Monday, May 14, 2007

FAIRS AND FESTIVALS OF GUJRAT

Gujarat could well be termed the 'Land of Festivals and Fairs' with almost 3,500 of them being celebrated in different parts of the state every year. Like elsewhere in India, the festivals and fairs of Gujarat revolve around an occasion - be it the turn of a season, the time for harvesting a golden field, or a religious event from India's extensive and rich mythological traditions. What's more, these fairs and festivals, governed by the solar and lunar calendars of old world astrology, offer the visitor an excellent opportunity to experience the diverse cultural and religious identity of the people of Gujarat.

Trinetreshwar Mahadev Fair (Tarnetar Mela)

The small hamlet of Tarnetar, about 75 kilometres from Rajkot is the site for one of Gujarat's most well known annual fairs, the Trinetreshwar Mahadev Fair popularly called the Tarnetar Mela. The Mela (fair) is held for three days in the period between August to September. Like all-important tribal fairs, it is attended by tribes from the adjoining areas of Koli, Bharwad, Rabari, Khant, Kanbi, Kathi, and Charan who indulge in dancing, competitive sports and other such forms of entertainment. There are over 300 stalls selling food, refreshments, exhibiting embroidery and cattle shows.This fair is primarily a 'marriage mart' or 'Swayamvar' for the tribal youth of today who still visit Tarnetar, to find them a suitable bride. The tribal youth elegantly dressed in colourful dhotis, waistcoats and eye-catching turbans come to be chosen by village belles dressed in colourful finery. The bachelors are usually identified by their large colourful embroidered umbrellas and their distinctive hairstyles. These umbrellas, which have become emblems of the fair, are embroidered by the tribal youth for over a year.The fair is held around the Trinetreshwar Temple dedicated to the three-eyed Lord Shiva, built at the beginning of the century. There is a kund (reservoir) here and it is popularly believed that a dip in its waters is as holy as a dip in the sacred River Ganges. The reservoir is also known as papanshu (the destroyer of sins).

Bhavnath Mahadev Mela

The Bhavnath Mahadev Temple, situated at the foot of Mount Girnar in the city of Junagadh is the site of the Bhavnath Mahadev fair held for five days in February, during the festival of Mahashivratri.The Mahapuja of Lord Shiva takes place at midnight in this temple on the 14th day of the dark half of the month of Magh. When the puja (prayer ceremony) starts, Naga Bavas (naked sages) living nearby, move towards the fair seated on elephants, holding flags and blowing conch shells. It is firmly believed that Lord Shiva himself visits the shrine on this occasion.Girnar is said to be the abode of the nine Nathas (lord and protector), who are immortal and eighty-four Siddhas (spiritually elevated souls), all of whom also visit the temple in their invisible spiritual bodies.Visitors are served free meals by the organizers. Special stalls sell idols, rosaries or holy beads brought by vendors from Ayodhya and Mathura, utensils of brass and copper, sweets and fruits. The Bhavnath Mahadev Temple is surrounded by many equally ancient and holy places.

Vautha Mela

This magnificent fair is held every year at Vautha, where two rivers, the Sabarmati and the Vatrak meet. Like most fair sites in India, this also has both mythological and current religious associations.The Vautha Mela site is 3 square miles in area. Legends hold that Kartik Swami or Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva, visited the site. This is why the fair is held during Kartika Purnima, the full moon night of the month of Kartik, corresponding to November. The site, also known as Saptasangam, is at the confluence of seven rivers. The most important Shiva temple here is the temple of Siddhanath.What is most significant about this fair is that it is the only major animal trading fair in Gujarat and is on par with the famous camel fair at Pushkar, Rajasthan. However the only animals traded here are donkeys. About 4,000 donkeys are brought every year for sale, usually by Vanjara (gypsy) traders. The pilgrims who visit Vautha during the fair are from several communities and include farmers, labourers and people belonging to several castes.

