Saturday, January 15, 2011

Festivals of West India

The colourful states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, the exotic Goa with the rugged Maharashtra with the union territories of Daman and Diu, form the western part of India. Along with the colorfulness, the songs and dances make a prominent impact in the festivals all over India. Western side is no exception with typical food items prepared for particular festival.

The Desert State of Rajasthan is famous for its vibrant celebration of festivals. The Gangaur festival is very much similar to that of the one celebrated in Madhya Pradesh. In Rajasthan too it is celebrated around March when the ladies bring home the Gauri, wife of Shiva and worship her and then on last day immerse the idol. The ladies throughout the festival sing songs and dance. They decorate themselves with henna on their palms and wear all the traditional jewelery. The Mewar festival takes place in the lake city of Udaipur during this time. An exhilarating welcome to spring, this festival is a visual feast with Rajasthani songs, dances, processions, devotional music and firework displays. An unusual procession of boats on the lake offers a fitting finale to this splendid celebration.

The Urs held every year in the scorching month of May, at the dargah of Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer commemorates his symbolic union with God. Pilgrims from all over the world gather here to pay homage. Qawalis and poems are presented in the saint’s honour. At the huge fair that springs up at this time, religious objects, books, rosaries, embroidered carpets and silver ornaments are on sale.

Celebrated in the month of February in Dungarpur, the colorful Baneshwar Fair is considered to be a tribal fair. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Lingam is bathed with milk and applied saffron. On this day the Lord gets offerings of wheat flour, pulses, rice, jaggery, ghee and even salt and chillies, with coconut and cash. The main attraction of this festival are the Bhils attending Baneshwar Fair singing traditional folk songs in high pitched voices sitting around a bonfire every night.

Teej is the festival of swings celebrated in August. Dedicated to the Goddess Parvati, it marks the advent of the monsoon. Swings are hung from trees and decorated with flowers. Young girls and women dressed in green clothes sing songs in celebration of the advent of the monsoon. Goddess Parvati is worshipped by seekers of conjugal bliss and happiness. An elaborate procession is taken out on the streets of Jaipur for two consecutive days on the festive occasion.

Down south of Rajasthan is Gujarat. One of the prehistoric states of India, Gujarat’s history goes back to the Jurassic age. Also famous for the Indus Valley civilization, this state is unique in its geographical features as well. A vast sea coast, jungles with ferocious lions and always welcoming people, Gujarat, the land of Gurjars, is a truly vibrant state. Dwarka once supposed to be the capital of Lord Krishna, is in Gujarat. Gujarat celebrates approximately 2000 festivals in year out of which most are regional based fairs and festivals dedicated to the deity. Some of the famous are The Kite festival. It is an international kite festival held during the Makar Sankranti in January. People from the world come to participate in this internationally acclaimed festival for a display of their kites.

The Dang Darbar coinciding with Holi in March is another big event in Gujarat. Held in the Ahwa region and Dang district it is a unique celebration of Holi by the tribes. Countless tribal people from the adjoining districts participate in the fair dressed in colourful traditional outfits dancing to the beats of drums. The huge Janmashtami celebrations held in Dwarka, the abode of Krishna is a delightful sight. The most important festival celebrated by the Gujaratis is the Navaratri in October, before Dushera.

Navaratri is an auspicious occasion that commemorates the worship of Divine Mother Goddess and her numerous manifestations. The nine-day cultural extravaganza wraps the entire Gujarat. During Navratri, a pot with attractive designs is ceremoniously placed a light is placed inside. Religious texts are read out and people fast and later cook Gujarati delicacies to eat. The main feature of the Navaratri of Gujarat is its typical dance called the Garba raas. Mostly all the Gujarati ladies can dance the Garba, a rhythmic dance, danced in a circle with clapping hands and traditional songs to accompany with. The rhythm which is initially slow grows faster and the dancers match their footsteps along with that fast rhythm. Another Dance form performed during Navaratri in every nook and corner of Gujarat is the Dandiya. The concept is the same, only here men too can participate and the dancers use small sticks to give a rhythm. Every street in Gujarat is decorated and people come in their fineries to participate in the dance. The mood, the attire and the music are so upbeat and vibrant that every year, the festival attracts tourists from India and abroad.

