Tag Archives: Festivals

Shubha Sankranthi (2017)

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Shubha Makara Sankranthi to all our readers!

Whether you call it Makara Sankranthi, Lohri, Magh Bihu, Ghughuti, Pongal, Sakraat, Khicheri, Saaji, Suggi, Tirmoori, Uttarayan or “the transition of the sun into the constellation capricorn“, we wish you all a very Happy Harvest Festival!

Part of celebrating what unites us is understanding the beauty of the variety. Sanskrit is the language that unites us and Devanagari the most accessible to us, yet greetings come in many languages and many scripts. This year’s is written in the superfun script of the Odias of Odisha (ancient Kalinga, Utkala, & Oddra). To know how they celebrate today, here is a must follow handle or two for all things Odia, including ICP’s own @Itssitu, who was featured last year with her article on Odisha Fashion.

Pongal-greetings-tamilFrom Odisha we go to Tamil Nadu and a particularly emotive Pongal, where the great tradition of Jallikattu is presently prohibited. One need not participate or even be a fan of a tradition that is important to a different socio-economic group (in this case rural), but it’s important to respect all traditions, particularly when the animal is not harmed and is in fact treated as part of the family. Jallikattu is neither Spanish Bullfighting nor Cowboy Rodeo. The animal is safe, well-treated, and it is the unarmed players who are taking the risk given the powerful bull horns and hooves. It may be more martial than most may handle, but when the animal is treated well, it’s yet another part of festival fun.

JALLIKKATTU - PONGAL FESTIVAL'S SPECIAL BRAVE ART EVENT OF TAMIL PEOPLE - Art by Anikartick,Chennai,TamilNadu,India
Art by Anikartick

For some, Makara Sankranthi is about flying kites, for others it is about drawing Kolam(Rangoli) or playing Jallikattu, and for still others, it is a brilliant bonfire, symbolising a fresh start and personal cleansing.

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Punjab’s  Lohri (like Bhogi in Andhra’s 4 day Sankranthi) is a great utsav of aag. It is celebrated by Punjabis the world over, and symbolises that spirit in a different way. And yet, the same voices who show no concern for say trees on Christmas, suddenly do when it comes to Lohri (leave aside New Years Eve vs Crackerless Diwali).

Do what you can to preserve the tradition and petition and protest peaceably. Use facts, logic, and calm patience to make the case and point out double standards. Some connect to their culture through intellectual endeavours, others through philosophical inquiry, but most through their traditions and festivals (and the delicious cuisine that goes with them).

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Makara Sankranthi is not just a Pan-Indian, but a Pan-Indic festival, and is celebrated with great gusto by our brothers in Nepal.

So whether you say Sankranthi Shubhkamnayein, Shubheccha, or Shubhakaankshaalu, from all of us at ICP, we wish you the very best!

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Shubha Dasara (2016)

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Happy Vijaya Dasami, Happy Durga Pujo, and Shubh Dussehra! On this Tenth Day of Victory, Durga Mata defeated Mahishasura and Bhagvan Ram defeated Ravana.

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Satyameva Jayate

Whether in Kathmandu or Kanyakumari, whether it through Raas-Garba or Bhajans, hope you all enjoyed the Nine days of Navaratri. May this Tenth Day usher in victory for good over evil. From all of us at ICP, Happy Dasara!

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Shubha Krishna Janmashtami (2016)

krishnashtami2016From all of us at ICP, Happy Sri Krishna Janmashtami! Shubha Janmashtami! Janmashtami shubhkamnaye!

For those of us who know he was no mere myth, but left this Earth in 3102 BCE, this day is especially sacred, as a reminder of the validity of the Mahabharata’s message.

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Struggles against Adharma are there now more than ever. Even our traditions stemming from Krishna’s life are not being spared. What do the people do?

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It is why the time has come for people to not just sing “Hare Krishna”, but to take a page out of the Karma yogi’s book and do their karma. Between aggressive and passive is assertive. Learn from Sri Krishna and understand how to work together to effectively and legally preserve your interests, traditions, culture, and above all, preserve Dharma.