Dangs Darbar

Dangs Darbar is the name of the annual fair held every year in Ahwa, the most important town in the Dangs a few days before Holi. The Dangs is one of the most delightful districts of Gujarat and is located high in the Saputara hills, the original home of the adivasis, the tribal population of Gujarat.The name 'Darbar' dates back to the time of the British, when a darbar of Rajas and Naiks of neighbouring area used to assemble there. Today it is called Jamabandi Darbar and the District Collector officiates at it. Thousands of tribal people flock to Ahwa from all over the district, dressed in bright colours sounding the Shehnai and beating their drums. Folk dances, dramas and songs enliven the air during the festival.

Shamlaji Melo

The Shamlaji Melo, also called the Kartik Purnima fair is held in the month of November every year and lasts for about two weeks. It is attended by almost two hundred thousand people from adjoining districts and even from Rajasthan.Devotees belonging to various castes and communities including the Garasias and Bhils throng this festival. These pilgrims come in groups, singing devotional songs and carry religious banners to have a darshan (worship)of the deity at the Shamlaji Temple. The Shamlaji Temple is a renowned Vaishnav Shrine and the deity housed here is known by various names included Gadadhar (bearer of the mace) and Shaksi Gopal. The fair is also popular with the tribal people of the area, particularly the Bhils, who revere Shamlaji, the deity they refer to as 'Kalio Bavji', the dark divinity. The temple is of great archaeological significance as it was built in the 11th century. Apart from a darshan of the deity in the temple, the pilgrims consider a bath in the river Meshwo essential.

Chitra - Vichitra Mela

This fair, one of the largest, purely Adivasi (tribal) fairs attended by around 60,000 to 70,000 tribal people. It takes place every year in the village of Gunbhakhari in Sabarkantha district, very near the borders of Rajasthan. It is held a fortnight after Holi, the festival of colours.The site of the fair is attractive as the temple overlooks the rivers Sabarmati, Akul and Vyakul. The name of the fair is derived from Chitravirya and Vichitraviraya, the sons of King Shantanu, who are believed to have lived here and been cured of diseases which afflicted them. The fair attracts large numbers of Bhils (tribals) who come from all the surrounding districts using every imaginable form of transport. The Garasis and Bhil tribals dress in their customary colourful costumes. The costume of the men generally consists of a blue shirt, dhoti and a red or saffron turban. Women don ghaghras (embroidered skirts) which have a circumference of as much as 20 yards, and are covered from head to foot with ornate and heavy silver jewellery. They use liquid kumkum (vermilion) to colour their cheeks and lips a brilliant red, while their eyes are outlined with kajal (kohl). Every group that comes to the fair carries its own drum making the atmosphere come alive with the incessant beat of numerous drums. The fair also acts as a venue for betrothals, as tribal youth use this opportunity to find their future spouses.

Dhrang Fair

Around 40 kms from Bhuj, it is known for the samadhi of the famous saint Menkan Dada who served the community with great love and dedication and won their devotion. He was supposed to be the incarnation of Lakshmanji. A large fair is held on Magh Vad when a large number of Dada's followers from different parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan come to the Samadhi and participate in religious rituals.

Festivals

Gujarat has always been known for its splendid and evocative festivals. An estimated two thousand festivals are celebrated every year in Gujarat. More than two hundred of these are unforgettable occasions that attract tens of thousands of people. Though rooted in religion and mythology, these celebrations centreing around gods and goddesses are truly secular socials in which people of all faiths participate.
The International Kite Festival
International Kite festival is held at Ahmedabad on January 14 every year, to coincide with the festival of Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti. Makar Sankranti is a festival that heralds a change of season marking the movement of the sun into the northern hemisphere - a celebration to mark the end of winter. The gods who are believed to have slumbered for six long months are now awake and the portals of heaven are now thrown open. The temples are thronged with visitors and alms are distributed freely. A tremendous variety of kites are seen with friends, neighbours and total strangers indulging in kite fights. Special mixtures of glue and ground glass cover the lines with which the kites are flown. Experts specially prepare these lines before the great day. They are dried and rolled onto reels known as 'firkees'. Unless used carefully the strings are sharp enough to cut a finger.The nights see the arrival of the illuminated box kites, often in a series strung on one line, to be launched into the sky. Known as Tukkals, these kites add a touch of splendour to the dark sky. The festival draws expert kite-makers and flyers not only from cities of India but also from around the world.