Diwali celebrated all over India in October is celebrated with equal vibrancy in Gujarat as well. It has a particular significance for the Gujaratis as the third day of Diwali is the New Year of the Gujaratis and is celebrated with much pomp and show all over Gujarat. People start their new businesses and wear new clothes and do all that is good on this day.

The rugged state of Maharashtra has a vast coast line starting from Gujarat and extending till Goa. Peaceful co existence of various religions is Maharashtra’s highlight, and is seen ff and on through the celebrations of various festivals. The Gudhi Padava or the Marathi New Year celebrated in April begins the year full of festivity in Maharashtra. The Marathis place a long decorated stick in front of their houses calling it Gudhi to welcome the New Year. They worship the Gudhi and start new ventures on this day.

Nagpanchami comes with onset of Shravan month falling in August. This festival brings in a list of festivities that go on till January. Nagpanchami is dedicated to Snake God. The ladies worship the snake and request him to leave the fields for some time so that the men folk can begin sowing and ploughing.

The Parsi New Year of Pateti is celebrated within the Parsi community of Mumbai, Maharashtra with much gaiety and fun. The Parsis visit the Agyaris and later spend the time with families and friends dancing, singing and eating good meals.

The coastal Maharashtra celebrates the Narali Purnima, worshipping the Sea God and offering Him coconut, on the full moon day falling in August. This day is also celebrated as the Raksha Bandhan day. Sweets made of coconut are prepared and distributed. Fifteen days after comes the festival dedicated to the cattle especially the bulls and the Oxen. Maharashtra being agriculture oriented state, Oxen carry immense importance in the lives of the farmers who earlier used to plough their lands with the help of these Bullocks. On the day of Pola, the farmer decorates his cattle, worships it and feeds them with goodies. It is a rest day for the Oxen and the cows and no farmer works on this day.

Within a week of Pola, in September comes the most famous and most lavishly celebrated festival of Maharashtra, Ganesh Chaturthi. Lord Ganesh, the patron deity of Maharashtra, is the God of wisdom. The festival is an eleven day festivity is the largest of its kind celebrated in India, with worshipping of idols and their immersion for ten continuous days. Dedicated to Elephant god Ganesh or Ganapati the festival celebrates the birth of the God. The whole of Maharashtra is in festive mood during this time. Idols are brought home and worshipped for ten days and immersed on the last day with people shouting, Ganapati Bappa Morya, pudhchya warshi Lawakar ya!! The Marathis also have the community celebration when huge Pandals are put up and huge idols of the Lord are installed for ten days and worshiped. Immersion too is a huge procession and the Marathis bid a tearful farewell to the God and wait for the next year to come. For ten days various cultural programmes are arranged like music concerts, orchestra, plays and skits. Some social activities are also undertaken like blood donation, scholarships for the needy or donation to the people suffering from any kind of natural calamity. In between these ten days, Gauri, Ganapati’s mother too arrives. She too is worshipped and prayed for three days and later immersed. The Dushera and Diwali are celebrated with equal fervor as that of the rest of India.

Come December and the preparations for Christmas begin in Mumbai, the hub of Christian community in Maharashtra. Churches and streets are decorated; the Christians hang stars in front of their houses. Bakeries overflow with goodies. A small replica of the scene depicting the birth of Jesus Christ is made in front of houses and Churches. Carols are sung on streets and Santa Clause can be seen in stores. Midnight and morning masses are held and attended even by Hindus. The air of festivity continues till the New Year arrives. On the New Year eve, streets are decorated and people stay awake the whole night welcoming the New Year.

