Festival

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.

NEW YEARS AROUND THE WORLD

New year days differ across the world, but what is common to all of them is fresh hope, and the desire for a new beginning.

WORDS: MADHURI. Y

New year days around the world have been based on the solar calendar, lunar calendar, vernal equinox, arrival of spring, or the end of the harvest season. From ancient societies to the modern world, new year has been a time for renewal, renewed vows and new beginnings, giving new hope.

AKITU OF THE MESOPOTAMIANS
The earliest known new year celebration was the Babylonian Akitu. Celebrated after the vernal equinox, it dates back to about 2000 BC and was celebrated over 12 days. The priest of god Marduk’s house recited sad prayers and asked for Marduk’s forgiveness, indicating fear of the unknown. On the fifth day, the Babylonian king would enter the temple in which the priest, representing Marduk, stripped the king of his jewellery, and slapped him hard. If the king’s tears flowed, it meant that he had submitted to Marduk, and had shown respect. The priest returned the king’s crown, symbolically renewing the king’s power by Marduk.

WEPET RENPET OF EGYPT
The Egyptian new year coincided with river Nile’s annual flood. During mid-July, Sirius the brightest star would become visible after a 70-day absence. The Nile would overflow soon after, turning the farmlands fertile once again. Wepet Renpet was marked by rituals and feasts.
Coptic Egyptians of North Africa celebrated the Neyrouz and Ethiopians celebrated Enkutatash both of which fall on 11th or 12th September, following the legacy of Wepet Renpet. In Ethiopia though, it marks the end of the rainy season.

NOWRUZ OF PERSIA
Nowruz, the Persian new year was a 13-day festival and falls on the vernal equinox in March. It is part of Zoroastrianism and has been celebrated since at least the 6th century Achaemenid Empire. Despite Alexander’s conquest of Persia and the rise of Islam, the festival continues to be celebrated. It is marked by feasts, exchanging presents, lighting bonfires, colouring eggs and sprinkling water.

JEWISH NEW YEAR
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year falls in September or October. Some say that it is based on the creation of Adam and Eve. According to others, it marks the beginning of the agricultural cycle. It is celebrated over two days. Candles are lit in the evenings, festive meals are made, and prayer services are conducted. It is a time of judgement, penitence and forgiveness.

CHINA
During the reign of the Shang dynasty over 3000 years ago, the Chinese new year was introduced to celebrate the spring planting. It is based on the lunar calendar and is celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice, hence it falls in January-February.
Myths are a part of the festival. Nian, which also means year, was a bloodthirsty creature which preys on villages. To frighten the hungry Nian, villagers decorate their houses with red trimmings, burn bamboo, and make loud noises. During the 15-day festival, people clean their houses, repay old debts, decorate their doors with paper scrolls, and have a feast with relatives.

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OTHER ASIAN NEW YEARS
Tet, the Vietnamese new year falls between 20 January and 20 February. It is based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar and marks the arrival of spring. Seollal, the Korean new year is celebrated on the first day of their lunar calendar and falls on the day of the second new moon after winter solstice. The Cambodian Khmer new year is a three-day festival with the new year falling on 13 or 14 April and marks the end of the harvest season.
Songkran, the Thai new year falls on 13 April. Songkran originates from the Sanskrit word Sankranti and coincides with the entry of Sun into Aries.
Although most Nepalese celebrate the new year on Baisakhi, ethnic Newari celebrate it on the fourth day of Diwali.

ISLAM
The Islamic new year, also known as the Arabic or Hijri new year, falls on the first day of Muharram. The first Islamic year began in 622 AD with the Hijra of Prophet Muhammed, which marks his emigration from Mecca to Medina and follows the lunar calendar.

ROME
The Romans originally celebrated their new year on the vernal equinox. They worked part of the day since remaining idle on the day was viewed as bad omen. In 46 BC, Julius Ceasar introduced the Julian calendar and declared 1st January as the new year.

