the drawing of kolams (rangoli) daily in front of houses.

Music festivals are held in many places in Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka during Maarghazhi.

In Thiruvaiyaru village in Tanjore district in Tamilnadu, the birthplace of the great music composer and singer Thyagaraja (who is regarded as one of the trinity of Carnatac music) a music festival is held every year during Maarghazi, in which Carnatac religious singers from all over the globe assemble and perform.

My greetings to all South Indians in this holy month.

(Justice Katju is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India. These are his personal views.)

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