World through my eyes
You just can’t beat month of November, not just because it is the month of my birth (just kidding!), actually because this is one of the most happening month of the year. Just imagine, every other Indian state has some kind of a festival this month. And, what a range… from music to dance to nature, flowers, cattle, fairs, religion, mythology, culture… and what not. This month has every aspect to relate with. Hence for all those with a penchant to travel just for any reason, here are plentiful to do that.
Even weather generally remains clear and winter is yet to make some ground. Many people even like to travel to hills during this month to have some good views of snow-clad peaks in blue skies. So the month had events and festivals lined up from states as far as and as diverse as Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala, Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur. And actually I am pretty sure that I am still missing a few other happenings from same states or might be other states. But isn’t this more than enough!
Well, I am already late to suggest as it is Guru Parab today, birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, founder of Sikh religion. Hence it is the most auspicious day of the year for Sikhs around the world. But it is also Kartik Purnima today, the full moon day of the month of Kartik in the Hindu calendar. It again is one of the most important day of Hindu calendar. A day to take holy bath in the rivers around. So many festivals are organised around this day.
All those who can’t go to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan to pay homage to Guru Nanak at his place of birth, still find solace at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The celebrations usually commence with Prabhat Pheris, the early morning processions that begin at the Gurudwaras and proceed around the localities singing hymns.
Kartik Purnima is also the day of Dev Deepawali at Varanasi which is culmination of five day Ganga Mahotsav, which started on 31st October this year. Ganga mahotsav is a festival only once of its kind, certainly doubles the attraction of this city of temples, Ghats and traditions. As classical music fills the atmosphere, a mystique seems to envelop the environs awating a mood both celestial and soulful. On the final day (Poornima), which coincides with the traditional Dev Deepawali (light festival of the Gods), the ghats on the Ganga River glitter with more than a million lit-up earthen lamps. The trend of celebrating the Ganga Mahotsav in the Holy city of India, Varanasi, tends to keep the importance of the Varanasi as a cultural, religious and traditional capital of the India. At this occasion, pilgrims celebrate the event by performing an Indian classical style music and dance.
Chandrabhaga Fair (3rd to 5th November) at Jhalrapatan in Rajasthan is also linked to Kartik Purnima. It is held at every year at Jhalrapatan (6 kms from Jhalawar). The River Chadrabhaga runs here and is considered holy by the people residing in this part of Rajasthan. On the full moon night of ‘Kartik Purnima’, thousands of pilgrims take a holy dip in the river. The fair, held on the last day of Kartik, attracts devotees who bathe in the holy waters at this spot which is known as Chandravati. A big cattle fair which blends religion with commerce is held here. Livestock like cows, horses, buffaloes, camels and bullocks are brought from distant parts for sale. Ramganj Mandi is the nearest Major Railway Station (25kms), however local train between Kota and Jhalawar also available at Jhalawar railway station. Another world famous cattle fair in Rajasthan, Pushkar Fair also concludes on Kartik Purnima with a holy bath.
Another fair in Rajasthan, the Kolayat Fair of Bikaner (2nd to 4th November) concludes today on Kartik Purnima. This fair holds great importance for the locals who eagerly await it. Tourists also experience a great time as the fair is celebrated on an expansive scale. It is also known as ‘Kapil Muni Fair’. The pomp and show of the fair is not its only attraction as it also possesses great religious significance. A large number of devotees visit the fair to take a holy dip in the Kolayat Lake. It is believed that a holy dip can absolve them of all their sins.
Similarly Bundi Festival (6th to 8th November) starts immediately after Kartik Purnima. It includes several spiritual and traditional activities. It is a remarkable cluster of traditional art, culture and craftsmanship and visitors are left charmed by its magnificence. The program includes a colourful Shobha Yatra, arts & crafts fair, ethnic sports, cultural exhibition, classical music & dance program, turban competitions, bridal clothing, musical band competitions, and a sparkling fireworks display. Early in the morning, after the full moon night of Kartik Purnima, women and men clad in attractive colourful costumes light diyas or lamps on the banks of River Chambal and seek blessings.
Rajasthan also has another festival to its credit this month. The Matsya festival (25-26 November) of Alwar held in November over two days is the foremost of all fairs and festivals of Rajasthan. It is celebrated to glorify the prosperity, traditional values and colourful customs of the region. This festival is renowned for its colourful processions, cultural performances, an array of sporting events and impressive artistic exhibitions. The magnificence of Alwar’s numerous palaces and forts, lakes, hunting lodges, archaeological sites and thick forests, make it a delightful setting for a flamboyant celebration.