NEW YEARS OF INDIA
While Christians and the general public celebrate 1st January as the new year, the other religions celebrate the new year based on the lunar calendar.
People of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka celebrate Ugadi, their new year on the first day of the Chaitra month of the Hindu lunisolar calendar, which falls in March or April. Maharashtra, Goa and Konkan regions celebrate Gudi Padwa on this day, in Kashmir it is Navreh, for Sindhis it is Cheti Chand, and for Manipuris, it is Cheiroba.
Vishu is celebrated by the people of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, marking the completion of the spring equinox, and falls in the middle of April. Punjab celebrates it as Baisakhi, which is a harvest festival. Assam celebrates it as Rongali Bihu, Bengal as Poila Baisakh, and Odisha as Bihuva Sankranti.
Gujarat celebrates its new year on the first day of Shukla Paksha (waxing moon) of the month of Kartik, which falls on the day after Diwali. Marwaris celebrate theirs on Diwali, which is the last day of Krishna Paksha (waning moon) of the month of Ashwin.
In Sikkim, Losoong or Sonam Losar is celebrated in December, marking the end of harvest and the beginning of a new year.
Despite the many new years that are celebrated around the world, 1st January continues to be celebrated widely, in addition to the local new years.

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1ST JANUARY

The Council of Tours of the Church considered new year celebrations pagan and replaced 1st January with Easter, which fell on the first Sunday after the ecclesiastical full moon on or immediately after 21st March.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the reformed Gregorian calendar which was named after him and restored 1st January as the new year. A 0.002 percent correction was made to the Julian calendar year to stop the calendar from drifting with respect to the equinoxes and solstices. This was particularly relevant to the northern vernal equinox which sets the date for Easter.
Catholic nations adopted it first, followed by Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Slavic nations and Greece. Until 1752, Britain and its colonies continued to celebrate the new year in March. Greece was the last European nation to adopt the new calendar in 1923.

LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST

Jesus Christ preached for a little over two years before he was crucified. Yet, today, every third person on earth is a Christian. And, Christian or not, many around the world celebrate Christmas on 25th December.

WORDS: MADHURI. Y

Herod the Great’s rule was nearing its end. It was sometime between 6-4 BC. A Jewish king and a Roman vassal, Herod had been ruling Judea since 37 BC. Far away in Nazareth of Galilee, Mary, wife of Joseph, the carpenter, was pregnant.
Ceaser Augustus, the Roman Emperor couldn’t have chosen a worse time to decree that all the Roman land must be taxed. Trouble was, people were taxed not where they lived, but where they were born. Joseph had no choice but to make the journey to Bethlehem with Mary. And in Bethlehem, Jesus was born.

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When the three wise men came from the east of Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the King of Jews who is born?” King Herod was worried.
He asked the wise men to return with word of the child.
Following the star that appeared in the sky, they reached the manger in Bethlehem where baby Jesus was. After wishing the child and gifting treasures, they heeded the warning that came in a dream and left without informing King Herod. The furious King ordered all children below the age of two years to be killed.
Fearing for his child, Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, returning to Nazareth only when King Herod was dead.

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JESUS IS BAPTISED
When Jesus was 30 years old, he travelled from Nazareth to Capernaum, a village on the north corner of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was also the home town of his apostles Peter, James, Andrew, John and Mathew.
This was the year when John the Baptist baptised Jesus. It is said that Jesus was now full of the Holy Ghost, and he returned to Jordan. He then spent 40 days in the Desert of Judea, resisting the Devil’s temptations.

When the king imprisoned John the Baptist, Jesus returned to Nazareth. Here, he proclaimed in a synagogue that he is the bread of life which comes down from heaven. The offended citizens threw him out of the city for, how could a mere carpenter utter these words!

JESUS BEGINS TO PREACH
After the king had John the Baptist beheaded, Jesus began to preach, saying, “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”

Jesus moved to Capernaum in 29 AD. For the next two years, he travelled, preaching in the synagogues of Galilee. He performed miracles, turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee; he walked on the sea and he saved his disciples on the ship when a great storm rose. He healed people, giving sight to a blind man and healing a man suffering from leprosy.By now, people followed him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and from beyond Jordan. On Galilee’s hillside in Capernaum, he selected his 12 disciples. Standing in their company, he spoke to the great numbers of people who came to hear him speak.

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“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgement you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you give, it shall be measured to you again.”

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HE THAT IS WITHOUT SIN
When Jesus was teaching at the temple, the people brought a woman to him and asked, “This woman committed adultery. Moses has commanded that such a person should be stoned. What do you say?”
Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.”

