India is a diverse land. Himalayas in the North, desert in Rajasthan, forests in the North East, plains in the South, rivers all over, beaches in the east and west. Till recently our country did not have modern means of communication, yet we find priests in Kathmandu, Kashmir, Assam reciting the famous prayer to the Sungod, the Gayatri Mantra, in precisely the same intonation, accent, to the very syllable, in which a priest in Kerala or Bengal would. And Gayatri is just one of the thousands of mantras that have been handed down to us over the ages.
The festivals of Dussehra and Deepavli are a picturesque web into which so many strands have gone, religious, social and cultural, cherished and preserved by people in the north, south, east and west alike. There may be variations in details, social values attached to it but the essence is one. For e.g. in Maharashtra it also the commencement of the fresh crop year. But in the south Maharashtra, western ghats the occasion is looked upon as the parting of seasons and coming in of the sunny weather.
The mythology may be the same in north or south, although the emphasis may be more on one aspect in some parts of the country. I cannot help but appreciate the marketing genius of the rishis who invented these traditions. They used the same festival to weave the country into one cultural unit and practiced the popular MNC mantra, think global, act local, long before MNC’s ever existed. It reflects their understanding of human psychology. India represented the world while a region was local. It is similar to Hindustan Lever selling different variants of Taaza Tea in the North and South catering to differences in taste.
Man is a bundle of desires. Everything that he does is with the intent of satisfying them. The ancient rishis knew that to gain the state of Absolute Bliss and Knowledge we have to look inward. Keeping this in mind they introduced festivals through out the year to remind man of his supreme goal and ideal. A spin off is the happiness and spirit of unity that festivals promote.
Navaratri, Dussehra, Vijayadasami.
Navaratri (N) is known as the Festival of Nights honoring the goddesses beginning on the ninth day of the month of Virgo or on the first day of the Hindu month of Ashwin. Total worship lasts for nine days out of which the first three are dedicated to Durga (the Goddess of Valor), the next three to Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth) and the last three to Saraswati (the Goddess of Knowledge). The images of God are created, worshipped and immersed in a sea or lake. In Gujarat, Garbha dance is performed. In the South, houses are decorated and toys by the name of Bomma Kolam are displayed.
The festival of Navaratri is popularly known as Durga Pooja in Bengal. After these nine days comes the Dashami, the tenth day, which is the day of the famous festival of Dussehra or Vijayadashami (the tenth day of victory). This is the day Lord Rama had killed Ravana, signifying the victory of good over evil.
I never knew about the respect that our festivals gave to women. Last month it was Raksha Bandhan for protection of the sister and this month it is the worship of Durga, Lakshmi and Sarawati.
Even though the basic mythology, which is provided by religious scriptures, is same all over the country, still some aspects of it are more prevalent in some parts of the country as compared to another. For eg in Mysore, Dasara is the celebration of the victory of Goddess Durga (Kali) over the demon in the form of a buffalo named Mahishasura. It is said that the Goddess took nine days and nine nights to kill the demon hence the name Navaratri. The buffalo represents the animal instincts in man in an aggressive form. The goddess represents the nobler though aggressive tendencies in man. In the North, Dasara is remembered as a day of victory of Lord Ram over Ravana. Here too it signifies the victory of good over evil.
Parvati is also known as Uma. Her other forms are Durga and Kali.
The invocation of various goddesses is not without significance. Goddess Durga is known as who killed the demons that terrorised devoted religious seekers. So also in our minds are the monsters of passion, lust, greed, jealousy that have to be annihilated before we can reach spiritual unfoldment. By invoking Durga / Kali we are invoking our own power to destroy negative forces within. It’s like salesmen who thinks he has lost the order even before even making a sales call. Think positive and remove negative forces from your mind to achieve success.
Durga is a manifestation of an aggressively good person. Her basic nature is good. She uses her intellect (ability to discriminate between right and wrong) continuously. Such a person studies facts, foresees consequences and reasons carefully. I would compare her to a P & G who studies the market very carefully, backed by research before deciding to launch a product. At times, the actions of such a person might appear to be bad but none can doubt the noble intentions.
