World through my eyes
Too late to come with the first post of the New Year! It is never too late!!
Chill is settling down and fog has engulfed almost whole of north India. Its snowing in the hills. Time to pack the bags for some adventure! If you need a reason than there are lot from cold deserts of Ladakh to deserts of Thar (although they will be equally cold this time). First month of the calendar year also comes with a number of festivals celebrating India’s dance and musical traditions. Not to be forgotten that this month also has Makar Sakranti (14th January), considered to be one of the most auspicious days of the year and also an occasion of many travels and pilgrimages. Here are my picks for the month.
Mukteshwar and Rajarani Festivals
Let’s start from Odisha. Mukteshwar Dance Festival (14-16 January), organised by Odisha Tourism is all about dance, especially Odissi dance. This festival is staged in front of the 1100-years-old Mukteswar temple in Bhubaneswar. Renowned Odissi dancers from around the world take part in this festival performing solo, duet and group presentations. Mukteshwar temple, one of the most prominent temples of Bhubaneswar, has been constructed in the style that is quite similar to the one used in the Kalinga School of Temple Architecture. The splendid Torana of the temple, an ornamental arched gateway, is very much reminiscent of the influence of Buddhism in Orissa. This temple is a very important part of cultural life of the people of Orissa as the architecture at the temple entrance is considered to be one of the most beautiful specimens of the Orissan School of architecture. This temple signifies the transitional phase of the architecture of Orissa between the initial and the later stages of Kalinga architectural style. The beautiful architectural works of the temple add to the splendour of the Mukteshwar Utsav. This festival should not be missed by the people who take interest in the traditional dance forms of India. This festival is followed by Rajarani Music Festival two days later. Mukteshwar festival is all about dance while Rajarani festival is about classical music.
Entrancing performances by well-known Odissi and Hindustani vocal and music maestros bring alive the architectural beauty of the 11th century Rajarani temple at this festival. To show case the glorious tradition of Indian classical music, the Rajarani Music Festival was conceived to be organised by the Department of Tourism in association with Bhubaneswar Music Circle.
Celestial music, sublime surroundings and soothing climes of late winter—soul traverses to an elevated sphere leaving you utterly relaxed. The musical evenings are resplendent with excellent performances by the great maestros of Indian classical music creating an allegory of darbari gayans (musical performances in an Indian king’s court) of age old histories. Eminent instrumentalists and vocalists of India have rendered scintillating performance in this festival over the years. The temple, often referred to as the Khajuraho of the east, is famous for its elaborate erotic sculptured figurines. It’s remarkable for the absence any presiding deity in it. The temple is famous for its ornate deul or compass and the statues of eight Dikpals guarding the eight cardinal directions of the temple.
Continuing with tradition of music festivals, come January and the mighty pillars of the Kuthiramalika Palace in the Kerala’s capital city of Thiruvananthapuram will pulsate with the mellifluous notes sung at the Swathi Sangeetholsavam or Swathi Music Festival. This musical extravaganza lets you listen to the spellbinding compositions of Swathi Thirunal, the erstwhile Maharaja of Travancore. Organised every year to pay tribute to Swathi Thirunal, the concert celebrates the brilliant notes composed by this legendary maestro which continue to enthrall music lovers even now. A patron of music and a musician himself, Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma has to his credit more than 400 compositions in Carnatic music as well as Hindustani music. He set a new course and direction to the musical tradition of Kerala. The concert held in the Kuthiramalika Palace adjoining the famous Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, sees musical performances in both Hindustani and Carnatic styles. The musical festival which is attended by eminent musicians from across the country brings together those passionate about classical music and the experts as well. Entry is free.
Adoor Gajmela, first of the year
Well, let’s still be in Kerala. The picture of a huge tusker in all his adornment is something that catches the mind of all. If you are an elephant lover then don’t miss this wonderful elephant pageant at the Parthasarathy Temple in Adoor. Popular as Adoor Gajamela, the festival is part of the ten-day annual celebration held at the temple. Kerala’s first elephant pageant for the year, the end of the 10 day festival at Parthasarathy Temple features a procession of nine decorated elephants. Traditional art forms such a panchavadyam (a musical ensemble with five different types of instruments) accompany the parade. Hundreds of people throng the temple premises to witness this spectacle where nine tuskers come in their ceremonial attire to entice all. Parthasarathy Temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna, who is also known as Parthasarathy – the charioteer of Parthan, another name for Arjuna. Arjuna is one of the five Pandava princes, in the Indian epic Mahabharata.