And remember, whatever the odds against you, Yatho Krishna tatho Dharma. Yatho Dharma, tatho Jayaha! Jai Shri Krishna!

 

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Shubha Raksha Bandhana

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From all of us at ICP, Shubha Raksha Bandhana, Raksha Bandhan Shubhkamnayein, and Happy Rakhi!

Not all cultures celebrate the bond between brother and sister as colourfully and joyously as Bharatavarsha’s.  Rather than viewing relations between female and male through only 1 or 2 prisms, our ancestors recognised that the most holistic societies are the ones that also hold as dear the relations between siblings, cousins, friends, and fellow citizens.

To women, men are more than just fathers or husbands or sons, but also brothers and cousin-brothers. To men, women are more than just mothers or wives or daughters, but also sisters and cousin-sisters.

This wonderful festival celebrates what all other women or men beyond the top 3 should be to men or women: sisters or brothers. Rakshabandhan celebrates this bond and raises it to festival heights with a joyous utsav where brothers and sisters honour each other.

The loneliest societies are the most selfish ones. Unselfishness and protection of brother by sister & sister by brother is what makes ours the civilization of Subhadra & Sri Krishna.

Rakshabandhan Shubhkamnayein!

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Shubha Sri Rama Navami

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Happy Rama Navami! Shri Rama Navami Shubhkamnayein! Jai Shri Ram!

It’s been quite the back to back celebration of holidays, but none is more beloved than the day of the birth of our most beloved figure.

Born on the 9th day (Navami) of the Month of Chaitra per the Hindu Lunar Calendar, he is the Seventh Avatara of Lord Vishnu in this Manvantara. He is the ideal man, the ideal husband, the ideal brother, the ideal father, and the ideal king.

Ignorant revisionists criticize his actions, but forget that for a king, his subjects come even before his own family. As Rama was the polar opposite of individualism and selfishness, the small, self-interested person of the Kali era has difficulty understanding the concept of tyag, self-sacrifice, that he and his wife, brothers, and sisters-in-law all represent.

Strength with Gentility, Valour with Compassion, Knowledge with Wisdom, Power with Restraint, Wealth with Charity, Victory with Magnanimity, Achievement with Humility,  Obedience with Conscience, Authority with Love, Companionship with Responsibility, he is the very embodiment of Virtue and Grace.

May his qualities ever inspire us.

Happy Sri Rama Navami. May this blessed day of Bhagavan Rama’s Birth and Marriage bring tidings of happiness, prosperity, and blessedness. Let the message of Maryada Purushottam, the Shiromani of the Raghus, the Best of Bharatas, resound throughout the ages:

Dharma Protects those who Protect it.

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Puthandu Vazthukkal & Vishu Ashamsakal

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From all of us at ICP, Vishu Ashamsakal! Puthandu Vazthukkal! Happy New Year to Malayalis and Tamils alike.

At last, we complete the cycle of Indic New Years (the exception of course being our Gujarati friends). The Solar Calendar New Years are celebrated today. From Yugadi to Vaisakhi to Vishu/Puthandu, we see just how closely all these calendars (varshapada) coincide.

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Best wishes to all of you, and Happy New Year!

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Shubha Vaisakhi

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From all of us at ICP: Shubha Vaisakhi! Happy Baisakhi! Baisakhi di lakh lakh badhai! Shubho Nabo Borsho! Pana Sankranthi ra Subheccha! Shubh Jude Sheetal! Happy Bihu!

The other half of the assorted New Year’s of Bharatavarsha fall this well. Though the majority are today. We have two more tomorrow.

Today is most famously the Baisakhi Mela of Punjab, celebrated vivaciously by Sikhs. It is the Harvest Festival, and a time of great happiness.

In Vanga, that is the Bengal region, it is referred to as Pohela Boisakh.

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In Utkala/Kalinga, that is Odisha, it is called Pana Sankranthi, and is celebrated with a delicious sacred drink of the same name.

