India’s festive season officially underway and will continue for more than a couple of months. This is time for one big festival which is celebrated in various parts of India in various ways- from Bengal to Gujarat and Kullu to Mysore. Time for some devotional travel. Actually this also brings to start season of India’ some well-known music festivals. Let’s have a look at some of the top events for travel in this month.
Ramlila of Ramnagar at Varanasi
This is one of the holiest of Indian cities as per hindu mythology. Varanasi has always been a magnet for the spiritual, the religious, for holy seers and for the hippies. During the ten days of the Dussehra, the city becomes famous for its Ramlila, often considered to be the one of the oldest and perhaps grandest ramlila in world. Fifteen kilometers from the main city lies Ramnagar, where the Ram Leela is enacted in a unique manner. Unlike the rest of the country, where the enactment is done on single stages, here in Ramnagar the whole town is transformed into a large Ram Leela ground, structures are built and different spaces represent different locations in the story. The whole Ram lila takes place over a month. For a month, Ramnagar is transformed into a giant stage for the story of Ram to unfold. Permanent structures and parts of the town within a five-kilometre radius are named after places mentioned in the epic, and different episodes of the lila are enacted at different venues every day. On most days, the Ramlila moves – the cast, the Kashi Naresh, audiences and all. Sometimes, the movement is within a larger venue. Sadhus coming to Ramnagar from all over the country during this time and reciting Ramcharitramanas are called Ramayanis and the audience follows the performers all over town. Even though thousands of devotees, bystanders, tourists throng the town during this month, it is incredible to note that most of the recital is done without the aid of any loudspeakers, electric lights or mikes, and the audience maintains a hushed silence throughout the Ramayani recital. Audiences move around from one location to another in order to see the one of its kind Ramlila. The crowd ranges from a few thousand for some episodes, up to a lakh for episodes like Ram and Sita’s wedding, Dussehra (when a 60-feet high effigy of the Raavan is burnt), Bharat Milaap, and the coronation of Ram (the most auspicious episode). On the day after Dussehra, Varanasi celebrates the Bharat Milaap festival, which commemorates Ram’s return to Ayodhya and his reunion with younger brother Bharat. This takes place at Nati Imli, and thousands of people flock and gather to see Ram meet Bharat. People wear tilak on their foreheads and garland the brothers. Watching the entire scene from the background every year is Kashi Naresh (former king of Varanasi) in his regal attire and finery.
When: 15th September-16th October 2016
Where: Ramnagar, Varanasi
Music under the full moon
Jodhpur RIFF, ranked amongst the Top 25 International Music Festivals in the world, is back again this year to enthral music lovers. Begun in 2007, the Jodhpur RIFF brings together more than 250 Musicians and performing artists from across Rajasthan and around the world to celebrate their musical heritage and create new sounds through innovative collaborations, for five days in October each year. Timed to coincide with the brightest full moon of the year in north India, Sharad Poornima, Jodhpur RIFF features a series of spectacular concerts and events based in and around Mehrangarh Fort – voted “Asia’s Best Fortress” by Times Magazine. The Festival is a heady combination of Folk, Jazz, Sufi and contemporary music that transcend global boundaries. Jodhpur RIFF includes performances by master musicians from local Rajasthan communities, sensational headline acts showcased each night on the Main Stage, and cutting-edge global dance grooves that will keep the party going late into the night at Club Mehran. Interactive daytime sessions for visitors, school children and families are staged against the breathtaking backdrop of the Fort. The Jodhpur RIFF is a joint initiative of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust and the Jaipur Virasat Foundation. Gaj Singh of Marwar-Jodhpur is the Chief Patron of Jodhpur RIFF, while Mick Jagger, front man of the rock band The Rolling Stones is International Patron of Jodhpur RIFF. The festival has been endorsed by UNESCO as a “Peoples’ Platform for Creativity and Sustainable Development.”
When: 13rd-17th October 2016
Where: Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
Getting there: Jodhpur is well connected by Air, Train and Bus services from all major cities of North India.
The Marwar extravaganza
Another musical extravaganza at Jodhpur. Marwar Festival is held every year in memory of the heroes of Rajasthan. The festival is held in the month of Ashwin (September-October) in Jodhpur, for two days during the full moon of Sharad Poornima. Originally known as the Maand Festival, this festival features folk music centered on the romantic lifestyle of Rajasthan’s rulers. Organised by Rajasthan tourism and Jodhpur administration, this festival is devoted to the music and dance of the Marwar region and offers a good opportunity to see the folk dancers carrying pots on their heads and singers who assemble here and provide hours of lively entertainment. These folk artistes provide a glimpse of the days of yore, of battles and valiant heroes who still live on in their songs. Other attractions at the festival are the camel tattoo show and polo. The government Ummaid stadium, the historical clock tower in the midst of the old city and the sand dunes of Osian village provide the ideal venue for the cultural extravaganza – an integral part of the festival. On first day morning there is a procession from Ummaid stadium to the old city and back. There are various competitions during the day and the camel tattoo show by the BSF. In the evening there is cultural performance by the folk artists of Rajasthan at clock tower. Events on the second day take place at Osian village. Osian is an ancient town located in the Jodhpur. It is an oasis in the Thar Desert, and has been known as the “Khajuraho of Rajasthan” for its temples. It lies 69 km by road north of the district headquarters at Jodhpur, on a diversion off the main Jodhpur-Bikaner Highway.