Kerala always loves to give you more. The Arthunkal Perunnal (perunnal meaning feast) is the annual feast of St. Sebastian held in the St. Andrew’s Forane Church at Arthunkal in Alappuzha. The event sees devotees from across the state throng the church to participate in the feast which is held in January every year. One of the main events during the feast involves a ceremonial procession wherein the statue of St. Sebastian is taken out from the church to the beach and back. Another intriguing event is the ceremony on the final day when devotees crawl on their knees all the way from the nearby beach to the church. Church built by Portuguese missionaries in a coastal hamlet near here is a model of religious harmony with a tradition of hosting Sabari pilgrims returning after worshipping Lord Ayyappa. Pilgrims from across the state visit the St Andrew’s Church at Arthunkal here and pay their respects to the idol of Saint Sebastian between the months of November and January during the Mandala and Makaravilakku season of the Sabarimala temple. Legend has it that one of the early priests of the church, popularly called Arthunkal Veluthachan (fair skinned father), was a friend of Lord Ayyappa. The visit of the pilgrims commemorates the bond they shared, especially as the priest was loved by the local people who believed he had healing powers.
But if you think that that is all from Kerala fo the month, than you are wrong. Actually there are lot more. Kerala Tourism has recently started another unique annual event- Utsavam which is a festival of traditional performing art forms of Kerala. It will be held from January 6 to 12 across Kerala. Simultaneously, from January 7 to 14 Vasantholsavam will be celebrated at Kanakakkunnu Palace in Thiruvanathpuram. It will be basically a flower show. Same Kanakakkunnu Palace will also host Nishagandhi Festival from January 20 to 26, which will be a seven day cultural fiesta.
Jaipur Literature Festival
Lets move from down south to west in Rajasthan. From modest beginnings in 2006, the Jaipur Literature Festival has grown into the largest literary festival in Asia-Pacific. This is the 11th edition of the festival this year. Both Indian authors as well as those from abroad appear at the festival. The sessions consist of readings, discussions, and questions and answers. It’s possible to buy the authors’ books and get them signed. In addition, there’s a range of stalls selling everything from food to handicrafts. There’s also an outdoor lounge bar, for relaxing. Music performances are held in the evenings, after the literary sessions are over. In recent years, the festival has turned into quite a fashionable occasion, and attracts plenty of socialites from Delhi and Jaipur. Authors will discuss works related to topic. There will also be emphasis on poetry, the literature of Southeast Asia, and the seven states of northeast India. There will be live music events, heritage walks and much more.
Colours of desert in Rajasthan
There is lot in Rajasthan this month. January is just the right month for a desert spree, and Bikaner and Jaisalmer are just the right places to see the ships of the desert. In the camel country Bikaner, these desert leviathans pull heavy cartloads, transport grain and even work at the wells. Held on second Saturday-Sunday of January every year, the Camel Festival begins with a colourful procession of bedecked camels against the red sandstone backdrop of the Junagarh Fort, the festivity advances to the open sand-spreads of the grounds, followed by the best breed competition, the tug-of-war contest, camel dance, acrobatics, etc. The camels display amazing footwork, dancing gracefully to the slightest direction of their trainers. Bridal, bridles, bejewelled necks, jingling anklets and long, lanky camel shadow on dusky sands cast a magical spell. Hundreds of tourists and thousands of locals and dignitaries revel in this man-and-animal affair organised especially for the tourists. The evenings close with a different tenor and tempo altogether: a traditional rendezvous of renowned artistes of Rajasthan and the local folk performers. The jubilant skirt-swirling dancers, the awe-inspiring fire dance, and the dazzling fireworks light up the fortified desert city of Bikaner.
Almost a fortnight later is Desert Festival at Jaisalmer (January 29-31, 2018). Its one of Rajasthan’s premier showcase festivals. Once a year, the empty sands around Jaisalmer come alive with a mesmerising performance on the sand dunes in the form of the Desert Festival. The festival, organised by the Department of Tourism around January-February, goes on for three whole days and lets you enjoy the rich and colourful Rajasthani folk culture. Rajasthani men and tall, beautiful women dressed in their best and brightest costumes dance and sing ballads of valour, romance and tragedy, while traditional musicians attempt to outdo each other to showcase their musical superiority. The high points of the festival are puppeteers, acrobats, camel tattoo shows, camel races, camel polo, traditional processions, camel mounted bands, folk dances, etc.