Maithilis ( the people around the region of ancient Mithila, Bihar/Nepal) call it Jude Sheetal.

The rest of Nepal celebrates Vikram Samvat. Their New year refers to the Vikrama Era of King Vikramaditya Panwar of Ujjain. This day begain in 57 B.C.E, and the New Year for most Nepalis begins this day.

Also, the Sinhalas of Sri Lanka celebrate Aluth Avarudda today, which is their New Year. Tulus of the Tulu region of Karnataka celebrated Bisu today.

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This completes the New Year’s Celebrations for all Bharatiyas using the sidereal calendar (except our fabulously wealthy Gujarati siblings). The Solar Calendar New Year festivals remain.

Shubha Vaisakhi! Happy Baisakhi!

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Shubha Yugadi

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From all of us at ICP, Shubha Yugadi, Shubh Chaitra Shukla Pratipada, Happy Ugadi, Shubh Thapna, Cheti Chand ki Shubhkamnayein, Gudi Padwa Shubheccha, Happy Sajibu Nongmapanba, Shubh Navreh, and finally Ugadi Subhashayagalu and Subhakaankashalu!

Ugadi comes from the Sanskrit term Yuga Adi, or new era.

In Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh & Telangana, Karnataka, and Goa it is celebrated as part of the sidereal (luni-stellar) calendar. In the land of Shivaji it is called Gudi padwa.

In Rajasthan, some communities notably celebrated Thepna to mark the same. In Kashmir, Hindus celebrate Navreh. Most of North India and Nepal mark it as Chaitra Shukla Pratipada.

Sindhis celebrated Cheti Chand as their New Year due to the importance of their Rashtra deva Jhulelal.

If we missed any, let us know in the comments!

While the Gujarati calendar celebrates New Year on/around Deepavali, and the Solar Tamil Calendar usually a few weeks after us, the Telugu/Kannada/Marathi New Year is based on the sidereal calendar (combination of Lunar, Solar and Stellar positions), and begins on this day.

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Today we mark the arrival of the year 5118 (Kali Yuga reckoning), in this 28th Chaturyuga of the 7th Manvantara (Vaivasvata) in Sveta Varaha Kalpa.

As the name suggests, Durmukhi will be a year of changes, requiring a resolute face in the wake of the bhayanika. Many have turned from the path of Dharma, especially many who claim to support it. Therefore, mankind too must be prepared for the days ahead to move away from materialism and pettiness and remember spirituality and common goodness.

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In many parts of India today it is common for ladies to do Rangoli/Muggu/Kolam as a mark of auspiciousness. Please see Shivoham’s excellent article on the topic.

Here is our Post from Andhra Cultural Portal explaining the Festival and its Traditions in detail, from the Telugu point of view. Those from other parts of Bharatavarsha are welcome to share below.

Whatever, wherever, and however you celebrate, Best Wishes to all of you!

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[Guest Post] TiruNrittam — When the Gods Dance in Our Midst

The following Post was composed by P.N. Namboodiri ji. You can follow him on twitter.


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TiruNrittam — When the Gods Dance in Our Midst

Every year, sometime in March, I make a pilgrimage to my ancestral village to attend the annual festival of the village temple. I am not alone in such a pilgrimage. There are many others, people who are displaced from their ancestral roots like me, who do the same. Elders say that this is important for migrants to undertake, to maintain their links with their cultural roots. It can be said that temples are an integral part of Bharatiya culture and they are the bedrock of its evolution and maintenance.

Kerala can be considered to be a collection of villages, as villages are present across the length and breadth of the state. All these villages are dotted with temples and many villages have more than one temple. This blog is a fond reflection of my thoughts after my recent visit to my ancestral village for this year’s Utsavam (festival) and the impact of such events on the religious, cultural, and family bonds of the life in a typical Kerala village. I have also included brief information on Nrittam, a unique temple ritual in this part of Kerala for the benefit of readers. The description of festival and Nrittam is with respect to our family village diety Chuzhali Bhagavati or Goddess Durga located in village Chuzhali of Kannur District of Kerala.