THE LAST DAYS
Meanwhile, Jesus was making enemies of the priests. In January, 30 AD, he raised Lazarus from the dead in the town of Bethany to which Mary Magdalene belonged. Lazarus had been dead for four days and was laid in a cave with a stone on it.
Hearing of this miracle, the chief priests worried, “What do we do, for this mad man does many miracles. If we let him alone, all men will believe in him and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.” They plotted his death during the Jewish Passover which was soon to come.
While he travelled in Galilee, Jesus made the prophecy about his last days. He left Galilee for the last time. In March 30 AD, he passed in Jericho and on the Sunday before Passover, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (the messiah, according to Jewish tradition) where the people welcomed him. The temple priests notice this excitement.

With his disciples, he went into the Mount of Olives and came to Gethsemane. There he prayed and they slept. It is here that Judas betrayed him, coming with men and officers who bound Jesus and took him away.
The priests led Jesus into the hall of judgement and handed him over to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor. Pilate found no fault with him, but the people wouldn’t back down from their demand for crucifixion. It was the preparation of the Passover and the sixth hour.
Seeing that he could not prevail upon them, Pilate gave the sentence. The Governor’s soldiers led Jesus to the common hall, stripped him and crowned him with a crown of thorns. They placed a timber cross on his shoulders and Jesus carried it to Calvary with his mother Mary, watching him with the crowd.
The soldiers laid him on the cross, tied him to it, nailed his hands and feet and crucified him. It was the third hour on Friday, 15th April 30 AD.
People said, “You who were to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself. If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
To which, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
His mother, her sister, Mary Magdalene and John stood at the cross.
At the ninth hour, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When he was thirsty, a sponge was filled from a vessel full of vinegar, put on a reed and given to him. Jesus said, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit. It is finished.” He bowed his head and gave up the ghost.

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Kalabhairav Jayanti

God of Time and the fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva, Kala Bhairava kills the ego and takes one towards liberation

WORDS: MADHURI. Y

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Kala Bhairava is the fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva and is the wandering form of Lord Shiva. His birth is celebrated on the day of Kalabhairav Jayanti.
Also known as Mahakala Bhairavashtami and Kalabhairav Ashtami, Kalabhairav Jayanti is observed on the eighth day of Krishna Paksha (waning moon phase) during the month of Kartik. This year, it falls on 10th November. It is considered more auspicious when the day occurs on a Tuesday or Sunday, the days dedicated to Kala Bhairav.
He is also known as Dandapani, since he holds a rod to punish sinners, and as Swaswa which refers to his mount being a dog. Yet another name for him is Maha Swarna Kala Bhairava and his consort is Bhairavi, the fierce Goddess associated with the ten Mahavidyas.
Kala Bhairava rules the 64 Bhairavas who are grouped under the eight Ashtanga Bhairavas, guarding the eight directions. Each Ashtanga Bhairava heads a group of seven Bhairavas, totaling 64 Bhairavas.

According to the Sringeri Sharada Pitham, the Ashtanga Bhairavas are as follows:Kala Bhairava
Asitanga Bhairava
Samhara Bhairava
Ruru Bhairava
Krodha Bhairava
Kapala Bhairava
Rudra Bhairava
Unmatta Bhairava
Kala Bhairava is known to destroy fear and protect devotees from greed, lust and anger, allowing devotees to seek God within themselves. He is also believed offer protection from enemies and to pilgrims and travellers. It is also believed that worshipping Kala Bhairava nullifies ‘Rahu’ and ‘Shani’ doshas. Kala Bhairava is said to be the Guru of Shani.

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Kala Bhairava is known to destroy fear and protect devotees from greed, lust and anger, allowing devotees to seek God within themselves. He is also believed offer protection from enemies and to pilgrims and travellers. It is also believed that worshipping Kala Bhairava nullifies ‘Rahu’ and ‘Shani’ doshas. Kala Bhairava is said to be the Guru of Shani.

