According to legends, this is the day when Lord Shiva performed his blissful dance that energies the whole world to his two adherent devotees- Vyagrapadha and Adi Sesha. The cosmic dance of Lord Shiva represents five activities-Creation, Protection, Destruction, Embodiment and Release.
One more legend goes that there was Maharishi named 'Karagavanam' who wanted to destroy Lord Shiva sent all kinds of weapons, endangered species. Lord Shiva welcomed them and wore as ornaments and performed the cosmic dance.
Every year Arudhra Darshan is celebrated in the month of Margazhi or Dhanur masam(December-January) on a Full moon day which is the longest night of the year. At Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, annual festival called Brahmostavam is held for Lord Nataraja. Lord Nataraja’s Five Sabhas or abode are quite famous known as Pancha Sabha. They are 1) Kanakasabha (Gold) - at Chidambaram (Thillai or Tillai), 2) Velli Sabhai (Silver) at Madurai, 3) Ratnasabha (Ruby) at Tiruvalankadu, 4) Tamrasabha (Copper) at Tirunelveli, 5) Chitrasabha (Pictures) at Kutralam. In Thillai Chidambaram 10 day Festival is held during Thiruvathirai. On the 9th day night (i.e., 10th day very early morning) Maha Abhishekam will be done to Lord Nataraja and Goddess Sivakamasundari at Raja Sabhai at around 3 am. The MahaAbhishekam will be held for about 3–4 hours.
Then special Thiruvabaranam (Sacred Jewels) Alankaram, Rahasiya Puja will be done to Sri Natarajar. Pancha Murthi Thiruveethi Ula, will be held at around 12 pm Noon. Soon after Pancha Murthi Ula in the afternoon Lord Natarajar and Goddess Sivakami will bless devotees with Aarudra Darisanam and enter Kanaka Sabhai (Golden Sabha).
Tamil hymns of Maanikavasagar's Thiruvasagam:
The hymns Thiruvempavai and Thiruppalliezhuchi are chanted in all the Shiva temples all through Margazhi masam. On the very day of Thiruvathirai the idols of Nataraja (Lord Shiva) and his consort Shivagami-the Goddess Parvati is taken out of the temple premises for a grand procession. It is one of the major events in almost all the Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu.
Thiruvathirai Nombu: Nombu in Tamil meaning fasting or vratham or sacred fasting led worship. In Tamil Nadu, the unmarried women will fast during the daytime. They will take food before sunrise and start their fasting. They will break the fast after witnessing the moon rise. Some do Nombu (fasting) for all ten days and ends on Thiruvathirai day.
It is believed that married women observes this Nombu for the longevity life of their husbands life and unmarried woman or young girls observe to beget good husband. On this day, married women also change their sacred yellow mangalya thread called ‘Charadu’ which is tied during wedding. The unmarried young girls are tied with a thin Nombu charade on the right hand wrist.
Thiruvathira in Kerala
In Kerala, the festival is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Shiva. Thiruvathira in Malayalam is Thiruvathirai nakshatra or star as per the Malayalam calendar of Lord Shiva. Another belief is that the festival commemorates the death of Kamdeva, the Hindu god of erotic desire. In Kerala, Thiruvathira is an important traditional festival along with the other popular festivals, Onam and Vishu.
This has been celebrated by the Nambuthiri, Kshatriya and Nair communities of Kerala from days of yore. It is largely a festival for women; unmarried women observe a partial fast on this day to get good husbands and married women take a fast from the preceding day Makayiram nakshatra and on the day of Thiruvathira for the well being of their husbands and family. The first Thiruvathira of a newly wedded woman is her Poothiruvathira.
In Kerala, the fast involves abstaining from rice-based food. The typical meal includes cooked broken wheat and Thiruvathira puzhukku, a delightful mix of tuber vegetables: colocasia –(chembu), yam (chena), Chinese potato (koorka), sweet potato (madhurakizhangu) with long beans (vanpayar) and raw plantain or banana fruit (ethakaya), cooked with a thick paste of freshly ground coconut. The dessert is koova payasam, a sweet dish made of arrowroot powder, jaggery and coconut milk.
Thiruvathirakali in Kerala is a dance form performed by women on the day of Thiruvathira to the accompaniment of Thiruvathira paattu meaning folk songs telling tales of lovesick Parvati, her longing and penance for Lord Shiva's affection and Shiva's might and power. The graceful movements executed by the group of dancers around a nilavilakku embodies lasya or the passionate charm and grace of the feminine. The dance follows a circular, pirouetting pattern accompanied by clapping of the hands and singing.
Thiruvathirakali in Tamil Nadu
Thirvathirai kali is a special pudding prepared as an offering to Lord Nataraja. Then Ezhu Kootu- it is a savory dish prepared with seven vegetables and pulses namely-raw banana, sweet patato, yam,yellow pumpkin, broad beans, beans, cluster beans, okra, brinjal, colocasia, mochai (Lima beans or butter beans) and so on. Thiruvathirai kali is a special pudding prepared.
There goes another story behind this pudding preparation- There was a very poor devotee of Lord Shiva nmed Sendanar. He did uncondition service to mankind and the temples. To test his sinecerity of devoition Lord Shiva in disguise went to his house and asked for food to eat. As this devotee had very little edible rice flour and some jaggery, he mixed the same in prepared apudding with best of his devotion and offered it to Lord Shiva. Pleased with his devotion, Lord Shiva accepted it also made it known to the ruling king and the world about Sendanar’s unparallel devotion and service to the mankind.