But then there is another one of the most important and historical fairs of India, which commences in line with Kartik Purnima. The annual Sonepur Fair (2nd November-3rd December) gets underway on the auspicious Hindu holy occasion of Kartik Purnima, when pilgrims take an early morning bath in the river, and continues for around four weeks. Apparently, the Sonepur Fair has ancient origins back to the rule of India’s first Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, who used to buy elephants and horses from it for his army. The fair also commemorates the intervention of Lord Vishnu to end a great curse and long fight between elephant and crocodile in Hindu mythology. The elephant was saved, after bathing in the river and being attacked by the crocodile, by Lord Vishnu. Originally, the venue of the fair was Hajipur and only the performance of the puja used to take place at the Harihar Nath temple of Sonepur. However, under the rule of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the venue of the fair got shifted to Sonepur. Since Sonepur is situated at the convergence of the sacred rivers Ganges and Gandak, it is regarded as a holy site. Traditionally known as a cattle fair, while still wonderfully off the beaten path, the Sonepur Fair now has a more commercial focus with the aim of attracting both domestic and international tourists. In order to facilitate this, Bihar Tourism took over its organization, including tourist accommodations, in 2012. While the Pushkar Fair in Rajasthan is famous for its camels, it’s the elephants that are the star attraction at the Sonepur Fair. They’re decorated and lined up on display in rows in an area known as the Haathi Bazaar (Elephant Market), and reportedly even raced. The special thing about it is that you can go up to the elephants and touch them, and even feed them. Sonepur is easily accessible by Roadways and Railways. Moreover, it is only 25 kilometers from Bihar’s Capital Patna, which is well connected by Airways, Railways and Roadways to the other parts of the country. During the time of Fair, BSTDC also organizes Ferries from Patna to Sonepur.
Moving further east from Bihar, Majuli island in Assam celebrates Majuli festival (21-24 November) every year in month of November. Majuli, the largest riverine island in the world, nestles in the lap of the mightly Brahmaputra. This is where the 15th century saint and fountain head of Assamese culture, Sankardeva, first established a Satra or neo-Vaishnavite monastery, born of insightful discourses with his spiritual successor, Madhabdeva. The island is about 200 kilometers east from the state’s largest city, Guwahati. Majuli is enveloped in lush greenery and the flora, fauna and the natural scenery found there is breathtaking. The Majuli festival is one of the most popular festivals and is celebrated on the picturesque banks of the river Luit situated 1.5 kilometers from Garamur, the sub divisional head quarter of the island. It is celebrated during the month of November keeping in mind the climatic conditions of the region. The celebration takes place for 4 continuous days. The Majuli festival is an enlightening celebration where various the cultural aspects of the different communities living there are revealed and honored. This is the one place where the artists of such different communities gather to celebrate their unity amongst this diverse gathering. Majuli is 20 kms fom Jorhat town. Buses ply regularly from Jorhat town to Neamati Steamer Ghat, the main ferry boarding point for Majuli. The entire journey takes about three hours, involving a half hour bus ride to Neamati Ghat, which has a few tourist information booths, lodging facilities and food stalls catering to transiting ferry-goers, and ferry ride to the southern tip of Majuli island. Though Jorhat remains the principal entry point, Majuli can be approached through Lakhimpur on the north and Dibrugarh on the east.
Farther in Meghalaya there is Wangala Festival (8-10 November) – a festival of 100 drums. The Wangala is a Garo post-harvest festival that marks the end of the agricultural year. It is an act of thanksgiving to the sun god of fertility, known as Misi-A-Gilpa-Saljong-Galapa. A nagara (a special drum used for calling the people on solemn occasions) is beaten. The Wangala is an age-old practice by the ‘Songsareks’ or non-Christian Garos in all the villages of Garo Hills. However, the time and mode of celebration varies from village to village. This is the most popular festival of the Garo Hills, and is held in November, the precise date being fixed by the headman. The men and women dance in mirthful gaiety with the beating of drums, blowing of the buffalo horn trumpets and bamboo flutes. The men wear dhotis, half-jackets and turbans with feathers. The women wear colourful dresses made of silk, blouses and a head-wrap with feathers. The highlight of the festival is when 300 dancers and 100 drums descend on the field in all their splendour in celebration. Festival happens at Asanang village which is 18 kms from Tura in Meghalaya. Tura is in the western part of Meghalaya which is quite close to the Bangladesh border. Main mode of transport is by road, there are no railways or any scheduled flights from Tura airport. From Guwahati, it is 221 km, through the National Highway 51. Day time Sumo and overnight bus services are available form Guwahati. There is a 3-days-a-week helicopter service available from Guwahati and Shillong, run by Pawan Hans. Capital Shillong is more than 320 kilometres away.
