Madurai Meenakshi temple is 2500 years old. This week, the entire city of Madurai is celebrating the Chitrai festival, a celestial wedding centered around the folk lore about this temple. Temples served as glues of popular culture for centuries drawing different sections of Indian society together. Temple traditions, always emphasized the diversity in creation and that in human society suggesting to the human spirit its potential to raise to the state of the supreme. Meenakshi, was born as the daughter of Pandian King and is considered an incarnation of Shakti, the energy pervading the universe who is ever wedded to the universal consciousness named as Shiva.

Customs in the Meenakshi temple show the dominance of a woman in a marriage and the customs in Chidambaram, farther south, highlight the dominance of a man. The wide range of customs show the possibility and acceptability of different norms within a human society. The wedding ceremony of Meenakshi doesn’t conclude without a visit from her brother Vishnu and her son Skanda which gives an opportunity to the followers from the other streams of worship prevalent from the olden days to join the celebrations. Indian society for millennium allowed for freedom of faith but periodically brought folks from different faiths to celebrate together to check the growth of intolerance. Its traditions of celebrations brought joy to the commoner while also challenging a curious participant to ponder on the parallels to the principles governing creation and society.

In the last two decades, hundreds of thousands of village temples are considered to be shut down due to lope sided state government policies and vote bank politics in many states in India. Superstitious practices had indeed crept into temple customs over the past few centuries with many practitioners’ understanding of rituals becoming superficial. Lack of effort from most educational institutions to include in their curriculum a basic explanation of the symbolism behind local customs has led to educated youth be disenchanted with village customs. On the other hand, newer faiths trying to fill the vacuum created by temple closures want no allegiance to native traditions, an alarming development. Back to the Roots project through develops positive self image in village youth so they can modernize their villages while still retaining the mutual tolerance, a land mark of Indian civilization.

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