Tribal Kumbh at Beneshwar
From west of Rajasthan, now we move to south of Rajasthan. Almost 70 kilometre from Dungarpur in South Rajasthan, Beneshwar temple at Sabla is located at the confluence of three rivers- Mahi, Som and Jakham. This region is the tribal belt that stretched to neighbouring parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat as well. Every year this place is host to Beneshwar Fair. This festival, held on the full moon day or Magh Shukla Purnima, attracts a large number of tourists along with tribals from the region. On this pious occasion, Bhils travel all the way from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to take a dip at the confluence of three rivers. The number of people coming to the festival often crosses half a million, hence it is rightfully known as the Tribal Mahakumbh of ‘Vangad’ region. A true reflection of tribal traditions and culture. This place has got many mythological associations making it one of the most revered places of the region. There is a fair and a flea market as well. Even the erstwhile royal family of Dungarpur had close association with this festival.
Similarly Nagaur in Rajasthan will also have its Nagaur Fair from 22 January to 25 January. Nagaur Fair is said to be second biggest fair in India. It is basically a cattle fair, where every year around 70,000 bullocks, camels and horses are traded. All traditional colours of Rajasthan are here at full display in dresses, shops, games and art forms. This fair is also known for its Mirchi Bazaar, which is said not be largest red chilli market in India.
Joydev Fair, Kenduli
Now jump from west to east. For an unforgettable dose of West Bengal folk music don’t miss the Kenduli Mela, where the mystical wandering Baul musicians gather to perform. Dressed in saffron robes, and playing a distinctive instrument called the Ektara, they sing uniquely about life’s philosophy. Joydev-Kenduli is renowned as the birth place of great Sanskrit poet Joydev who flourished in 12th Century and composed the well known Geet – Govinda, a Sanskrit Lyrical poem. Annual- Mela is held in the village Kenduli in the last day of Bengali month Pous and first 2 days of Magh and is attended by thousands of pilgrims including Bauls. The word ‘Baul’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Batul’ which means ‘mad’. Baul philosophy emphasises love for all human beings as the path leading to divine love. The Joydeb-Kenduli mela (fair), held every year in West Bengal’s Birbhum district on Makar Sankranti in mid-January. It is a gathering of wandering minstrels (Bauls, primarily) like no other in India. Gathering in almost equal numbers are lay aficionados addicted to the Baul and Fakir ways of life. Joydev Mela is mainly a music festival but as the Poush Mela it attracts craftsmen from the whole region, mainly selling wooden kitchen supplies, handmade covers or cheap jewellery. During five days, the 3 000 inhabitants of Kenduli Village welcome thousand and thousand of pilgrims who come mostly to listen to the bauls, the Wandering minstrels, the Mad Ones, bearers of a unique musical tradition, included in the list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. The fair is held on the banks of the Ajay River which is not only of some historical interest – the fair celebrates the great poet Joydev on the day he is claimed to have taken a bath at the Kadaambokhandi ghat of the river around 800 years ago.
