As the name itself signifies, Tiruvoodal is the quarrel between Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi and it is celebrated particularly in Tiruvannamalai during the month of January, the 2nd day after Pongal. In fact there is a whole street close to the temple called ‘Tiruvoodal street’ where the main part of the festival, the quarrel itself, is enacted.
The Divine quarrel revolves around the time when one day Parvathi playfully closes the eyes of her august husband, Lord Shiva, with her hands. Utter chaos ensues. The whole universe is plunged in darkness and what was just a moment of play to Parvathi causes countless years of darkness and misery on the universe. Lord Shiva, enraged by this act of folly, punishes Parvathi which sends Her to Kanchipuram to do Tapas where She receives the assurance that after she kills the buffalo-demon Mahishasura on the slopes of Arunachala, She would subsequently regain the favour of her Lord and be united with Him in the left half of His body (Ardhanaariswara) and this is what is realised on the day of Karthigai Deepam.
It would seem that the Tiruvoodal festival is celebrated in Tiruvannamalai in order to commemorate the time when Shiva and Parvathi were in discordance. Nevertheless, it finishes with the divine union and brings them both back together in harmony. On the first day, there are three processions of the deities starting from the big temple and going on the four streets around the temple. The Utsava Murthis are Sri Mula Nayakar (Shiva in the form of Somaskanda), Tani Ambal (the independent goddess) and Sundaramurthi Nayanar (one of the main tamil saivaite saints).
The most interesting part of the festival takes place in the evening on Tiruvoodal street. During this part, the quarrel between Shiva and His consort, Parvathi, is enacted in public on the streets and witnessed by a large gathering of devotees who are assembled there eagerly to watch the divine drama. The God and the Goddess are brought on palanquins from opposite ends of the street and then borne down to face each other. The narrative of the quarrel is chanted by an Oduvar (temple singer) in tamil lyrics. After this ensues a dramatic dancing procession. Six times the God and the Goddess are borne down at a great speed and then meet in the centre and have their quarrel. This is played out by the palanquin bearrers jumping and shaking the palanquin up and down, which makes it appear as if the deity inside is jumping up and down in a fit of rage. The temple musicians play their drums in fitting accompaniment, adding to the frenzied rantings of the gods as they are shouting at each other. After each quarrel-dance, the deities change sides and each goes off in the opposite direction from which he or she came initially. The crowds of devotees are hysterical with excitement and after each dance-quarrel, the tension mounts and so do the loud cries of fervor and devotion which increase in volume and fury.
The next day, Shiva is up at dawn and leaves on Giripradakshina during which he makes a halt at the Vedarpari mandapam where his jewels are supposedly stolen and later on he also grants salvation to his ardent devotee Kannappa. This is the reason for the Kannappa temple on that location. Shiva also grants darshan to another of his devotees the great rishi ‘Bhringi’ during this trip. Shiva eventually completes his giri pradakshina and returns to the temple in the afternoon where he enters, dancing the dance of the Swan (Hamsa Natanam). The bearers of the palanquins have a special technique to execute this dance and it causes a type of swaying, continuous oscillation of the deity without losing balance, quite a fascinating sight!
Now a ritual takes place in the southern area of the temple which covers directly the sanctum sanctorum. Sundaramurthi Nayanar first goes to warn the Goddess about the return of Shiva. Of course, She, being curious, leaves Her door open so that She can have a glimpse of the dancing arrival of Her Lord. On seeing this spectacle, however, She is so dazzled by her Lord’s beauty and splendour as He arrives majestically doing His swan-dance, that She submits to Him and wishes to be re-united. Thus the reconciliation and reunion of the gods take place and to synchronise this, both the deities are brought together and placed on the same pedestal and the priests perform an Arathi puja waving and encircling one flame around both of the deities to signify the restoration of harmony.