But capital Shillong is home to another landmark event this month. The second edition of India International Cherry Blossom Festival (8-11 November). It is not just India’s only cherry blossom festival but it is also said to be world’s only autumn Cherry Blossom Festival. India has a cherry blossom festival, this itself might be a big news for many across the world, but north eastern states are busy planting cherry blossoms and very soon, India will well be on world Cherry Blossom tourism map.
Something more from the north east and this from Manipur which celebrates Manipur Sangai Festival from 21st to 30th November every year. The ‘Festival’ is named after the State animal, Sangai, the brow-antlered deer found only in Manipur. It started in the year 2010 and has grown over the years into a big platform for Manipur to showcase its rich tradition and culture to the world. The festival is labeled as the grandest festival of the state today and helps promote Manipur as a world class tourism destination. Every edition of the festival showcases the tourism potential of the state in the field of Arts & Culture, Handloom, Handicrafts, Indigenous Sports, Cuisine, Music and Adventure sports of the state etc.
Moving back to north, there are two important monastic festivals from monasteries of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir. Thiksey Gustor is held on the 17th, 18th and 19th day of the 9th month of Tibetan lunar calendar (6-7 November) . It is a traditional ceremony conducted in the monasteries of Gelukpa order of Tibetan Buddhism. During these days of festival mask dances are performed by monks of the monastery wearing colorful silk brocaded robes and mask in different forms of Gods and Goddesses. Thiksey Monastery is located 19 kilometres from Leh. It is situated on a hillock overlooking the Indus Valley with full view of the magnificent Stok range. It is located right on the main road towards Leh.
Then there is Chemday Wangchok, the most famous festival (16-17 November) of the Chemday Monastery. It culminates with sacred mask dance (Chams) and a great variety of rituals with amazing Vajrayana skills. Wangchok is dedicated to the protectors of the truth. Devotees pay homage here to Jakpa Melen, a protector of the Drukpa lineage and of many Ladakhi families and villages. Large thangkas unfold only for the festival. They are not painted but were created from silk, with garland of pearls and corals, under Gyalsey Rinpoche the Precious Prince of Ladakh, around 1770. Devotees pay homage to the Mandala (Khyilkor) of Mahakala (Gonpo Nagpo), the lord of the Wangchok Festival. This monastery is 40 kms east of Leh.
Quick jump to down south and we have three festivals from God’s own country Kerala. Mannarassala Ayilyam (11the November) 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. Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja Temple is at Harippad in Alappuzha. Harippad railway station is just 3 kms from the temple while Cochin International Airport is about 115 km away.
Then there is Kalpathi Ratholsavam (14-16 November). Kalpathi is a traditional Tamil Brahmin settlement in Kerala. The temple dedicated to Lord Viswanatha or Shiva is believed to be 700 years old. The annual chariot festival usually falls in the month of November. During the festival days the entire Kalpathi will be teeming with devotees and visitors from near and far. Vedic recitals and cultural programmes render a unique ambience for the place. On the last three days, the three elaborately decorated huge temple chariots take the attention of all. Devotees would then gather to draw the chariots through the streets of Kalpathi village. It will be just one chariot that will be pulled on the first day, followed by two on the second and three on the last day of the festival. Sree Viswanatha Swamy Temple is at Kalpathi in Palakkad.
There is also one of the most famous pilgrimages of India. The Sabarimala temple is located in the Sabari Hills, towards the east of Pathanamthitta District. The divine incantation amid the lush forests and grasslands and the thousands of people that visit this temple, irrespective of caste and creed, make it a very unique pilgrim destination. Lord Ayyappa is the presiding deity here. The annual pilgrim season to Sabarimala (15th November-26th December) begins with the Mandalakala season, which commences usually in the months of November-December followed by the Makaravilakku season during December-January. The temple at Sabarimala can be accessed via many traditional routes. Pamba is the main halting point on the way to Sabarimala. As per tradition a dip in the sacred river Pamba cleanses the pilgrims off sins and after that they proceed to the sannidhanam or the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Ayyappa. A truly riveting spiritual experience in the lap of pristine nature, Sabarimala has become a major destination of the faithful in India. Lord Ayyappa Temple, Sabarimala is in Sabari Hills in the Western Ghats in Pathanamthitta district.