Birth of Kala Bhairava
According to the Shiva Mahapuranam, Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva once have a discussion during which Vishnu asks Brahma who the supreme creator of the universe is. Brahma answers that it is himself, and that he, Brahma should be worshipped. He takes pride in his five heads and begins to interfere in Shiva’s work, infuriating the latter.
Kala Bhairava emerges from Shiva’s forehead and cuts off one of Brahma’s heads, leaving him with just four heads. The head remains stuck to Kala Bhairava’s left palm since he had committed the sin of killing Brahma. To make reparations for the sin, Kala Bhairava wanders the world without clothes, seeking alms with the skull as his begging bowl. Finally, his sin is expiated in Varanasi. Kala Bhairava Mandir in Varanasi is the most famous of Bhairava temples.
According to another story, Kala Bhairava is Virabhadra who cut Daksha Prajapati’s head when the latter insulted Lord Shiva. Daksha was the father of Sati Devi who was Lord Shiva’s wife. Unable to bear the insult to Shiva, Sati leaves her mortal body. When grief-filled Shiva carries her body and does the tandav, his dance of destruction, Vishnu cuts her body into 52 parts. The places on earth where these parts fell are the Shakti Peethas. A Kala Bhairava temple or idol exists at each Shakti Peetha.
It is believed that Kala Bhairava is Lord Shiva’s form that controls time. Kala Bhairava is also considered the guardian of Lord Shiva’s temples. In this role, he is known as Kshetra Palaka. Once the temple priest locks the doors of Lord Shiva’s temple, he ceremonially places the keys at Kala Bhairava’s feet and in the morning, receives the keys from him.

The Ritual
On the day of Kalabhairav Jayanti, devotees worship Kala Bhairava, Lord Shiva and Parvati with flowers, fruits and sweets.

Ceremonies in Temples

In temples, Shodashopachar Pujas are performed. In temples of Lord Shiva, puja begins with worshipping Surya and ends with the worship of Bhairava. Bhairava’s worship includes bathing the idol with ghee, lighting a lamp in ghee, and offering red flowers, coconut, honey and boiled food.
At the Bhairav Prasad temple in Vaishno Devi, an image of Kala Bhairava made of gold or silver is immersed in water in a brass pot. The image is worshipped with prayers. Devotees offer gifts to the priest who conducts the puja.
There are eight temples in Varanasi, each dedicated to one aspect of Kala Bhairava. For eight days, each Bhairava is visited which ends with Bhairava Ashtami. On the eighth day, Kala Bhairava is worshipped in his temple. Kala Bhairava is considered Varanasi’s guardian deity. The cloth that covers Kala Bhairava throughout the year, leaving only his face open, is removed on this day and devotees can catch a glimpse of his entire image. A garland of silver skulls adorns the image on the day.

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Mantras for Kala Bhairava
”Hrim vatukaya apadudharanaya kuru kuru batukaya hrim.”
“Om hreem vam vatukaaya Aapaduddharanaya vatukaaya hreem”
“Om Hraam Hreem Hroom Hrime Hroum Ksham Kshetrapaalaaya Kaala Bhairavaaya Namaha”

After the puja, they recite the Kala Bhairav Katha. They also perform pujas for their dead ancestors.
Devotees stay up the whole night, narrating stories of Kala Bhairava, Lord Shiva and Parvati.

They chant mantras specific to Kala Bhairava and perform a midnight aarti with drums, bells and conches. Since Kala Bhairava rides on a dog, some feed milk and sweets to dogs.
It is believed that those who undertake a fast on the day will get rid of obstacles in life and gain health and success. Devotees seek forgiveness for their sins. It is believed that one loses the fear of death by worshipping Kala Bhairava on this day. It is also believed that problems within families and with enemies are resolved.

Significance of Kala Bhairava
Signifying the march of time, Kala Bhairava is seen as the destroyer of time. Worshipping Kala Bhairava helps one understand the transitory nature of existence. He is said to be the deity who helps one understand the highest truth of life and how one relates to time.
Kala Bhairava Ashtakam composed by Adi Shankaracharya describes him as the source of knowledge and liberation. He is the deity who destroys greed, attachment, depression, anger and enables one to move towards the lord’s feet.

FESTIVALS: URBAN CELEBRATIONS

Many a festival like Ganesh Chaturthi was once limited to a close circle within the family living in villages during the 50s and before. Things began changing slowly as the celebrations spread to towns during the 80s. Today as we move into the 21st century what we witness is the high-decibel extravaganzas that rock us

WORDS: MADHURI. Y

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Hindu festivals are linked to spirituality as according to Hindu Dharma, they increase the sattvikta (spiritual content or purity) in us to build a better society. However, modern man is a different man. Though he now celebrates festivals nearly with the same ardour as he showed in the past his spiritual inclinations sadly have gone down.

