The Hindu festival going by the name of Chitra Pournami is observed on the full moon day in the month of Chithirai or chaitra corresponding to the English months of April-May, when the asterism Chitra( virginis) holds sway. It is a festival observed to propitiate Chitragupta the chief accountant of Yama, who is believed to record the commissions and omissions by men in order to punish or reward them after their death.
The conception of Chitragupta and his functions is highly allegorical and needs explanation. The word 'Chitragupta' means a collection of pictures. It goes without saying that the application of this name to the chief accountant of Yama, the god of death, is pregnant with meaning.
The present day gramophone proves that though a man may cease to exist, his voice can be preserved and reproduced any time. By stretching our imagination we can see the possibility of reproducing the thoughts, feelings and actions of each and every one of the individuals during their lifetime if one but knows how to do it. In fact, there is an arrangement in nature by which every incident in the life of individuals, mental, emotional and physical, is recorded in a kind of very fine plastic matter in space and linked to the centre from which it emanated. The aggregations of these incidents are infact the account of each jiva in the cosmic ledger so to say. At the time of birth and death of an individual, adjustments in his accounts are made, either in the shape of fresh entries or by the removal of certain entries already in existence. The consciousness controlling this adjustment is Yama, the god name of death; and his accountant Chitragupta stands figuratively for the cosmic ledger of the accounts of jivas' commissions and omissions -- physical, emotional or mental.
In this month, the sunshine in its entire splendor, and the moon, which borrows its luster from the sun derives the same in full. Hence this day is said to be conducive to the happiness of humanity in general. Further, if the occasion happens to be a Thursday, Saturday or Sunday, it is considered specially auspicious and important.
There is also a myth to emphasize the importance of observing this festival at Madurai and it is as follows:
Brihaspati, the spiritual adviser of the gods, threw up his appointment, since Indra, the celestial king, failed to show proper respect to him. In the absence of the advice of his preceptor, Indra became a great sinner by his commissions and omissions. After some time, Brihaspati relented and returned to duty. He forgave Indra and pointed out to him how he may be purged of all his sins by visiting several holy places. Indra, acting accordingly, came to a forest where he found that all his sins were removed. Looking about himself to find out the cause of his happy deliverance, he found a linga near a tank. Being convinced that the influence radiating from it was the cause of the joy of his heart, he at once sent for Visvakarma, the celestial architect, and with his aid he erected a splendid shrine for the linga . He also got another shrine erected nearby, containing the figure of Iswari, Siva's wife.
Indra then thought of worshipping the god Iswara and the goddess Iswari, but had no flowers. He then prayed to the linga and the image of Iswari, when lo! there suddenly appeared beautiful golden lilies on the surface of the pond. As the day of Indra's worship of Iswara and Iswari happened be the Chitra Pournami day, this festival came to be celebrated at Madurai in a befitting manner. Even now people believe the statement that Indra visits his former place of worship on the Chitra Pournami night every year to worship Iswara and Iswari.
The river Chitra that originates in the hills at Kuttalam in the district of Tinnevelly is said to have appeared first on this holy day. So a bath in that river on this occasion is said to confer special merits on people.
In Conjeevaram, there is a special shrine dedicated to Chitragupta, the chief accountant of Yama, and the god of death. Both the sculpture in the sanctum and the metallic image of Chitragupta intended for being taken out in procession, bear in one hand a cudjan leaf manuscript and in the other a style, the necessary paraphernalia of an accountant to record the good and bad deeds of men on earth to enable his masterYama to award them heaven or hell after death.
On a pillar in the upper rock-cut cave in the hills of Trichinopoly, there is a record of the Chola king Rajakesarivarman (985-1013) gifting land to feed Brahmins and devotees in the nine days' Chitrai festival in the 16th year of his reign.
On the west wall of the Ganesa shrine in Nedungalanathaswami temple at Tirunedungulam, Trichinopoly district, there is another inscription about the same king gifting land for feeding 550 Sivayogins during the Chitrai festival.