Temple Worship

“अग्निर्देवो द्विजादीनां मुनीनां हृदि दैवतम् ।

प्रतिमा स्वल्पबुद्धीनां सर्वत्र समदर्शिनाम् ॥

God is Agni for the Brahmins,

In the heart for the Sages,

Idol for the less wise

Omnipresent for the Enlightened.

“Puja”, or ritual worship of “Ishta Devata” is the most common and most simple method of being one with the divine. Thus, we have Puja rooms in our homes though household Pujas have become rare due to various reasons. Many are unable to maintain the prescribed discipline at home to perform Pujas. This is one of the reasons we have temples where the public worship the Ishta Devata through an Archaka. The Archaka is the agent here between the deity and devotee, who maintains the prescribed discipline and has the authority to perform Pujas.

Temple Rituals

There two types of rituals in a temple – “Nityam”, the daily rituals like pujas performed everyday and “Naimittikam”, special rituals like Utsavam and other celebrations on important occasions every year. The practices of a temple under both categories are believed to be followed from the time the temple has been in existence in accordance with an unwritten understanding between the priests and the temple owners at the time of original installation. Thus, the rituals and celebrations of a particular temple are more or less in line with those being traditionally followed from the very beginning, acting as a direct link to the cultural roots of the population.

Annual festivals in temples are occasions for celebration for the entire village. This is the time when the deity moves out of the sanctum sanctorum. Special rituals like Sribhutabali /Sheeveli (Ritual Offerings to the Devaganas in the temple premises), Pallivetta (Divine hunting ritual), Gramabali (Offering to the devaganas of the Village), Aarattu (ritual bath of the deity), etc. involve majestic processions accompanied by percussion instruments within and outside the temple premises to different locations within the village. In many such processions, the idol or murti is carried on an elelphant, sometimes accompanied by more elephants as part of the divine entourage. There is active participation of the local population in these celebrations. As against the devotee visiting the temple and praying to the Ishta devata, confined within the inner sanctorum, the local people consider it their good fortune to have the deity in their midst during such special processions. It is common to see villages festively decked up for such occasions and each family, en route to the procession, makes it a point to accord ceremonial reception to the deity.

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All processions outside the sanctum sanctorum uses the Thidambu, a replica of the original diety which is made of Panchaloha, Silver or Gold (Photo 1, Thidambu).

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The murti is carried by a priest, sometimes seated on an elephant, and the accompaniments include traditional oil lamp, percussion instruments in the front followed by someone holding a traditional umbrella at the back. See Video 1 to see these accompaniments.

Tiru Nrittam or Divine Dance

The art of Thidambu Nrittam has been prevalent for at least over 600-700 years in many temples of north Kerala. It is believed that Tulu Brahmins, who migrated from nearby locations of Karnataka to the northern part of Kerala were responsible for introducing this unique temple art, which is also prevalent in that part of Karnataka. Nrittam abides by the principles of dance which has its root in Natya Sastra.

“Tiru Nrittam” (Divine dance) also called “Thidambu Nrittam” is a part of annual temple festivals in many temples of northern Kerala. It is considered divine, as it is a part of a ritual performance with the artist carrying the temple murti on his head. That is the reason why it is also popularly known as “Thidambu Nrittam”, thidambu being the Malayalam word for representation of the temple murti outside the sanctum sanctorum.

Namboodiris are the specially trained artists who perform this dance. They are specialists with rigorous training under the tutelage of a guru. A percussion player has an important role during the training with the guru and Marars, a traditional group (families) play the percussion instruments for the performance. The same is the case with the persons who carry traditional oil lamps in the procession. They have traditionally been the ones entrusted with the task of carrying the sacred lamp and they continue to do it to this day. The dance is performed with the thidambu of the temple murti carried on the head by the priest. Foot work is most important and this is executed to the rhythm of drums and other percussion instruments. As the dance progresses, the tempo picks up momentum to the delight of the viewers and there are many stages and variations of the rhythm of the dance.

