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Masi Magham is one of the auspicious festivals of Hinduism, celebrated with pomp and piety in the Tamil month of Masi, which corresponds to February-March in the Gregorian calendar. Masi Magham happens once a year. Once in twelve years, when Jupiter enters the Simha or Leo constellation, Masi Magham is celebrated as Maha Magham. Magham is one among the twenty-seven stars or Nakshatras. This festival is associated with the cleansing ritual, which people observe on this day to get rid of their sins. A bath in holy rivers or seas during the festival is considered auspicious for attaining salvation. This is not only famous across Tamil Nadu, but also across the places where Tamil-Hindus are settled in large numbers.
Masi Magham has an interesting legend. After every four Yugas an Armageddon is believed to wipe out the world and the earth has seen numerous such apocalypses. The world would then be created afresh from the beginning. Once, Lord Brahma, the Creator, came to know about Lord Shiva’s plan to recreate the universe after destruction. Lord Brahma then sought the guidance of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva asked Lord Brahma to fill a Kumbha (pot) filled with Amrit (elixir) and the source energy to recreate the world and place it at the top of Mount Meru. Lord Brahma requested him to begin his work of re-creation from Kumbakonam (a sacred temple city in Southern India). This was where the pot was found on a Magha star day in Masi month.
Another interesting history associated with Masi Magham is the chronicle of King Vallala of Thiruvannamalai, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. King Vallala had no child so he prayed to Lord Shiva to perform his last rites. The king died on a Masi Magham day, and as per the promise, Lord Shiva performed his last rites, He also declared that whoever takes a bath in the sea during Masi Magham will get "Moksha." People believe that every year Lord Shiva visits the seaside to perform the last rites of the king Vallala.
Once there was a group of saints who were very arrogant. They gained enormous power and began to ignore the Gods, and were not carrying out their duties towards the people. As Lord Shiva wanted to teach a lesson to the saints, he took the form of a beggar. The saints did not recognize him and thought he was a devil. The Saints also sent a mad elephant to attack Lord Shiva. On seeing this, Lord Shiva tore the elephant and wore the elephant’s skin as his garment. This historical episode is known as “Gaja Samhara,” which happened on the day of Masi Magham.
Magha star’s symbol is a throne, which represents royalty and the consciousness it engenders. The Moon occupies the sign Leo and transits Magha which is ruled by Ketu. Also, the association of the King and Queen of the planets, the Sun and the Moon, with the sign Leo, makes it perfect to enhance prosperity, fame, royalty blessings and set high life goals. Planetary combination on this day also helps to get rid of negative ego, enhance leadership skills and decision-making skills.
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The main part of the celebration is the ritual bath given to the deities in the waters of 'Theerthavari' or the Bay of Bengal. Devotees would gather near the seashore in the early morning to offer their prayers. Idols of the deities in the temple are also given ceremonial bath on this day near the water bodies and are taken as a procession. Poojas and rituals are held here which are celebrated with pomp and piety, where thousands of people gather for this auspicious event. Among them, Gaja-Pooja to worship the elephant and Ashwa pooja to worship the horse are highly prominent.
People would amass near a water body to celebrate this festival. This day would be extremely beneficial in removing the karma (fate) accumulated across seven births. Observing Masi Magham bestows several benefits on its devotees.