1950s
During the 1950s and in pre-Independence era, the country’s population was largely confined to villages. Festivals meant a family waking up early, bathing, cleaning the house, making rangolis with rice flour and performing the puja with bhakti and religious fervour.
Special food would be cooked and the festival would be a private and intra-family affair. Going to temples on festival days was limited to bigger festivals like Ram Navami in the South during which there was a special attraction as Ramayana would be recited for nine days by experts whose erudition and humour would be the talk of the town.

1980s
And 30 years later in the 1980s, families having lived in villages for centuries had moved to towns and cities.
Living not far from their villages, many of these migrant families were still bound to their roots and were intent on carrying their puja rituals and heritage with them.
Though the practice of buying new clothes, making rangolis, cooking festival delicacies continued, new forms of religious get-togethers came up like community dancing and singing that went with each festival.

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In the public mind, garba over shadowed the puja in Navratri; bursting endless firecrackers for Diwali and kite-flying and kite-fighting on Uttarayan. Though these were outward manifestations, the symbolism of religiosity was adhered to.
But, a change had begun and modern man was evolving. Puja and bhakti at home was giving way to festival ritual. Increasing numbers began visiting temples to witness mega celebrations and crowds began to swell. Celebrations counted over worship.

2010s
Came the 2010s. Worship at home continued with ardent devotion but there was significant drop in those doing puja. Worship was turning into symbolism and one was content with lighting a lamp or offering flowers rather than go the whole hog in following the rituals.
“Books are available which can tell you the entire story and the significance of the rituals. The point is not devotion in performing the ritual, it pertains to everything we do right from plucking flowers to getting things ready for the puja,” says Sujatha Garimella of Ahmedabad.
Fall in the number of people worshipping at home synchronised with a rise in people thronging to temples on festival days which led to heavy rush and stampedes. But what this meant was festival celebration was not restricted to families at home as it co-opted

the housing societies and brought communities together. Public pandals came into being as a mark of community affair overriding individual worship. It also brought in rivalry: bigger the pandal, larger the crowd and bigger the acclaim.
Navratri is probably the best example in which celebration is at its peak as opposed to worship. Once the mandatory aarti is done, what was meant to be a ritual circling around the lamp and the goddess had turned into mega fun and frolic. Over the nine days of Navratri, fashionable dress and colour codes are agreed upon; garba practice sessions would begin a month in advance; slimming centres making hay with promises of crash weight loss to give a lean look in the Navratri garb.
“A festival celebration is supposed to be about learning to do good to others,” says veteran Wing Commander Aran Kaul. “Since we have taken religion out of the festival, people seem to have dissociated goodness from festival.”
Yet, not all public celebrations are pointless. Those in housing societies get a chance to meet his unknown neighbour leading to knitting the social fabric. Living as we do close to others yet we seem to be strangers. Festival celebrations are probably the only means to bring back the lost personal touch with those who otherwise would be forgotten in an era of modern living.

FESTIVALS IN DEFENCE SERVICES
“In defence services, festivals are quiet affair,” says Wing Commander Kaul. “A small area is demarcated for a temple, mosque or a church and the respective priests conduct the rituals. In the Army, these priests are combatants. In the Air Force they happen to be outsiders. On festival days, while the priest performs the ritual, the Commanding Officer leads the prayer and the Officer may not represent either the region or religion of that festival.
It is heartening to see if for any reason, the priest of one religion is unavailable, the other two priests conducting the ritual. This, I feel is the perfect example of an India that is united socially and spiritually. That is the way a religion is supposed to be.”
GANESH CHATURTHI: PRIVATE TO PUBLIC CELEBRATION
The best example of worship at home turning into public celebration was the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. Around the time of the Sepoy Mutiny, Bal Gangadhar Tilak transformed this humble indoor festival into a social function, turning the small clay Ganesha idol immersions into one of huge Ganesha statues being taken around the town to be immersed. It attracted mammoth crowds serving to unite people of all communities at a time when the British had banned such large gatherings.
“During Ganesh Chaturthi, puja is done as per the viddhi (method). Religion is personal, and when we follow it with an understanding of each part of the ritual, it is meaningful and good for our peace and physical health,’ says Anima Palshikar, a resident of Ahmedabad.
PRESSURE ON ENVIRONMENT & SOCIETY

