Thiruvathira is celebrated on the asterism Thiruvathira in Dhanu. This is the fifth month of Malayalese calendar [Kolla Varsham]. The festival corresponds to December-January, according to Gregorian calendar.
Thiruvathira is essentially a festival for women of Kerala. Women worship Lord Shiva. They pray for the conjugal harmony and marital bliss. There is another interesting facet of this festival. Women perform the enchanting Thiruvathirakkali dance on this day.
Thiruvathira festival has been celebrated for ages. However, the origin of the theory of festival is not clear. According to Hindu mythology, there were festivals to commemorate the death of Kaamadeva, God of love. There are some people who consider this day auspicious. They worship Lord Shiva take his darshan in a local Shiva temple before the sunrise. There are others who believe that Thiruvathira is the birth day of Lord Shiva. This Thiruvathira festival of Kerala corresponds to the Ardra Darshan festival of Tamil Nadu.
Thiruvathira festival is extremely popular amongst women especially amongst women from the Nair community. The festivities of Thiruvathira begin a week before the commencing of the asterism Aswathi. The women wake up early at 4 am in the freezing cold temperatures of the winter season. They take a bath in the river water. During their bath, the women sing songs and worship Lord Kaamadeva. They sing to the rhythm produced by splashing of water with their fists. At the end, the women stand in a circle holding hands and sing devotional songs.
On Thiruvathira, women observe fast so they do not take rice meal. Instead, they take preparations of chama [Panicum miliaceum] or wheat and fruits. Also, there is a tradition of eating betel leaves on this day. Amongst Namboodiris, Ambalavasis [temple-servants] and Nairs traditionally people eat as many as 108 betel leaves on this day.
The first Thiruvathira after marriage is known as Puthen Thiruvathira or Poothiruvathira. This has a lot of significance for the women. The festival is celebrated on grand scale with lots of gaiety and mirth.
The communities of Namboodiris, ambalavais and Nairs have close association with Namboodiris. There is a tradition known as ‘Pathirappooochoodal’ that means ‘wearing of flowers of midnight’. The deity of Lord Shiva is placed in central courtyard of the house. This is carried out at midnight of Thiruvathira. An offering of flowers, plantains and jaggery is made to Lord Shiva’s image. Thereafter, the women perform their elegant and graceful dance, Thiruvathirakkali or Kaikottikali, around Lord Shiva. The women wear flowers picked from the offering made to the Lord Shiva. They amuse themselves by playing on the Oonjal [swing] on this day. On the night of Thiruvathira, women again perform Thiruvathirakkali. They dance in a circle placing a lighted brass lamp at the centre. This entire performance is a wonderful sight. The dancers clap their hand in unison with grace and move to the rhythm of songs.