Monsoon Musing

, Cover Story

The onset of monsoons coincides with the month of “Shravan” in the Hindu calendar and several festivals, fairs and fasts are observed during this season

Aland of myriad cultures and customs, Indian festivals are perfect symbols that reflect its diversity. Given that India is home to innumerable communities , each having their own native traditions and practices, Indian festivals are pictures of the unique celebration, cuisine, song, dance and , of course , worship. A rich manifestation of the diversity in the country, festivals are an integral part of the ethos of the country. It is no surprise that India is known as the land of festivals and a land where there is a festival for every occasion and season.

The main monsoon season in India runs from June to September. Come monsoon and everyone’s heart is filled with a range of emotions, nostalgia, romance and expectations. After all, monsoons are a welcome change as the rains provide the much-needed respite from the scorching heat of the summers. It is an indication of a good harvest and a happy time for farmers and rural folk. Normally, the onset of monsoon coincides with the holy month of Shravan in the Hindu calendar and several festivals, fairs and fasts are observed during this time. It is a time where not only Gods and Goddesses are worshipped but obeisance is paid to elements like fire, rains, trees and animals. Here is a look at some of the important festivals celebrated during the monsoon months.

Hemis Festival

Celebrated in the biggest monastery of Ladakh, the Hemis Monastery, the Hemis festival is a cornucopia of traditional art, culture and customs. Observed on the 10th day of the Tse-Chu, the Lunar month of the Tibetan calendar, the Hemis festival brings the ice-cold desert of Ladakh to life. The highlight of the festival is Chham Dance that signifies the triumph of good over evil. The monks dress up in traditional attires coupled with elaborate masks. The display of native handicrafts, the energetic vibes created all around by the music and dance performances by the Lamas make the festival a unique spectacle. The festival dates back to the 8th century and marks the birth anniversary of local saviour Lord Padmasambhava, who is believed to be the founder of Tantric Buddhism in the country.

Puri Rath Yatra

Associated with the mighty Lord Jagannath of Puri in Odisha, the chariot festival at Puri is one of the oldest of such festivals and finds a reference in ancient scriptures like Skanda Purana and Padma Purana. A spectacle of grandeur and colour, the festival is celebrated during the Hindu month of Ashada and marks the occasion of Lord Jagannath’s annual visit to Gundicha Temple in Puri. As part of this ritual, the deities of Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and younger sister Subhadra are carried in richly decorated chariots that resemble temple structures along the streets of the town to the Gundicha Temple where they remain for nine days. The chariots that are as tall as 45 feet are pulled by millions of pilgrims who descend into the town for the occasion. The pulling of the chariots that have 18 wheels is believed to wipe out all sins and make devotees attain the path of salvation. The return journey after nine days is called ‘Bahuda Jatra,’ which is celebrated by offering sweets to each other.

Onam

One of the most important festivals of Kerala, Onam is also widely celebrated by the Malayali diaspora across the world. The festival, which falls during the months of August or September, is celebrated to commemorate the return of King Mahabali to Kerala. It is believed that the spirit of the king returns to the state at this time. The entire state gears up for various festivities in the form of Vallam Kali (boat races), Pulikali (tiger dances), Onathallu (martial art displays) etc. The highlight of the festival is the Pookkalam (elaborate flower petal decorations), which are performed by the women folk. Moreover, lavish traditional vegetarian meal, called Onam Sadya, consisting of as many as 21 curries apart from other delicacies, is served on a banana leaf.

Nag Panchami

Celebrated throughout India, Nag Panchami refers to the worship of snakes and serpents. The festival falls during the auspicious month of Shravan that occurs either in July or August. The “Indian cobra” finds reference in several Indian scriptures and their worship is considered to usher in good tidings. Milk is commonly offered to both sculpted and live snakes and a festive meal is prepared thereafter. This occasion is also observed in some states as Bhratru Panchami where women with brothers pray for their safety. In states like Karnataka, it is also a celebration of friendship and a renewal of family bonds between siblings.

Teej

Although, both men and women participate in the festival, Teej mostly involves women in the processions and preparations. There are three types of Teej Festivals known as Kajari Teej, Hartalika Teej & Hariyali Teej. Celebrated to commemorate the union of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, Teej is celebrated largely across the northern and western region of the country. During the festival, married women dress up in bridal attire with their hands decked in patterns made from henna. They sing special songs and observe a number of rituals. Rajasthan is the state where the celebrations are grander than anywhere else in the country and a two-day procession is taken out on the streets of Jaipur. Traditional sweets like ghevar are prepared as well for the festival.

Janmashatmi

Also called Krishna Janmashtami, this popular festival marks the birth of Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu. Celebrated with great fervour, the occasion is marked by fasting, singing hymns, preparing special food and observing night vigils. Mathura and Vrindavan in the north and Udupi in the south are the just some of the places where the festival is literally the soul of the entire town. Most temples organise events like Raasleela while others engage themselves in the recitation of the Bhagavata Purana and the Bhagavad Gita. Devotees of Lord Krishna observe fast on this day. Lord Krishna’s idols are cleaned and decorated with news clothes and ornaments. States like Maharashtra and Gujarat are synonymous with the tradition of breaking the “Dahi Handi”.

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