The Thiruvathira star that comes in the month of Dhanu is celebrated by the women of Kerala for their brothers, spouse, and sons. It is a celebration of being a sister, wife, and mother. The women of the house fast and engage in spiritual activities for the well-being of the men in the house. In Kerala, the Hindus, particularly the Nair households gave preference to the maternal family. While the rest of India followed Patriarchy, till recently, the Kerala Hindus followed Matriarchy. Thiruvathira is a celebration of womanhood among the Hindus of Kerala.
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According to Hindu Mythology, this is Lord Siva’s birthday and also the day when Goddess Parvathy was reunited with Lord Siva after a long separation. The story goes that Lord Siva starts a long meditation and Goddess Parvathy seeks Kamadeva’s help to seek Siva’s attention. Kamadeva, being the love God, succeeds in disturbing Siva’s meditation with his love arrow. Siva gets very angry with Kamadeva and burns him down after which he accepts Parvathy’s love. To commemorate this event, women start fasting 7 days before Thiruvathira in the month of Dhanu which comes during December – January months.
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Women wake up early in the morning and do prayers after taking bath. They often visit the temple to perform special offerings to Goddess Parvathi and Lord Siva. At home, they eat food only one time during the day. Sometimes, they prepare a special porridge using arrowroot powder, Jaggery, and coconut milk. On these auspicious days, the women avoid eating any food made of rice which is the staple food. The women completely avoid rice and eat only the porridge and fruits on the 7th day, Thiruvathira. On this day, a special curry is made known as Thiruvathira Puzhukku which consists of raw plantain, Chinese potato or Koorka as it is locally called, Yam, cowpeas, and Colocasia. Most of these are seasonal and will be available during this time. These are cooked with salt and coconut gravy or grated coconut and green chilly are added for flavor.
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It is believed that Goddess Parvathi observed continence to get married to Lord Siva. Young women who are not yet married observe Thiruvathira nombu or fast to get a good husband like Lord Siva. Those married will observe the rituals for the well-being of their husband. The previous day of Thiruvathira is Makayiram and this day is dedicated to the brothers and sons of the family. Women observe fast for their brothers or sons. On both days, rice is totally avoided and instead, wheat and fruits are consumed along with the Puzhukku which in itself is quite filling and nutritious. On the night of Thiruvathira, women enjoy a lot of freedom, singing songs and performing Thiruvathira Kali.
Another aspect of Thiruvathira is the ‘Dasa Pushpam Choodal’ done by the women. The women collect 10 special flowers which they adorn in their hair during Thiruvathira.
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Thiruvathirakkali is also known as Kai Kotti Kali, meaning a dance performed by clapping the hands. Women adorned in Kerala set mundu or Kerala saree, wearing traditional jewelry and jasmine flowers on their hair, perform this simple dance. They dance around a lighted lamp in front of the house or at the temple. The steps are simple and do not require much training. They sing and follow a rhythm while dancing in a circle around the lamp. It is a festival exclusive to women. The men of the house have no part in the festivities except that the women undertake the rituals for their well-being.
Thiruvathira can be considered as Kerala’s Karva Chauth which is observed by the women of the North India.