The small state of Goa is perpetually in a festive mood all through the year with some or the other fair in the state. The Christians call it feasts, the Hindus call it jatra and the Muslims call it Urus. Three names but one sentiment… celebration. It means worshipping and praying the deity, eating goodies, drinking, dancing, singing, buying and selling and basically merry making. Although each religion has their own festivals all of them carry the typical Goan flavour. All the festivals and Jatras are celebrated with great fervour and enthusiasm by one and all. People from all walks of life, rich or poor, old or young, Hindu or Christians celebrate the festivals together making it a Goan festival.

The Hindu festivals of Goa are similar to that of State of Maharashtra. The other unusual festivities of Goa are the festivals dedicated to local deities which later get converted into fairs. One such example is the Vasco Saptah. A week long festivity dedicated to Lord Damaodar, who according to legends once cured the on going epidemic after the worshiping, started. Held before the Chovoth, or the Ganesh Puja, similar to Maharashtra, this festival is held only in the town of Vasco. Apart from Easter, Good Friday and Christmas, there are end numbers of typical Goan Feasts celebrated by the Christians of Goa. Touxeachem Feast is held in the magnificent Church of St Anne also known as the Santana Church. It is dedicated to St Anne and the feast is celebrated on July 29. Touxeachem Fest (in Konkani) literally translates as the Cucumber Feast in English. The procession of Saints is the only of its kind taking place in India when the sleepy village of Goa Velha hosts this renowned and honoured Procession of the Saints on the first Monday of Easter week. The Feast of St. Francis Xavier is when Ceremonies to honour the death of St Francis Xavier who lies in a silver casket in the Church of Bom Jesus in Goa take place. The celebrations take place on December 3, the day he was buried. This day takes the shape of a great fair in the area.

The small union territories of Daman Diu and Dadra Nagar Haveli, being near to Gujarat, celebrate the same festivals that of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Being under the Portuguese rule, though they still carry the Portuguese impression and the Christian festivals like the Christmas are celebrated in their own unique way.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Festivals of Central India:

The central part of India, till recently comprised of the biggest states of India, Madhya Pradesh. Now it has been split in to two with Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

A predominantly tribal state, with about 35 big and small tribes spread all over, Chhattisgarh is perhaps the most economically strong region of the country, and is endowed with rich mineral and forest wealth. It has a potential of becoming an important industrial centre.

Dominated by he tribals, other than the major Indian festivals, all the tribes have their own respective festivals with their own culinary and dancing affairs. Cherchera celebrated after the harvest is the unique festival of the people of Chhattisgarh, when they go asking for rice, the staple crop. The rice then is cooked and eaten; a traditional way of distributing what one reaps. Chhattisgarh has its own dance styles, cuisine, music & traditional folk songs in which Sohar songs, Bihav songs & Pathoni songs are very famous. For the tribes, the Bhils and the Gonds, every festival is followed by some sort of animal sacrifice. The tribals of Bastar often complement their economy by community hunts like Pandum and Parad. 

Situated in the center, Madhya Pradesh was once the largest state in India. A visit to this land, in the very heart of India gives unexpected and delightful experiences. Madhya Pradesh has had a glorious past with various empires ruling the state. It has centuries-old culture of warriors and Builders, of Poets and Musicians, of Saints and Philosophers.

The Gana Gour festival is celebrated with much gaiety in Madhya Pradesh. The people believe that Gour, wife of Shiva, was married to Shiva and they stayed in Rajasthan. She could come home only once a year. This coming back is celebrated by these people here. They make small idols of the Gour and worship her along with her husband. The Gordhan festival celebrated after Diwali has its history in the legend of Krishna, who saved his village from drowning by holding the mighty Govardhan Mountain. Gordhan is celebrated as the festival of cows and cattle. The cattle is decorated and fed goodies on this day.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Festivals of North India

Jammu Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and the newly formed Uttarnachal state are the six states, which make the North part of India. The traditions and cultures of celebrating a particular festival differs not only from state to state but also from the hilly region to the plains. Festivity brings alive the spirit of the people staying in the northern part of India.

The all time fertile land of five rivers is Punjab. The land of the dare devil Sikh community. The religion was born to save the motherland and the Sikhs and the Punjabis, ready to take any risk, accepted it. India has been represented by the Sikh community venturing out for business to far fledged lands, more than anyone else from India.