“Societies seem to be in competition with neighbouring societies,’ says Anima. This is evident from the noisier celebrations. ‘Sarvajanik’ (community) celebrations have nothing to do with God, retaining none of the original meaning. Festivals are part of the flow of culture from generation to generation, and celebrating these with filmy music and dance misses the spiritual point.”
The idea of making festivals knit the social fabric seems to have gone missing and what one sees today is a tendency to harm the environment, health of public and breach of peace and tranquillity. Following are dismal pointers when festivals turn into disturbance:
Environment turns smoky in Delhi for a week after Diwali from indiscriminate bursting of fire crackers, some of which are noise pollutants and health hazards.
Ganesh Visarjan (immersion) leaves toxic wastes behind in ponds, lakes, and rivers. These water resources are our priceless assets Nature has endowed. All one has done in the name of staging a “festival” is immersing giant, chemically painted Ganeshas, some of which remain partly submerged long after the immersions are over. Then there are the long-winding processions that halt traffic for hours. Religion is a sensitive subject and none dare to speak about the inconvenience it causes for fear of being branded an atheist.
Navratri usually sees high decibels for all the nine days with loud speakers blaring as garbas continue late into the night. Babies, infirm and the sick suffer the most.
Holi is another festival when bonfires are lit on the road that obstructs traffic. Sparks can be seen flying in all directions from these fires and a disaster could be in waiting.
During Uttarayan kite-flying, many birds routinely die as the glass-tinged kite strings (maanza) get entangled in birds’ wings. People too have died riding a two-wheeler when the deadly strings graze the neck. Children too have fallen from terraces, losing their balance over the parapet.
Janmashtami sees gamblers making a quick buck while bhang (edible form of cannabis) is the toast of Maha Shivaratri. The soul of the festival is gone. Instead, it is all about pomp and show and one-upmanship in staging the festival that reflects money and muscle power.

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ONAM

Legendary King Mahabali once ruled Kerala and had sacrificed everything to make his people prosperous and happy. To this day he is remembered for his magnanimity as the 10-day Onam festival is celebrated

WORDS: MADHURI. Y

Onam is one of the biggest cultural festivals of Kerala celebrated to commemorate the Vamana (dwarf) avatar of Lord Vishnu.
A festival of elaborate colours and rituals, the flower carpet or ‘Pookalam’ is the cynosure of all eyes. Women are attired in traditional sarees called “Mundum Neriyathum” while men in dhotis wear brocaded angavastram over their shoulders.
The first day of Onam starts with an early bath and prayers. The floral decorations continue leading up to Onam festival or Thiruvonam. Lots of cooking take place culminating in a grand feast called Onam Sadya. onamIn Thrikkakara Temple (temple for Vamana) Onam Sadya is served daily with thousands participating in this feast.
This is one of the cultural festivals in India which has plenty of events like grand processions, boat racing and Kaikottikali (one of the most famous group dances of Kerala performed by women).
Onam is derived from the Sanskrit word Shravanam, which is one of the 27 stars and is called Thiruvonam nakshatra in Kerala. “Thiru” refers to Lord Vishnu and Thiruvonam is the day when Lord Vishnu sent the great king Mahabali to the underworld placing his foot on the king’s head.
This year the festival falls in the Chingam month (the first month of the year) of the Kerala calendar and begins on August 25 and goes on till September 4.
To some, Onam is a religious festival; for others, it is a harvest festival. It is believed that King Mahabali ruled from Kerala and Onam celebratesonam_pookalam_india_september_2013 his return each year to the land. The first day marks the welcome to the King who is believed to meet his people on the second day.
Courtyards are plastered with dung and mounds of earth that look like square pyramids, representing Mahabali and Vamana.
The 10 days of celebrations begin with Atham, the first day, then Chithram, Chodhi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradam, and ends with Thiruvonam. Of these, Atham and Thiruvonam are important.

POOKALAM
Beautiful flower arrangements, called onapookalam or pookalam are made in temple premises and at other entrances. Lamps are placed in the centre and at the edges and an umbrella placed over the arrangement. On Atham, only yellow flowers are used in a simple circular design. With each day, the pookalam’s size increases. Traditionally, 10 varieties of flowers were used.

