Festival

Champakulam Moolam First boat race of season in Kerala

Kerala, which has been promoted over the past few years as ‘God’s Own Country’, besides being well-known for its soul rejuvenating greenery, culture and hospitality, is also widely popular for its annual snake boat race known as Champakulam Moolam

WORDS: SHIFA MEYAJI

ONE of the most auspicious and exciting festivals of Kerala, the Champakulam Moolam is held in Pampa on the day of the ‘moolam’, which is followed in accordance with the Malayalam month of Midhunam.
Although Kerala takes pleasure in hosting a number of native boat races in the harvest season, the Champakulam Moolam is the first race of the season. Moolam signifies a Malayalam asterism (star or Nakshathra).
It holds much historic significance passed on to the locals through centuries. The traditional annual boat race of Kerala begins in late June and early July at Champakulam.
It is considered to be especially sacred as the deity at the Ambalappuzha Sri Krishna temple was installed on this day.
According to a famous legend, Raja Devanarayanan of Chempakasseri built a temple at Ambalappuzha, as suggested by the royal astrologers, but just before the installation of the idol of Lord Krishna, he was informed that it was not auspicious.

Hence, it became necessary to erect a suitable idol immediately. Luckily, the priests were aware of another idol which was placed at the Karinkulam temple in Kurichi.

Sacred idol
Moreover, this idol was believed to have been given to Arjuna by Lord Krishna himself, and was therefore considered to be sacred. After getting the idol from Karinkulam temple, the Raja’s men set forth by boat for the return journey.
They took shelter at night in the village of Champakulam where the host and his family showed great hospitality to the king and his men. The idol was duly installed the next morning where boats from the entire region assembled to escort it in a colorful, ceremonial procession through the lake to the temple.
The king was thoroughly pleased with the affection shown to him by his subjects. He declared that a great water carnival would be held at Champakulam every year and thus, began the Champakulam snake boat race and related events, which continue to this day.

On this day, the temple delegates enter the prayer room, where along with the Christian icons (the king was hosted by a respectable and kind Christian family at Champakulam) like the cross and statues of Jesus and Mary, the lamp, known as the Vazhakoombu Vilakku is given a place of prominence.

Exuberant boat procession
The temple priests then light the lamp and are then treated to a huge feast by the family. It is only after all these ceremonies that the famous Champakulam snake boat race commences. There is an exuberant procession of boats decorated with bright colored parasols and performances which greet the spectator before the race.
Massive boats dawn over the waters and ancient boat songs are hummed making it an exhilarating experience. This is the event that kicks off the boat racing fiesta, which takes over Kerala for the next few months.
This year, the spectacular festival was expected to start on June 28 and the conviviality is inevitable in the state.

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Gayatri Jayanti

Aum Bhoor Bhuwah Swaha,Tat Savitur Varenyam Bhargo Devasaya Dheemahi Dhiyo Yo Naha Prachodayat’

WORDS: SHIFA MEYAJI

THE foremost mantra in Hinduism, the Gayatri Mantra, is a prayer to the almighty for imparting wisdom and to light up the intellect to make it easier for the followers to walk on the righteous path.
Sage Vishwamitra first chanted this mantra on Jyeshta Shukla Ekadashi and from that day onwards, it came to be recognised as Gayatri Jayanti.

The relevance of this mantra is highest and it was given by Gayatri Devi or goddess Gayatri; hence, it is piously chanted during the festival of Gayatri Jayanti.
It is observed as the birth anniversary of Gayatri Devi, popularly known as the goddess of Vedas or Veda mata. Many accept her as the ‘Mother of all Gods’ and she is considered to be an embodiment of goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswati and Parvati.
The goddess appears with five heads, out of which four face the directions, which represent the Vedas, and the fifth faces the sky above, symbolising the almighty.

The goddess is portrayed sitting on a lotus and has 10 hands which bear the symbols of lord Vishnu.
Goddess Gayatri is also believed to be the second consort of lord Brahma. The story runs that Brahma had to start an important yagna, necessarily with his wife at a fixed time and his first wife, Sabitri was late.
Thus, to not avoid delay and further obstruction, in Sabitris absence he married Gayatri to start the yagna.
The significance of goddess Gayatri and her various portrayals make one realise why her followers celebrate this day with so much piousness and devotion.
Devotees offer special prayers and pujas to the goddess during this day. These are performed either by pandits or experienced elderly members of the family. Special satsangs and kirtans are performed by people from all communities and sects.

