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The 'Holy Family' of Shiva in a south Indian temple

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In the myths and rituals of south Indian Hindu temples dedicated to the great god Shiva and his consort Devi, the goddess, the marital relationship between them is a central theme. In many temples, too, the wedding of the god and goddess is a highlight of the annual festival cycle, and nowhere is this more evident than in the city of Madurai in Tamilnadu, whose Great Temple is dedicated to the goddess Minakshi and her husband Sundareshwara, a form of Shiva. In the Minakshi temple (as it is popularly called), the climax of its principal annual festival - the Chittirai festival - is the celebration of the divine couple's wedding. This festival is also renowned because it unfolds alongside another Chittirai festival celebrated for Kallalagar, a form of the great god Vishnu, who is said to be Minakshi's brother in accordance with the popular Tamil notion that Shiva and Vishnu are brothers-in-law linked by the goddess. The 'double festival' of Chittirai is therefore a deservedly famous example of the centrality of marriage in south Indian temple Hinduism.

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