The thidambu is decorated with garlands, flowers and ornaments, all beautifully arranged on a circular frame made of bamboo strips. The artist himself does the complex decoration on the concentric frame, first with the garlands of fresh flowers, then with the silver or gold flowers and finally with the ornaments as seen in the picture. This decorated frame is then fixed on the thidambu. The artist then carries the decorated thidambu for the divine dance in the temple forecourt. See the decorated frame and the thidambu ready for the dance in the pictures below. See Photos 2 and 3.

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thidambu decoration (Photo 2 & 3) and Artist Costume (Photo 4)

The artists also wear a striking costume and ornaments – White dhoti with bright borders worn in traditional style with pleats, Uttariyam (diagonal vest) of bright silk, necklaces, bangles, earrings and nicely decorated turban known as ‘Ushnipeetham’ form the impressive attire of the Nrittam artist. See Video 2.

Nrittam at Chuzhali Bhagavati (Durga Devi) Temple

Nrittam is performed on three days during the annual festival. The main performance extends to over two hours in the evenings and there is a mini event in the nights which is of a much shorter duration.

The artists come out of the Sanctorum clad in conventional attire to the forecourt of the temple. Standing under the kodimaram (flag mast) facing the deity, they ritually place the thidambu on their head at the start of the performance or procession. During the main event, the procession covers four parikramas or circum-ambulations of the temple, each regulated by a different Thaalam (rhythm) by the percussion artists. The artists move from one end to the other and then backwards and this repeats for a while. The dancers make rhythmic footwork based on the music of the drums and this is the Divine dance giving a unique artistic and spiritual experience to the viewers. Here’s a video which takes a fuller look at the dance. However, this is not from my temple but another one in another village of northern Kerala. It so happens that the artist is the same.

There are many stages in which the performance unfolds with unique Thalam for each Parikrama. It starts with a special item called ‘Kotti Urayal’, or the summoning of the deity into the performer, and starts from the northern end of the temple forecourt. The artists, standing still are awakened by the percussion artists who play the drums and other instruments in a gradually increasing rhythm. This induces rhythmic movements in the artists and they start the dance in line with music tempo. This is an enjoyable experience for the viewers filling the entire courtyard as they stand most of them with folded hands, observing the ritual with total devotion.

After the Kotti Urayal, the dance slowly moves towards the kodimaram in front of the diety and this marks the beginning of a special occasion where the devotees get an opportunity to make their offerings to the diety directly. The artists with the thidambu on their head are now considered to be transformed into the temple diety with the Kotti Urayal ritual, and when they stand under the kodimaram they are considered to be Bhagavathy herself standing right in the midst of her devotees. Starting with the temple priest, practically all of them make their offerings personally to deity, into the hands of the artist. This goes on for almost half an hour in the first Parikrama with the artists moving from north to south and backwards many times all the time accompanied by the entourage.

This is then followed by the main dance performance which continues for half an hour before the Parikrama and the action repeats under a different Thala for the next three Parikramas. Finally, standing under the kodimaram, the thidambus are taken off their heads with loud chantings of “Amme, Amme, Govinda, Govinda” …. from the crowd, marking the end of Nrittam.

Conclusion

I go every year for the Utsavam and the rituals are the same. However, the joy and rejuvenation I feel each year is fresh and new and this is what makes me want to go back to my sacred janma bhoomi again and again. Bhagavathy helps me deepen my bonds with my janmabhoomi and also gives me Shakti, the strength to resume my worldly duties. I come back refreshed and grateful to have witnessed yet another Utsavam. I wait for the next one to come along with the same enthusiasm I have had for it all these years,  and I hope that Bhagavathy will bless me with her Shakti until next year, when it is time for a recharge.


About the author: PN Namboodiri is a retired Chemical Engineer, a Sanskrit enthusiast and volunteer with Samskrita Bharati. He is very interested in Bharatiya culture, traditions and customs and has been teaching Sanskrit for 5 years. He is also involved in vedic documentation projects.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.