The Float Festival is one of the truly memorable festivals of India. It is celebrated in Madurai (generally in January) on the night of the full moon,. The Float Festival of India attracts large number of visitors and the entire city is involved in the festivities.
The Float Festival begins when the ornamented icons of the Goddess Meenakshi and her consort start out from the main temple in great pageantry. The deities are carried in golden palanquins escorted by elephants, horses, musicians and thousands of devotees. After reaching Lake Teppakolam (about two miles away) the deities are placed in a small temple on the banks of the lake, and the devotees are allowed to worship them. The idols are then taken in palanquins and placed on a great raft-like structure that is colorfully decorated with varieties of flower garlands, silken buntings, paper lanterns and masses of flowers.
Hundreds of devotees catch hold of the two big ropes by which the float is drawn and they await the signal to start. One rope is pulled by men standing on the central island and the second by those on the bank of the lake. After the final ritual of worship, the priests give the signal and the men strain at the ropes.
Slowly, the great float moves away from the shore and begins its tour around the lake. As the men holding the rope move along the banks of Lake Teppakolam, thousands of spectators celebrate by shouting the names of the deities in great joy. The float itself moves around the lake at a slow, steady pace. After a couple of rounds, which take more than three hours, the ornamental raft is moved to the central island and remains there till the evening. All through the day, a number of boats travel to the island bringing thousands of devotees to worship.
The scene in the evening is even more wonderful and over a thousand people gather to watch the procession. As dusk falls, all five towers of the island temple glow with colored lights. Thousands of little oil-lamps are lit in the niches of the walls at the edge of the lake. The lamps are brightly reflected in the water and it looks as if the lake is aglow with its own light. Then an old cannon is fired and the float is illuminated with strings of colored electric bulbs, banks of fluorescent tubes and a blaze of flood lights turning the ornamental raft into a dazzling sight.
Soon afterward, a display of fireworks starts on the shore and an answering bouquet of red and green flares soars up from the central island. The cannon is fired again and the float begins to move. The water ripples and the reflections of colored lights form ever changing patterns. As the raft makes its slow trip around the lake, the fireworks continue and the people cheer and fold their hands in prayer to the deities. After completing a full round, the float is brought to the shore and the divine idols are taken out with great ceremony. This is followed by a form of theatre that has not changed for centuries - the performers enact scenes from the legendary tales involving the deities. Finally, the idols are mounted on a beautifully decorated golden horse and returned to the main temple in a great procession.