Baisakhi is the New Year day, falling in Mid April, of the Punjabis. They sing, dance and make merry on this particular day. It is also a harvest festival, when the golden wheat ripens and fills the heart with Joy. It was on this day nearly 450 years back that the Sikh Guru started the custom close to baptism to Sikhism. People visit temples and Gurudwaras to worship. They gather and the men folk dance the famous Bhangra on the tune of huge drums and the women start the Giddha to accompany them. Preparing and eating goodies and singing is also part of the celebrations.


An annual festival held at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, Hola Mohalla was started by the tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, as a gathering of Sikhs for military exercises and mock battles on the day following the festival of Holi. The word hola is adapted from halla, meaning attack, while mohalla means the place of attack. On this three-day festival mock battles are held followed by music and poetry competitions. 

The martial tradition with mock battles and displays of swordsmanship and horse riding is the highlight if this festival held in March. Gurupurab is another important festival for the Sikhs and the Punjabis. Birthdays of reverend Sikh Gurus, Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh and the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur and Arjun Dev is remembered on these days. The first full moon night falling after Diwali is the birthday of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak. The festival is celebrated with great exuberance. They burn crackers and decorate their houses with lights.

The state is full of surprises and is known as the paradise of India. Jammu and Kashmir are actually the crown of India, the northern most state. The mystic Leh, the beautiful valleys of Kashmir and the huge Shrines of Jammu, comprise a treat for the traveler. Followers of Islam, Buddhism and the Hindus, all stay in peace in this state blessed with natural abundance. The great Himalayan mountain range forms a superb background to this unique state.

All the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist festivals are celebrated here with all the enthusiasm and vibrancy. Vaitha-Vatur-Truvah which literally means thirteenth day of source of River Jhelum.  It is held at an ancient temple at Verinag, the source of the Jhelum. Hindus and Muslims participate in this festival.

The Urs (or Ziarats) is a typical Kashmiri festival. It is held annually at the shrines of Muslim saints on their death anniversaries. Urs of Meesha Sahib, Urs of Batamol Sahib and Urs of Bahauddin are particularly famous. These Urs are popular despite the rigorous weather. Celebrated in different parts of Srinagar, not only Muslims but Hindus and Sikhs also take the blessings. Sindhu darshan festival is another important festival when the Kashmiris come from all over the state to worship the source of the River in Leh. There are many Buddhist Monasteries in the part of Leh as the major population of Leh and Ladakh practices Buddhism. Few typical Leh Buddhist festivals such as the Yuru Kabgyat celebrated in July. Dances with masks are performed and the masks worn by the lamas during the dances represent guardian divinities. Doscmoche is another ancient festival, still celebrated every year in February with great pomp and fervour. 

The courtyard of the chapel below the gates of the Leh of the Leh Palace comes alive with the music of drums and the thumping steps of the masked Lamas from different monasteries performing the sacred dance-drama. The Lamas prepare, consecrate and eventually destroy the sacrificial offerings as the climax.

Himachal Pradesh, known as the abode of Gods is another picturesque region of Northern India. The people of this region based on the foothills of Himalayas are religious and celebrate their festivals with gaiety and pomp. The Phulaich festival celebrated in the Kinnaur district in month of September is unique in tradition. This four day festival is celebrated as the flower festival by the people of Himachal. The Rajputs of the village go to pluck flowers from a specified mountain and return only the next day. The night is spent singing and dancing. On the third day, the village deity is taken out and bedecked with all the finery along with the numerous flowers. A procession is taken out and the rests only the next day when an animal is sacrificed. Although this is a beautiful festival, the more famous and promoted is the Dushera of Kullu. Dushera is celebrated all around India, but not like that in Kullu. The celebrations start in Kullu when the celebrations of India for Dushera finish. The presiding deity of Kullu, Raghunathji is taken out on this day and around 600 deities of Himachal come to pay respect to this deity. Huge colourful processions mark the occasion and by the end of the festival the Lord is bathed in the Beas River and then taken back to its main temple. Singing and Dancing and worshipping is the core of this festival celebrated with pomp and show.