Worshippers rise early in the morning and perform the Shadopachara Puja. Those praying for knowledge and education offer the puja along with lillies, while the rest who pray seeking other things offer hibiscus flowers to the deity.
Women also observe the Deerga Sumangali fast on the day, praying for the long life of their husbands and traditionally offer turmeric powder and kumkum to the deity.
People seeking wealth from the deity offer puja with lotus flowers.

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Dhungri Mela in Himachal Pradesh Celebrated with pomp and fervor

The festival celebrates the birthday of Hadimba, believed to be the wife of Bhima, one of the five Pandava brothers

WORDS: MADHURI. Y

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Every year in May, the people of Himachal Pradesh celebrate the Dhungri festival with the utmost pomp and fervour. The celebration takes place in Manali, in the Hadimba temple, which is situated in the forest known as Dhungri Van Vihar.
This festival celebrates the birthday of Hadimba, who is believed to be the wife of Bhima (one of the five Pandava brothers). The great Hindu epic ‘Mahabharata’ tells the story of how Bhima fell in love with Hadimba and even

killed her brother, who was the ruler of the region then, to marry her. He stayed with her for around a year and they ruled the kingdom together, but left as he had to go back to his brothers and to his duties. Hadimba, however, kept on ruling over the region with righteousness and valour.
Her rule was so impactful that her subjects began to worship her as a goddess and built a temple in her honour. Built in 1553, it is now known as Hadimba temple and instead of an idol, enshrines a footprint of goddess

Hadimba. People from nearby places come to celebrate this festival and bring along with them the veiled, beautifully decorated idols of their own gods and goddesses.
Many of the local deities – including Kartik swami of Simsa, Chhandal Rishi of Parsha, Shrishti Narayan of Aleo, Shriganh of Jagatsukh, Vishnu of Shajla, Maladevi of Sial and Sankh Narayan of Nasogi – are paraded by their followers to Dhungri.

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These are then carried in their own chariots by people who later unveil them and sing and dance to their own local tunes along with drum beats and a wide variety of local food.
Everyone dresses in their finest adornments and enjoys the famous ‘Kulu Natti’ folk dance which is performed by the local artists. They wear traditional tunics and caps and dance in a rhythmic fashion with their hands linked with one another.
This annual fair not only celebrates the rule of Hadimba, but also commemorates the birthday of Raja Bahadur Singh who built the temple. The fair, which is the main attraction of the festival, also celebrates the completion of the transplantation of paddy, known as Saroohni.
The festival usually takes place for three days, after which the procession moves to temple Manu, situated in the village of Manali.
It is a well-known festival of Himachal Pradesh and people of the region wait eagerly for it throughout the year. The magical and extraordinary sights, processions, music and merry making that take place during the fair are worth a visit. It leaves one awestruck and filled with glee and enthusiasm.

Parasurama Jayanti

Known as cleanser of the earth and the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Parasurama is believed to be immortal.

WORDS: MADHURI. Y

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IT is said that the earth was ruled by kings who neglected their true duties and who were destructive and sinful.
It is also said that Lord Vishnu came down to earth as Parasurama, his sixth incarnation, to eliminate these kings and lighten the earth’s burden.

PARASURAMA, SON OF SAGE JAMADAGNI
Born to sage Jamadagni, one of the saptarishis, and Renuka, the daughter of king Prasenjit, Parasurama was a warrior sage. He is said to have been born in the Haihaya kingdom, which was ruled by Kartaviryarjuna from his capital Mahishmati on the banks of the river Narmada.
His name was Rama, and the name Parasurama comes from his battle axe, which is known in Sanskrit as ‘parasu.’ Parasurama was a devotee of Lord Shiva and it is Shiva who gives him the axe.
One day, his mother Renuka, who goes to the river to collect water, is distracted when she sees a Gandharva. She has a fleeting attraction towards him. Filled with remorse and unable to return to the sage, she remains at the river bank.
Jamadagni comes to know of this through his powers. He is furious and asks each of his five sons to kill their mother.