The Kutch Mahotsav

The Kutch Mahotsav aptly called the 'Mahotsav' (great festival) is a guided tour of the life and times of Kutch, its beauty, nostalgia, ethos, traditions, culture and spirit. Kutch Mahotsav is usually organized during February and March each year. The festival organized by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat, is a six-day tour into the heartlands of Kutch.The tour includes a visit to Bhuj at the heart of Kutch, Mata no Madh, an old temple dedicated to the mother goddess believed to be 1200 years old. Lakhpat, a deserted port transports you to a time when it was once the hub of Gujarat's flourishing sea trade. The Mahotsav also takes you to Narayan Sarovar, one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for orthodox Hindus, Koteshwar and Bhadreshwar, also important pilgrimage centres along the Mahotsav circuit. Anjar, the beaches of Mandvi, Dhola Vira's archaeological ruins and the rural fair at Dhrang completes a rich insight into Kutch, its colourful people, historic towns and remarkable handicrafts.

Navratri

Navratri, meaning nine nights is a colourful and ancient festival honouring the Mother Goddess- the Divine Shakti who supports the entire universe, protects worshippers, destroys evil and grants boons to her children. The mother goddess has seven well-known forms, including Kali one of her fiercest manifestations. Navratri is held annually in September-October and is celebrated with joy and religious fervour.The festival is essentially religious in nature and is celebrated with true devotion in the various temples dedicated to the Mother Goddess or Mataji as she is familiarly called. An interesting feature of Navratri is the Garba and the Dandia-Ras dances.The costumes worn for the dances are traditional and extremely colourful. These dances start very late at night and end in the early hours of the morning.

Janmashtami

Dwarka, the city of gold. Dwarka, the abode of Lord Krishna, the city where he reigned for a hundred years. Janmashtami, the day Shri Krishna was born is celebrated with great devotion at the Jagat Mandir a temple built 1400 years ago in Dwarka. Devotees throng in thousands to celebrate this joyous occasion.Rows of lights are lit everywhere, kirtans and bhajans (devotional songs) are sung, sermons are delivered and Krishna is worshipped in his infant form.
Dance Festival (Modhera)
Resting on a knoll in the village of Modhera, the ruins of the 11th century Sun Temple are an impressive sight. The outer walls of the temple are covered with sculptures in which the figures of Lord Surya, the sun god are prominent. The Sun Temple is the site of an annual festival of Indian classical dances organized by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat. The idea is to present classical dance forms in an atmosphere they were originally presented in.

Bhadra Purnima

The full moon of Bhadrapad is one of the four most important festival days of the year, when farmers and agriculturists come to Ambaji, a place that derives its name from Goddess Ambaji whose shrine is located here. On this occasion, a large fair is organized on full moon days. In the evening, performances of Bhavai, the folk drama of the state is held and Garba programmes are organized. The devout attend readings of the Saptashati, the seven hundred verses in praise of the goddess and visit the temple for a darshan (worship) of her.The Ambaji shrine is the principal shrine of the goddess in Gujarat and its origins are still unknown. The Temple of Ambaji is recognized as one of the original Shakti Pithas (religious texts) where, according to the ancient Scriptures, the heart of the goddess Ambaji fell to earth when her body was dismembered.A triangular Vishwa Yantra, inscribed with figures and the syllable 'Shree' in the centre, represents the deity. There is no idol, which in fact testifies the temple's antiquity. Idol worship became popular much later.

Diwali

The last day of the Hindu year of the Vikram era is celebrated as Diwali or festival of lights all over the State. According to the Purana, Lord Vishnu had rescued Goddess Lakshmi from the hold of King Bali on this day. It is also believed that on this day Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya. Sathia(Swastik) and Rangoli (making of attractive designs by coloured powder) marks every courtyard with rows and rows of earthen lamps lighting up the surrounding area and giving a special touch of festivity. Merchants worship Goddess Lakshmi and the books of accounts. At night firecrackers of various types are burnt by youngsters.The next day or Kartik Sud 1, the first of the Hindu calendar is celebrated as New Years Day with great solemnity.