When: 15th-16th October 2016
Where: Various places, Jodhpur
Getting there: Jodhpur is well connected by Air, Train and Bus services from all major cities of North India.
Classical Music and Dance at Soorya Festival
This is 40th year of an astonishing music festival. You won’t believe that this festival will run for 111 days and in this edition around 2000 artists from around the country will take part in this. Every year Thiruvanthapuram in Kerala reverberates with the sound of music of the festival. All music and dance aficionados will have treat at this festival and be exposed to the very best of Indian cultural arts. Held by the Soorya Stage and Film Society, a cultural society which promotes the arts vigorously, the Soorya Festival of Music and Dance presents varied dance performances by artistes showcasing different dance forms like Kathak, Manipuri, Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam. Renowned dancers from all over India perform at this festival. Music concerts are also held at this festival and well known proponents in the Hindustani and Carnatic style perform jugalbandis, vocal and instrumental soirees. Soorya has its Chapters in 36 countries in the world. Soorya also has it’s actively working Chapters in 60 Centres in India. Actually in first week of October Soorya organizes festivals in almost every big city of Kerala as well as in some other big cities of South India such as Chennai, Bangalore and Madurai. Already started with the performance of ‘Ganesham’ this festival will also see performance of legendary singer Yesudas who has performed in each of editions of the festivals since its inception. Incredible!
When: 21st September 2016-11th January 2017
Where: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
Getting there: Thiruvananthapuram is well connected by Air, Train and Bus services from all major cities of India. It is also an international airport.
Durga Puja at Barisha, the oldest
Barisha is renowned for the Durga pujas. It is a residential locality of Kolkata. Historically, it is one of the oldest boroughs in Kolkata. It was the abode of the great Sabarna Roy Choudhury family. Barisha is known today for being the home of the Indian Cricket idol Sourav Ganguly. The six Durga Pujas of the Sabarna Roy Choudhury family are world famous. The Aatchala Bari hosts the oldest Durga puja of Kolkata which dates back to 1610, when the first Jaigirdar of the Sabarna Family Lksmikanta Roy Choudhury started the family puja at Barisha, which was a prosperous village of his donimion. The other pujas of the Sabarna family at Barisha are those of Baro Bari, Mejobari, Kalikingkar Bhawan, Benaki Bari, and Majher Bari. The family also established other pujas like Chandi puja, Jagatdhatri puja etc. and also founded a large number of temples like the Annapurna Temple, Radhakanto temple, Dwadash Shiva Temples etc. The Barisha Rathayatra Utsav started in 1719 is one of the oldest in the city and is quite famous. There is also a Lord Jagannath Temple (at least 150 years old) at Sakherbazar. So this puja, go and worship the goddess at one of the oldest Durga pujas in Bengal.
When: 5th-11th October 2016
Where: Barisha, Kolkata
Getting there: Barisha is situated in the southwest of Kolkata about 10 kilometres from the city centre Esplanade. Although originally a separate village, it is now under the Kolkata Municipal Corporation The area starts from Vivekananda Women’s College in the north and is spread to Thakurpukur in the south. The Diamond Harbour Road and the James Long Sarani runs through the heart of Barisha.
Garba at Navratri in Gujarat
Garba is a folk dance in Gujarat and Navratris (nine nights for the goddess) had been the platform to perform the dance. Garba has been a traditional dance form to please the goddess Durga (or Kali) in Gujarat and many adjoining areas. There had been many folk songs in which devotees are requesting the bird to fly to Kali’s temple and ask her to come as they are performing garbas. But off late with advent of mass media garba has become more of a popular dance and now you can’t imagine navratris in Gujarat without garbas. Young ones take special classes for these events to polish their garba dance skills. For those nine-ten days whole Gujarat seems to be doing grabs in the evenings. It has also become a huge travel event. Get there to actually feel the pulse.
When: 1st-10th October 2016
Where: Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and many more places in Gujarat
Pleasing the snake gods at Mannarasala Ayilyam
Mannarassala Ayilyam is one of the major festivals in the Mannarassala Sree Nagaraja Temple, a unique temple dedicated to serpent Gods with over 30,000 images of snakes along the paths and even among trees. The major festival in this serpent shrine is the Ayilyam festival that falls on the Ayilyam asterism in the Malayalam month of Thulam, which roughly corresponds to the months of October / November. The festival which sees thousands of devotees visiting the temple from far and wide is celebrated with much grandeur. One of the major highlights of the festival is the ceremonial procession in which all the serpent idols in the temple and the sacred grove are taken to the illam (the Brahmin ancestral home) that manages the temple. Unlike other temples, here the head priest is a woman. The chief priestess will carry the idol of Nagaraja, which is the presiding deity of the temple. Special prayers and offerings are performed at the illam.