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When the first four refuse to do so, he turns them to stone. Parasurama, his fifth son, kills Renuka. A pleased Jamadagni grants him two boons.
As the first boon, Parasurama asks for his mother to be brought back to life, showing his dedication to both parents. For the second boon, he asks his father to bring his brothers back to human form. A pleased Jamadagni does so.

JAMADAGNI’S DEATH AND THE KSHATRIYA MASSACRE
Once, Kartaviryarjuna, the Haihaya king, visits Jamadagni. Because of his divine cow, Kamadhenu, the sage is able to serve a feast to the king. An impressed Kartaviryarjuna asks the sage to give him Kamadhenu.
When Jamadagni refuses to do so, the king forcibly takes Kamadhenu with him. When Parasurama comes to know of this, he goes to battle with the king, kills his army and brings Kamadhenu back.
The king’s three sons become enraged and they in turn stab Jamadagni 21 times before they cut his head off and take it with them.
Parasurama kills the three brothers, brings his father’s head back and performs the last rites. His fury unabated, he kills 21 generations of kshatriyas for the 21 times that his father was stabbed.
It is said that Parasurama performed his destiny of ridding the earth of sinful rulers in this manner.

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PARASURAMA JAYANTI
This Jayanti falls on the Shukla Paksha Tritiya, (third day of the bright half of the moon) during the month of Vaishakha.
Parasurama was born during pradoshakaal (one and a half hours before sunset to half an hour after sunset). Hence, Parasurama Jayanti is celebrated on the tritiya during pradoshkaal. This year it occurs on April 18.
On the day of ParasuramaJayanti, devotees undertake a fast and worship Lord Vishnu. Many stay awake through the night and recite the Vishnu Sahasranama. They donate food to brahmins. The day is considered auspicious and work undertaken on the day is believed to give good results.
PARASURAMA IN PURANAS
It is said that Parasurama is immortal and continues to live on earth. The bow in Sita’s swayamvar was given by Parasurama and when Ram tries to string the bow, it breaks in half. Parasurama is said to have heard the great sound all the way at the hills of Mahendra where he was meditating.
He then stops Rama and Sita’s journey to Ayodhya after their marriage and challenges Rama. Rama wins the challenge but tells Parasurama that since he is a brahmin and related to Vishwamitra maharshi, he will not kill him. He simply destroys the merit that Parasurama has earned through penance. Parasurama then returns to the hills of Mahendra.
Parasuramais also the martial guru of Bhishma, Dronacharya, and Karna, the first three chiefs of the Kaurava army in the Kurukshetra battle. When Amba asks him to interveneto make Bhishma marry her, he fights Bhishma, but it is the latter who has the upper hand.
Meanwhile, the spirits of Parasurama’s ancestors tell him to make this battle his last and that he does not need to fight to protect brahmins any longer.
To be taken as his disciple, Karna tells Parasurama that he is a brahmin. One day, when Parasurama is asleep on Karna’s lap, a scorpion bites Karna. Karna bears the pain so that his guru’s sleep is not disturbed. But, the flow of blood from the wound wakes Parasurama.
Realising that Karna, who could bear the pain of the scorpion sting, was not a Brahmin, Parasurama curses him that when he most needs his divine weapons, he will forget how to use them, which takes place in the Kurukshetra war.
Kalki Purana states that Parasurama will be the martial guru of Kalki, Lord Vishnu’s 10th avatar.
LEGENDS AND TEMPLES OF PARASURAMA
Parasurama is believed to have lived on the west coast, in the Konkan, Karnataka and Kerala regions. He is said to have reclaimed Kerala from the sea and settled a community in the region.
Parasuramais depicted with the matted locks of a sage and sometimes, with two arms, with an axe in one. At other times, he is depicted with four arms, carrying an axe, a bow, an arrow, and a sword.
THIRUVALLAM
This 2000-year old temple near Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, is on the banks of the river Karamana at the sangam of the rivers Karamana, Killi and Parvathiputhanar. It remains closed during the solar and lunar eclipses. Parasurama is said to be the founder of northern Kalaripayattu, the martial art that uses weapons.
AIHOLE
After killing kshatriyas, Parasurama washes his axe in the river Malaprabha, turning it red with the blood of those that he had killed. The location is Aihole in present-day Badami taluka in Karnataka.
PARASURAMKUND
Built on the lower regions of the Lohit river in Arunachal Pradesh, it is said to have been established by Parasurama himself.