Holi

Essentially a spring festival, there are several accounts of how Holi came to be celebrated . By one account demoness Hoda was killed by children, reducing her on a heap which was then lighted, thereby circumventing her boon of immortality. Another version treats it as day when child Krishna had sucked the demoness Putna to death. In yet another version which is popular in Gujarat, Pralhad, the son of the demon King Hiranyakashyap had emerged unhurt from the heap of fire he was made to sit on, in the lap of Holika, who got burnt instead. Thus on a full moon day of Phalgun Sud 15 Holi is celebrated to commemorate the event of one's belief. It is done by lighting a bonfire of wood and cowdung which is erected in a conical shape over a small pit which is dug at the bottom. Such fires are lit on almost all important cross-sections of roads or in the chowk of the villages. Elders predict the coming monsoon on the basis of the direction in which the flag planted atop falls. Devotees offer coconut to the fire and the youth retrieve them amidst an applause of bystanders.It is also the principal religious festival of Adivasis in Gujarat. They abandon work and indulge in ceaseless folk dancing. The girls observe this festival by growing wheat in the bamboo baskets filled with earth and manure. In some tribes people indulge in the fowlest of abuse and mock fights.

Dhuleti

The next day after Holi is Dhuleti or Dhuli Padvo. Literally it means throwing of mud, the practice which has given way to throwing of vermilion. At times the merrymaking lapses into unhindered revelry as youngsters indulge into throwing paste colours, not only on their friends but also on strangers taking advantage of the permissiveness granted on the occasion. As noted earlier Adivasis truly celebrate this festival. In the villages of Panchmahals Adivasi men play a martial game known as Gol-Gadheda in which the women after snatching a shoulder scarf from a man, ties it on a tree top with a lump of molasses. It is the job of the man to retrieve it from there not an easy task as the tree is vigorously guarded by women.The game goes on till one of the men succeed in securing the bundle. Such is the boundless merrymaking of the day.

Rath Yatra

It is said in the Bhagvath Purana that Kansa had sent Akrur to Gokul for bringing Sri Krishna to Mathura as Krishna had left with his brother Balram by a chariot leaving behind the Gopis and Gopals weeping, the day is celebrated in remembrance of this most touching separation and farewell. The mammoth procession of Rath Yatra at Ahmedabad is the biggest in Gujarat. It starts from the Jagdish Mandir situated in the Jamalpur area of the city early in the morning. There are three separate chariots for the idols of Krishna, Balram and their sister Subhadra. The chariots resemble those at Jagannath Puri and are adorned with garlands. Music bands and Bhajan Mandlis lead the procession. Decorated elephants also move with the procession and gymnasts and acrobats perform astonishing feats. Numerous sadhus of all Vaishnavite sects and devotees join in this procession headed by the Mahant of Jagannath Temple.

Raksha Bandhan

This festival has a three fold significance. It is the day on which 1. Brahmins change their sacred thread, 2. Sisters tie Rakhi to their brothers, and 3. Sea Faring communities worship the sea. On Shravan Sud 15 when the moon is in the constellation of Shravan, the Brahmins, while changing their sacred thread, rededicate themselves to study the Vedas and pursue spiritual upliftment. Whereas generally the day celebrated by all sections of the Hindu society as a day dedicated to love of sisters for their brothers. The practise of tying the rakhi or the protective knot symbolizing the good wishes, has been an ancient one. Kuntamata of Mahabharat had tied rakhi to her grandson Abhimanyu. Another important historic incident narrates how the queen Jhorabai of Mewad summoned the help of Emperor Humayun against the invading forces of Gujarat Sultan by sending him a rakhi.The day is also celebrated as Nariyeli Poonam in the coastal areas of the State. The sea farers worship the sea by offering coconuts and set sail after the monsoon break.