Then there are two long season festivals. One among them is the Rann Utsav at Kutch from 1st November to 20th February. Rann Of Kutch is the most amazing tourist destination to travel to, with friends as well as family either on short weekends or on long sojourns. The Spectacular site of a glistening White Rann under the full moon along with various glimpses of Kutchi Culture, Handicrafts and outdoor activities make this desert carnival a perfect holiday destination. The variety emerges from the enchanting terrain that provides a perfect backdrop to an extra ordinary fair.
Taking leaf out of Rann’s book is Madhya Pradesh by organising Jal Mahotsav at Hanuwantiya. On the lines of Rann Utsav of Kutch Madhya Pradesh tourism has dared to do the unthinkable of bringing tourists to a location as remote as Hanuwantiya with nothing to lure them. Now Hanuwantiya is a hub for air, land and water adventure activities. Jal Mahotsav is in its third year now and gradually increasing its time span. For ten days two years back, it increased to one month last year and now 80 days (15th October-2nd January). The main attraction of Jal Mahotsav is water sports in its huge reservoir which will often look like a sea. But there are aero activities too, like paramotoring, parasailing and ballooning. Swiss tents have been put up for the tourists at the Jal Mahotsav. There are houseboats as well. An exhibition focused on Narmada river besides food zone, craft bazaar is being organised. This year Jal Mahotsav specially targets the year-end tourists. Hanuwantiya is in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh close to reservoir of Indira Sagar Dam. Nearest airport is Indore around 130 kms away. It takes around four hours to reach Hanuwantiya from Indore. Nearest major railway station is Khandwa which is 48 kms from Hanuwantiya.
There are two more cultural extravaganzas. First is the Kalidas Festival at Nagpur. After being discontinued in 2010, the much awaited Kalidas Samaroh was revived two years back. Although controversies haven’t stopped following it. A tug of war continued over organising the festival between Nagpur and Ramtek. Kalidas was a great Sanskrit poet and dramatist, famous for his historical drama, Shakuntalam, and for the epic poem, Meghdoot. The Kalidas Festival brings back memories of the golden period of the Vidarbha region. Ramgiri, or Ramtek as it is popularly known today, is the place that inspired Kalidas and its beauty features predominantly in his literary work. Every year, in November, some of the greatest exponents of music, dance and drama performed in the picturesque setting of Ramtek, celebrating its glorious heritage over two exciting days and nights. The festival aimed to recall the golden period of Vidarbha region. The celebration of Kalidas Festival is a tribute to Kalidas and his eternal contribution to the field of poetry. But then there was a decision to shift the festival to Nagpur. Now after lot of hue and cry this festival has been split between two cities. Nagpur is going to organise the event in name of Kalidas Festival from 17th to 19th November this year while Ramtek will organise Kalidas Lok Mahotsav on 27th and 28th January. Kalidas festival this year has been dedicated to two legendary vocalists of Hindustani classical music, Kishori Amonkar and Girija Devi, who passed away recently. Ramtek is one of the important pilgrim centres and tourist attractions of Maharashtra State. It has both mythological and historic importance. It is about 45 kms from Nagpur and is well connected by road and rail. Nagpur has direct flights from all major big airports. Trains ply on a regular basis between Ramtek and Nagpur
Another is celebration os Awadhi culture at Lucknow. Lucknow Mahotsava is a celebration of the Awadh culture (the culture of Lucknow of the yesteryears). The festival is organized by the state government and continues for ten days. Colorful processions, traditional dramas, kathak dances in the style of the famous Lucknow gharana, sarangi and sitar recitals along with ghazals, qawalis, and thumri are the prime attractions of this festival. The Fascinating city of Lucknow has ever been associated with a rich tradition of hospitality, exotic cuisine and architectural grandeur. Lucknow attained unparalleled heights of excellence in art, craft and culture during the period of Nawabs. Lucknow Mahotsava is organized every year in the month of November / December to showcase the rich cultural heritage of Lucknow. Mahotsava provides an opportunity to hundreds of awarded artisans from more than 20 states of India to display their exquisite handicrafts. The Mahotsava also provides a platform to upcoming talented artists and venue for sportsmen to revive traditional sports and events like Kite competition, Ekka Tanga race, Vintage Car rally etc.
Last but not the least is a very recent addition to the north India’s cultural scenario- Geeta Mahotsav at Kurukshetra, celebrated from 17th November to 2nd December this year.
So, you see, as I finish writing, I have already compiled 21 festivals. And then, I have probably missed out Vijaya Utsava at Hampi (3-5 November), Food truck festival in Delhi (11-12 November) and probably few more. Include all of them and we are already pass 25 festivals for 15 odd states.