The state of Haryana is full of greenery and the places in Haryana are ancient having a mention in the Mahabharata. Due to the proximity to Delhi, some places in Haryana like Gurgaon and Faridabad have recently gained extreme importance as the satellite towns of Delhi and have been added to the list of the National Capital Region. All the common festivals like Holi, Diwali and Dushera are celebrated in the state. But the Haryanavis celebrate two important festivals with great fervour. Teej festival is celebrated during the month of July – August, to welcome the month of Sawan, bringing rains. Mainly ladies and girls enjoy this festival more than the men folk. The dupattas in bright red or pink with beautiful motifs of golden thread are worn, swings are hung on trees to play with and henna is applied on palms. A colourful festival, where the girls and the married ladies worship Lord Shiva and Parvati. Sanjhi is another important festival celebrated and worshipped as the mother goddess by unmarried girls of Haryana. They make the image of Sanjhi with mud using various shapes. These shapes include stars, moon, sun, face of the goddess and are then coloured. The festival takes place in early October or late September and the art associated with the festival is unique and very na├»ve. Gangore is celebrated around March -April. Idols of Ishar and Gangore are taken out in procession and songs in their praise are sung till they are immersed into water. This spring festival is held in honor of Gauri, the goddess of abundance.

Uttar Pradesh – the most populous states of India is also one of the most ancient cradles of Indian culture. Two great Rivers along with one mythological river that of Saraswati flow through this state. Abundant with natural wealth and resources, Uttar Pradesh ahs given India most of its Prime Ministers. The common Hindu festivals of Diwali, Dushera and Muslim festivals like the Ids are celebrated with vigour over here. The state wears a vibrant colour throughout the festivities. Some unique festivals to Uttar Pradesh includes the most famous, Lathmar Holi. 

48 km. from Mathura at Barsana, is celebrated the famous Lathmar Holi of Braj. Tradition has it that Krishna from Nandgaon use to come to Barsana to play Holi with Radha along with his Gopi friends. The Gopis after merriment chased them away by beating them with lathis or big bamboo sticks. Hence the name. To this day, the village women beat up the men from Nandgaon and chase them away.

The month long Kumbh Mela of Allahabad is one of the largest fairs of the world and is attended by millions of pilgrims from all over India as well as the devout from the world over. This religious occasion takes place in the months of January-February, on the banks of the holy confluence of rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. It is believed that a holy dip on this occasion washes all the sins. There is annual Kumbh, six yearly and the most important is the one that comes every twelve years.

The beautiful Kartik Purnima festival or the Dev Deepawali celebrated in Varanasi or Benaras, is a visual delight. Varanasi is the land of festivals. The full moon night after Diwali falling in November – December is the sacred day for all the people. The ghats of Varanasi come alive with thousands of brightly lit earthen lamps. The lamps then are gently left on the River. Visitors throng in large numbers to watch this spectacular event.

Other important festivals celebrated in the Uttar Pradesh are the Ramnavami at the birth place of Ram, in Ayodhya and Janmashtami, at the place of Krishna in Mathura. These festivals are celebrated with great pomp and show in these two places as compared to other places in India.

The land of celestial beauty that is what the new state of Uttaranchal is all about. Blessed with magnificent glaciers, majestic snow-clad mountains, gigantic and ecstatic peaks, valley of flowers, skiing slopes and dense forests, Uttaranchal is traveler delight and also a pilgrimage site for the Hindus, nestling the four most sacred places of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri in its mighty mountains and deep valleys. The Mata Murti Ka Mela held in the Champavat region in September is the unique festival. On this day the mother of Badrinath is worshipped, and a large fair held at the Badrinath Temple. Among the four sacred places of India where the Kumbh is held, one of them is Haridwar in Uttaranchal. The Magh Mela during Sankranti in the Kumaon region is another important festival.