TRADITIONAL DANCES
Dance forms traditional to Kerala, including the Thiruvathira, Kummattikali, Pulikali, Thumbi Thullal, Onam Kali as well as Kathakali are performed. Women perform the Thiruvathira in a circle around a lamp. Kummattikali is performed by dancers in colourful masks. In Thrissur, these dancers go in a procession along with elephants. For Onam Kali, dancers arrange themselves in circles around a pole, a tree or a lamp, dancing and singing songs from the epics.
People painted like tigers in bright yellow, red and black, dance the Pulikali, also known as Kaduvakali. The Theyyam dance too is part of Onam.nehru_trophy_boat_race_2012_7778

VALLAMKALI
Vallamkali, the snake boat race, is part of Onam celebrations. Particularly well-known are the races held on the Pampa river, the famous one being in Aranmula.

ONAM SADYA
Onam sadya marks the harvest festival with a lunch on Thiruvonam, the last day. Seasonal vegetables like yam, cucumber and ash gourd, among others are used to prepare a nine-course meal that is served on plantain leaves along with the traditional boiled Kerala rice. The full meal can include fried banana wafers, fried banana pieces coated in jaggery, papad, soups, vegetables and lentils, pickles and chutneys. Traditional dishes like thoran, mezhukkupuratti, kaalan, olan, avial, sambhar, erisheri, moloshyam, sadhya_dsw

rasam, puliseri, kichadi, pachadi and moru are part of the meal, ending with payasam for dessert.

The eleventh and twelfth days, that is, the two days after Thiruvonam are celebrated as third and fourth Onam. Avvittom, the eleventh day signifies Mahabali rising to heaven. On this day, the Onathappan statue, that is, Mahabali’s statue, which is surrounded by flower arrangements throughout the festival, is immersed in water and the flower arrangements are removed. Thrissur is famous for Pulikali, with men in lion masks, dancing through the city on this day. On Chatayam, the 12th day, all celebrations end.smitha_rajan-ananda_sayana

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KING MAHABALI
King Mahabali, popularly known as Bali Chakravarthy, was the great-great-grandson of sage Kashyapa and the grandson of Prahlada, who was the son of Hiranyakashyapa and a devotee of Lord Vishnu. When Hiranyakashyapa tries to kill Prahlada, Lord Vishnu appears in Narasimha avatar and saves him.
Mahabali, who was Prahlada’s son, defeats the devas and begins to rule the three worlds. The devas then approach Lord Vishnu, but he refuses to help since Mahabali was not only a just ruler, but also his devotee.
Lord Vishnu comes down as Vamana, a dwarf boy, to test Mahabali’s devotion. Mahabali was performing a yajna and was known to grant any request made during the yajna. Vamana refuses all other material gifts and asks for just enough space for him to place three of his footsteps.
The king’s advisor, Shukracharya advises him against granting the wish, but the king chooses not to go back on his word. When Mahabali agrees, Vamana grows to a tremendous size and in one step, covers the entire earth and in the second step, he covers the entire sky. With nothing left to offer, Mahabali offers himself and Lord Vishnu places his foot on Mahabali’s head, pressing him down to the netherworld, that is, pataal.
He also offers him a boon that the king can visit his lands every year. This is celebrated as Onam, marking his just rule and his humility. King Mahabali is also called Maveli or Onathappan in Kerala.
VAMANAMOORTHY TEMPLE
One of the few temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu’s Vamana avatar, the Thrikkakara temple holds the idol of Vamana, placing his foot on King Mahabali’s head. Thrikkakara is actually Thiru kaal kara, which means, place of the holy foot.
Athachamayam parade marks the beginning of Onam and it begins in Thrippunithura near Kochi and ends in the Vamanamoorthy temple here. Elephants march with drum beats, music and folk art performances, floats and masked people in colourful dresses. This procession was originally headed by the Kochi kings from their palace to the Thrikkakara temple. Traditional scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and from the Bible too mark the parade.
Earlier, the Maharaja of Travancore organised Onam festivities at the temple. The festival begins on Atham, the first day when the temple flag is hoisted. It is lowered on the last day. The temple is the centre of Onam festivities and includes performances like Chakyar Koothu, which is a narration of the epics; Ottamthullal, a dance and poetic performance; as well as Kathakali and Mohiniyattam, Kerala’s classical dances. Celebrations include boat races, dances, martial arts, flower designs and Onam sadya is served at the temple for thousands of people.
The Vamana idol is decorated with sandal paste. On each day of celebration, the idol is dressed in each of the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu, which are, Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and Kalki.
On the 9th and 10th days, the Vamana idol is taken in procession atop a ceremonial elephant to the accompaniment of Panchavadyam.
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