Uttarayan Kite Festival
Well, looking around for other events on Makar Sankranti, lets come back to west. Gujarat is vibrant with the Kite Festival (Makar Sankranti) which is celebrated with colors of joy, colors of life. The Kite Festival signify Gujarat’s ‘Cultural Strength’ and like the kites, Gujarat soars high to touch the skies to be the ‘best in the world.’ All over the State, in the Month of January, the serene blue sky with colorful kites look splendid and since morning to evening remains dotted with vivid splashes of color with kites in a variety of hues, shapes and sizes. The excitement continues with the onset of night. As the sun sets and darkness hovers over, youngsters continue competing each other in supremacy in the sky, now with the paper lanterns tied to their kite-strings. These lanterns known as tukkal swaying at the mild stroke of wind presents a lovely image while some try to cut off these tukkals and enjoy the fun. Makar Sankranti (Kite Flying Day) marks the end of a long winter with the return of the sun to the Northern Hemisphere. According to the Hindu astronomy the sun enters the zodiac of Makara (Capricorn). Hence, it is called Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti. The special significance attached to the celebration of Makar sankranti, is Kite Flying. The gods who are believed to have slumbered for six long months are now awake and the portals of heaven are thrown open! Uttarayan is celebrated all over Gujarat but the excitement is high at Ahmedabad, Surat, Nadiad and Vadodara. Surat, especially is known particularly for the strong string which is made by applying glass powder on the row thread to provide it a cutting edge. To be in any one of these places during this festival is to feel the heart and pulse of Gujarat and its people.On a night prior to the festival special markets are held and you need a gujju skill for bargaining and clinch a right deal in the crushing crowd of kite enthusiasts. Gujarat Tourism also hosts the International Kite Festival drawing crowds to witness the show of eminent kitists from many states and countries. This International Kite Festival is held at Ahmedabad , to coincide with the festival of Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti. People from all over the world display their exotic kites of various designs. It is a splendid spectacular show to see the sky with colourful kites, huge size and varied designs and shapes This gives the people of Ahmedabad the change to see the unusual kites brought by the visitors some of which are truly works of art. Cuisine and Crafts display are also enjoyed by the participants and spectators. The International Kite Festival in Gujarat has become a major tourist attraction.
Modhera Dance Festival
We will still like to be in Gujarat. Psychedelic hues of red, yellow, green lights illuminating nooks and corners of intricately carved the Sun Temple of Modhera, during dark and breezy nights of January, create a Chiaroscuro effect of time and space! The Sun Temple of Modhera is a masterpiece of the Golden Age of the Solanki Empire, which hosts the annual Dance Festival and flaunts the glory and splendor of that era. The Modhera Dance Festival which is also prevalently known as the Uttarardh Mahotsavor Modhera Utsavis is one of the most famous celebration of art, music, dance and culture, in this part of the country. This unique occurrence showcases traditional dance forms of the region as well as acts as a platform bringing together the cultural ethos of other regions expressed in form of dance or nritya. Modhera, the temple of the Sun narrating the history and grandeur of its patrons, the Solankis, is an architectural marvel. This peerless temple space acts as a grandiose backdrop for the vibrant expression of dancers and aesthetic ethnicity of the country. Dance troupes and performers from all regions of the nation bring along a panorama of varied dance forms and styles, interlaced with the essence of their origins. The performers blend in the ambience and bring life to the sandstone figurines carved on the edifice of the temple, singing and narrating legends of times bygone. The three day festival of Uttarardh Mahotsavis is organised on third weekend of January every year by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited (TCGL), to venerate and celebrate the inherited treasure of performing arts of the country. The Modhera festival is an ideal opportunity to experience living heritage of Indian dance and music while traversing back in time sitting in the lap of golden history.
Gustor of Spituk
Then as I promised, we move to cold deserts of north in Ladakh. Although this time is ripe to have a Chadar Trek, but there is lot more. Spituk is an interesting monastery, on the hill top near Indus about 18 kms. from Leh on Srinagar road. The Spituk monastery offers a commanding view of Indus. It has a totally new Gompa within the monastery as well as the old Gompa has also been restored meanwhile. It is constructed in a series of tiers with courtyards and steps. Higher up in the hill is a chamber which houses the enormous statue of goddess. Its face is covered and uncovered only once in a year during the festival time. Every year, on the 17th and 19th day of the 11th of the Bodhi month, the Gelukpa order of monks celebrate the Spituk festival known as Gustor. During the festival, the lamas wear the masks of religious deities and perform the dances, which is normally about good and evil and mythological stories related to the Buddhism. The Spituk Gompa was founded in 11th century by Od-De, the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub-od. The Gompa was named Spituk (exemplary) by Rinchen Zangpo, a translator came to that place and said that exemplary religious community would rise. Initially the Gompa was run according to the Kadampa school then during the reign of king Gragspa Bumide he converted it to Gayluk Pa order. Many icons of Buddha and 5 thangkas can be visited in this 15th century monastery. The Dukhang Hall is the largest building and has two rows of seats running the length of the walls to a throne at the far end. Sculptures and miniature chortens are displayed on the altar. There is also a collection of ancient masks, antique arms and fine thangkas. Higher up the hill is the Mahakal Temple, containing the shrine of Vajrabhairava. The terrifying face of Vajrabhairva is unveiled only at the annual festival in January.
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