Different Ways Of celebrating Holi around india

The month of March marks the celebration of the two- day spring festival of Holi. Let’s have a look at how we celebrate this fun festival in full favor..

WORDS: SHIFA MEYAJI

INDIA takes pride in being the perfect example of Unity in Diversity wherein it welcomes various cultures, ethnicities and their festivals and traditions. There are an incredulous variety of festivals celebrated in the country, all of which have their own ancient history and significance.
Holi, one of the main festivals of Hindus, is also popularly known as the festival of colours. It is celebrated throughout the country in a variety of entertaining ways. The oldest and most popular legends about the reason for celebrating Holi is that of Prahlad, the son of Hiranyakasipu, and how he was saved by Lord Vishnu to signify the victory of good over evil and selfish motives of his own father.
Read on to see how there are several unconventional and unknown ways in which the states of India celebrate Holi.

In Uttar Pradesh, the people of Barsana celebrate ‘Lathmaar Holi’ which is a very fun and notorious event. The women beat the men, generally their husbands, with sticks after the men steal their attention by singing songs, and the men defend themselves with shields. It is a treat to look at and the people enjoy themselves by also throwing colours and coloured water at each other.
While Goa celebrates its famous ‘Shigmo Festival’ along

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with traditional dances and processions with utmost fervor and excitement, the people of Assam celebrate ‘Phagwah’ which is their name for Holi. They burn clay huts on the first day to signify ‘Holika Dahan’ while their second day is filled with celebration with colours.
The communities of West Bengal celebrate ‘Dhol Jatra’ in which the people, dressed in beautiful brocades of saffron colour, take out a procession with idols of Krishna and Radha on the streets and spray colours on each other.

The people from Southern India also participate in Holi celebrations but they do have their own distinct names and rituals for it. Some worship God Kaamdev and spend the day meeting people and exchanging sweets. In Kerala however, Holi is known as ‘Manjal Kuli’ and is celebrated in the Konkani Temple of Gosripiram Thirumala.
Holi is most amazingly played in Bihar. It is known as ‘Phaguwa’ in their local Bhojpuri dialect and has the usual colour and water spraying along with the local popular folk songs with a touch of the famous Bhaang.

The lighting of the Holika pyre is a must before playing Holi.
Manipuris celebrate ‘Yaosang Festival’ which has been celebrated there for ages. It’s a six-day festival of which the popular dance, Thabal Chongba plays an important role and is performed in various places.
‘Hola Mohalla’ is celebrated a day before Holi in Punjab in which the Sikhs sing popular songs, perform stunts and martial arts. It is generally performed by the Nihang Sikhs.

Skanda Shashti

Skanda Shashti, dedicated to Lord Kartikeya, the celestial general, marks his victory over the asuras.

WORDS: MADHURI. Y

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Skanda Shashti, or Kanda Shashti is observed in prayer to Kartikeya, son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Kartikeya is the celestial general and the day marks the victory of good over evil through his intervention.

It occurs on the sixth day (shashti tithi) of the waxing moon (shukla paksha) every month. In February this year, it occurs on the 21st. The main Skanda Shashti of the year, also called Sura Samharam, signifies the slaying of asuras by Kartikeya, and falls in November, during the month of Kartika.

Observing Skanda Shashti

The day after the new moon each month, devotees observe the Skanda Shashti vrat with a full or partial six-day fast, which ends on the day of shashti. They chant the Skanda Shashti kavacham. Some chant ‘Om Sharavana Bhava’ 108 times in honour of Skanda. Pooja is performed when panchami tithi (fifth day) ends and shashti tithi starts between sunrise and sunrest.

On the Kartika shashti day, devotees sing bhajans and kirtans. They read and narrate stories of Kartikeya. In temples, his battle with the asuras is enacted. Devotees carry a kavadi (sling with weights on either end), signifying the burdens they carry, in the belief that Kartikeya will lighten them. The person carrying the kavadi performs ritual ceremonies before picking up the burden and after offering it to Kartikeya.

The Arupadaiveedu, the six temples of Murugan, in Tamil Nadu, as well as the Kukke Subrahmanya temple in Karnataka, and other temples of Kartikeya, and Lord Shiva temples celebrate the festival.