When: 24th October 2016
Where: Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja Temple, Harippad, Alappuzha. Harippad railway station is just 3 kms from the temple while Cochin International Airport is about 115 km away.
Gustor of Deskit monastery in Nubra
Deskit Monastery also known as Deskit Gompa or Diskit Gompa is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery (gompa) in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh. It belongs to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa, in the 14th century. Gustors take place at different monasteries at different time of the year. The festival takes place for two days. The celebration is to mark the victory over evils. The mask worn by the dancers represent the Guardians, Protectors and the Gods and Goddesses. The festival ends with the symbolic assassination of evils and burning of the effigy of evils. Deskit monastery also celebrates its Gustor festival. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil.
When: 28th-29th October 2016
Where: Deskit Monastery, Deskit, Nubra valley, Ladakh. Deskit is 120 kilometres from Leh and just 7 kilometres before Hunder known for its sand dunes.
Grandeur of Ramlilas of Delhi
Now to the heart of the country. Delhi has a blend of Ramlila and Durga Puja. There are almost 1000 Ramlila and 250 puja pandals events are held in the city. Durga puja has been organised in the capital city before independence and the prominent ones are the pujas at Kashmiri Gate, Chittranjan Park and the New Delhi Kalibari. Delhi has been having Dussehra celebrations historically. Ramlila ground definitely has the largest congregation in the city, as the place gets its name exactly because of its Ramlila and Dussehra celebrations. Besides that, Subhash Maidan, opposite to Red Fort has another big Ramlila and Dussehra celebration. USP of Delhi’s Dussehra celebrations has been that, being national capital it gets maximum exposure. Both the biggest Ramlilas, one at Subhash Maidan and other one at Ramlila maidan get the high presence of celebrities, political bigwigs. Likes of Prime Minister and top political brass make it a point to be there at these two places on Dussehra and fire the customary arrow towards effigy of Ravana. Besides, these ramlilas are also known for presence of glitterati and who’s who of Bollywood. Actually, many of these ramlilas had been used earlier for promoting various films. Hence these stars provide an added attraction. There is also a marked difference between ramlilas of likes of Ramnagar and those in Delhi. While Ramnagar ramlila still holds its original style and presentation, those in Delhi are marked for their use of modern technology and innovations blending them very beautifully with ramlila performances. This is something liked a lot by the younger audiences, as it is always a challenge to attract new audiences for ramlilas especially in bigger metros. Nevertheless, ramlilas in Delhi are a big draw among locals and visitors alike and are considered a must-see among top Dussehra celebrations of India.
When: 1st -11th October 2016
Where: Ramlila Maidan, Delhi
Dussehras of different hues
A festival so deep-rooted in our mythology is unique in the sense that it is celebrated in so different forms in different parts of country. Dussehra is marked as the victory of Good over evil, but the celebrations have taken various forms at various places. With underlying message the same in all of them, they all are worth a visit to understand the local customs, beliefs and rituals. Mysore Dasara is known for its sheer grandeur and participation. Mysore, or Mahishur as it was called in the past, traces its history back to the mythical past, when Goddess Chamundeshwari of Chamundi Hill, killed the wicked buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura. The city of Mysore has a long tradition of celebrating the Dasara festival and the festivities here are an elaborate affair and attract a large audience from all over the world. Another unique celebration from remote interiors of the country. The most important festival in Bastar is the Dusshera when all the deities from the surrounding villages unite at the temple of Danteshwari in Jagdalpur, the district headquarters. Unlike Dusshera in other parts of India, here it is not the celebration of return of Rama to Ayodhaya. Dusshera in Bastar is devoted entirely to the goddess, Danteshwari Devi. Then, Kota in Rajasthan has a very popular Dussehra celebration as well, known for a mixed urban-rural ethos of this religious occasion. Located on the banks of the Chambal River, Kota celebrates a number of festivals. However, this festival of Dussehra bears a distinct appeal altogether. Here Dussehra fair is observed for 25 days. Then, after the whole country winds up the celebration of Dussehra by burning the effigies of Ravana, then the Dussehra at Kullu begins. The festival commences on the tenth day of the rising moon, i.e. on Vijayadashmi day itself and continues for seven days. The birth of Dussehra in Kullu lay in royal fads and it nourished on religious, social and economic factors and ultimately came to be well established, because of the inborn love of the hill- men for fun, frolic, displayed in community singing and dancing. Kullu Dusshehra is a beautiful amalgam of history, culture and customs. Another Dussehra in the hills is in the top list for its traditional style and culture. In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, the Dussehra festival starts with the performance of Ramlila which is unique as it is based on the musical rendering of the katha or story of Lord Rama. It is based on the theatrical traditions set by Uday Shankar during his stay in Almora; these traditions were further enriched by Mohan Upreti and Brijendra Lal Sah. Almora’s Kumaoni style enactment has also been recognized by UNESCO as one of the most representative Ramlilas along with places like Ayodhya, Varanasi, Vrindavan and Madhubani.
When: 11th October 2016
Where: Mysore, Bastar, Kullu, Kota and Almora