Full of superstition and misunderstood tradition, some people believe that the scriptures ask us to be docile, passive people. India has been ruled for a thousand years due to such misunderstanding. The scriptures ask us to be aggressive if we need to do so for the protection of Dharma.
Having destroyed the negative forces we should move to the positive aspects. Shree Lakshmi Pooja does that. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth. In our country people worshipped wealth with great fervor, and thus it is not suprising that as long as the tenets of the Vedas were nicely prevalent in our country India was the richest country in the world, attracting traders from all over the world. (Post independence socialism has made profit a dirty word).
However, the culture, which asks us to respect wealth, also symbolically shows the place of wealth in life. Lakshmi is shown sitting at the feet of Narayana serving him. Wealth should be used for goodness and pursuit of the truth. However, Lakshmi does not represent the external wealth only but the inner wealth too, like the qualities of love, kindness, devotion, patience, charity etc. At the end of the second phase of the festival, these divine qualities should have replaced the negative thoughts.
Having developed these divine traits next is the invocation of Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge. It is only those who have eliminated the negatives in their mind and inculcated some positive virtues that realization of truths and facts is possible. The sum of Indian traditions, values, culture and philosophy is to make everyone more awakened and knowledgeable. Knowledge alone is the singularly most potent factor to make the real difference in our lives, for our professional success and our inner contentment. Invocation of the blessings of Goddess Saraswati involves concrete steps to pursue knowledge, like going to the teacher, study of the Sastras, reflection and meditation.
Have a great time, not forgetting to share some of your happiness and wealth with the less fortunate.
This essay is based on inputs from my Email Guru and Symbolism in Hinduism by the Chinamaya Mission.
Dushehra celebrations in Kulu
In Kulu, Himachal Pradesh, there is unique Dushehra celebrations. Dushehra celebrations begin three days after they do in the rest of India. There is reason for the delay which goes back to the time of Maharaj Ranjit Singh, the ruler of the Punjab. The hill states of
Punjab, now in Himachal Pradesh were under the court at Lahore. The Maharaj expected all his tutelary kings to be present at his court during the Dussehra celebrations. The rulers with their retinues would mount their horses immediately after the celebrations were over at Lahore, and speed back to their hill kingdoms to celebrate Dussehra there. It took them three days to reach their states. And since then the custom of celebrating Dussehra three days late has continued.
What is different of the celebration of this festival in Kulu is that instead of burning the effigies of Ravana and his brothers Kumbhakarna and Meganatha, five animals - a rooster, a fish, a lamb, a crab, and a buffalo are sacrificed and a pile of wood is burnt
seven days later to symbolize the victory of good over evil.
Lavishly decorated idols of village deities from all over the valley are brought in palanquins to the venue of the festival. The main deities are -- Hidimbaa (Hidimbi), a form of Durga, demon wife of Bhima and mother of Ghatokacha, is brought in procession from the pagoda structure temple at Dhungri in Manali. The procession is led
by musicians and dancers performing the Nati dance which is very popular.
On Dusshera Kullu wears a festive look and a huge chariot is decorated and the idol of Lord Raghunath is decorated, and brought out of the temple and placed in this chariot. After certain religious rituals the procession of the chariot is taken out which is followed
by numerous devotees. Nati dancers and musicians lead the procession. It ends at huge ground where the idol is ceremonial installed for four days.
People form queues to seek the blessings of the Lord. All the gods and goddess in palanquins are also brought from the nearby areas to Kullu for the occasion. So, that they too seek the blessings of Lord Raghunath. A large fair is also organized during the festival. This is a good opportunity for people to buy and stock their provisions
for the harsh winter ahead, as most places become inaccessible due to
snow within a month of the festival.
A large fair organized during the celebrations offers the visitors a glimpse of the traditional culture of the distant tribal areas of Lahaul and Spiti, Pangi, Pin and Parvati. Since these areas get snowbound about twenty days later the fair provides the people living across the Rohtang Pass an opportunity to purchase their essential provisions for the long winter months when they are forced to remain indoors.