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Kartikeya Comes to Swamimalai Temple
Once when Lord Brahma visited Mount Kailash, he did not give respect to Kartikeya.
Kartikeya who was a child, said with anger, ‘O Brahma! How do you create living beings?’
‘With the help of the Vedas,’ said Brahma.
‘Then recite the Vedas,’ said Kartikeya.
Brahma began the recitation with, ‘Om.’
Om being the Pranava Mantra on which the Vedas rest, Kartikeya said, ‘Tell me the meaning of the Pranava Mantra.’
Brahma could not give the answer. At this, Kartikeya imprisoned Brahma, and began performing the duties of the creator. The devas came to know of this and approached Vishnu for help.
Since Vishnu could not help, Shiva came to Kartikeya.
‘Son, release Brahma,’ he requested.
‘No father,’ said Kartikeya. ‘Brahma does not know the meaning of Om.’
‘Why don’t you explain the meaning,’ said Shiva.
While Kartikeya explained, Shiva, although he is the adi yogi, and the father of Kartikeya, listened with respect, giving rise to another name of Kartikeya—Swaminatha Swami.
Since then, the temple atop the Swamimalai hill has belonged to Kartikeya, with Shiva’s temple at the foot of the hill.
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Form of Skanda
Skanda holds a spear and a trident. He rides a peacock, symbolizing his victory over the ego. The cobra beneath his feet indicates his fearlessness, immortality and wisdom.
Sometimes, he stands only with the spear, indicating his freedom from maya, or illusion. He is also seen with six heads, which represent wisdom, dispassionate view, strength, fame, wealth and divine powers.
Skanda’s Birth
Once Tarakasura, with asuras, Simhamukha and Surapadma troubles the gods and humans. Indra, the king of gods goes to Lord Brahma for help.
But, destroying Taraka isn’t simple since he has a boon from Lord Shiva, that he can be killed only by Shiva’s son. Trouble was, Lord Shiva did not have a son, and he was in samadhi. The gods were not sure how to awaken Shiva.
On Lord Brahma’s advice, Indra asks Parvati and Kamadeva for help. Kamadeva goes to Mount Kailash, and shoots his arrows towards Shiva while Parvati stands nearby.
A distracted Shiva opens his eyes and seeing Kamadeva, he opens his third eye and burns him to ashes.
It is then that Shiva sees the need for a son of his own to destroy Taraka. Shiva’s seed is cast into agni, the fire god. Unable to hold its heat, agni throws it into the Ganga. Ganga too is unable to bear the heat and throws the seed into a forest of reeds where Skanda is born, for which he is known as Saravanabhava (born in a reed forest).
He divides himself into six forms to be nursed by the six mothers of the constellation Krittika, taking the name Kartikeya after them. When Parvathi comes to take him, she turns him back into one baby with six faces, giving rise to the name Shanmukha.
Kartikeya destroys the armies of Tarakasura, Simhamukha and Surapadma in a six-day battle. The day the asuras are killed is celebrated as Sura Samharam.
How Kartikeya Came to Palani
Once, when the sages and gods sat with Lord Shiva, the earth tilted in one direction. Shiva asked sage Agastya to correct the tilt.
Agastya asked Idumban, an asura disciple to carry the Sivagiri and Saktigiri hills to his home in the south. Idumban, who had survived the battle between Kartikeya and the asuras, had repented his actions, and had become a Kartikeya devotee.
He placed the hills in a kavadi (long stick with the weights hanging from either end) slung over his shoulders and went south.
Meanwhile, Kartikeya had lost to Ganesha in a competition and withdrew to Palani, seeking wisdom.
At Palani, a tired Idumban set the kavadi down. When he was ready to continue, he found that he was unable to lift one of the hills. Looking up, he found Kartikeya standing atop the hill and asked him to move.
Kartikeya refused and a battle began between the two. When sage Agastya intervened, Kartikeya cooled down. Realising his mistake, Idumban asked Kartikeya for forgiveness.
He also made a request, ‘Lord, please grant me the privilege of standing guard at the hill entrance.’
Kartikeya agreed and the result is an Idumban temple mid-way up the hill.
Idumban had one more request, ‘Whoever carries a kavadi to the temple, bless them my lord.’
To this too, Kartikeya agreed and the practice of devotees carrying kavadis to the temple began.
On Palani hill, Kartikeya is in a form of renunciation.