A yatra ends this month at Amarnath and another starts for another of Shiva’s abode in Himalayas, a bit less challenging but equally fascinating. That’s not all this month, this is actually start of the classical Indian festive season with two of most important religious celebrations- Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi. But those are not only the ones which will catch your eyes, there is something else as golden as colour of turmeric which adds to the fervour of the month. Interestingly enough, in this peak monsoon time we already have an extended Independence day weekend in mid of month. There is also continuation of some excellent seasonal stuffs that have already taken off- boat races in Kerala and monastic festivals in Ladakh. Already soaked in? Come on! Its time to pack the bags to have experience of India’s unique cultural diversity. Let’s start.
Bhandara Festival of Golden turmeric
I must say, I was totally ignorant about this festival until recently. Once I came to know about it, I couldn’t resist including it in the wishlist. It is a unique festival but up north we hardly got to know about it. Its a festival of golden turmeric dedicated to a local deity Khandoba. Maharashtrians call Jejuri as “Sonyachi Jejuri” which means Golden Jejuri, as during the festival the whole town takes a golden hue because of this turmeric play. Hence, the Bhandara festival is unique not just because it is celebrated with turmeric, but also because it has got no fixed date, season or month. Only reason for the festival has to be a Somvati Amavasya which means the new moon day falling on a Monday. And that can happen at any time of year and many times a year. So, practically, there are number of Bhandara festivals celebrated at Jejuri and all with same spirit and religious fervour. Thirdly, festival is also unique because of the deity. Khandoba is regarded as the “god of Jejuri” is probably be the most versatile and widely acknowledged deity being worshipped across many regions, religions, casts and communities. He is the most popular Kul Devata (family god) among one of the oldest shepherd tribe “Dhangar” and the patron deity of Deshastha Brahmin too. People from other communities like warriors, farming and herding castes too keep their high regards towards him. The cult of Khandoba has prominent linkages with Vaishnava and Jain traditions despite him being worshipped as Martanda Bhairava, a form of Lord Shiva. In the temple of Jejuri, surprisingly both the deities of him and his wife Malsha is in the form of Lingas (one of Lord Shiva’s most known statue form) which are covered with decorated silver masks. A part of the Muslims too consider him as their god Mallu Khan and been seen offering goat flesh in the temple areas. This way people consider him as one of the rare non-vegetarian Indian god. This year, one celebration of Bhandara Festival has already taken place on 27th March. After this one in August there will be third one on 18th December.
When: 21st August 2017
Where: Jejuri, 55 kms from Pune. Main temple is at a hillock in the town where all the celebrations take place.
Come August and the placid waters of the Punnamada Lake become a track on fire. Held on the second Saturday of August every year, the time of the prestigious Nehru Trophy Boat Race is when the silence of the lake is sliced by the slashing oars of the pacing boats. Held on the second Saturday of August every year, the boat race is named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. Hordes of people swarm the banks of the Punnamada Lake to relish this annual water regatta. The rhythmic and the synchronised way of rowing the majestic snake boats make it a rare spectacle. The ceremonial water processions, floats and decorated boats add to the beauty of the event. This is one such unique sporting event cherished by Keralites of all age groups. Apart from the locals, the spirit and enthusiasm that form part of the Nehru Trophy boat race is also shared by visitors from far off places. It is a sheer delight for the onlookers to watch the snake boats with 80 to 100 oarsmen aboard, who dip their oars in unison as the snake boat glides and cuts the water surface at a tremendous pace. And winning the race is a matter of pride and glory to each participating team and healthy rivalries are visible on the race day. There are various categories in the event and approximately 60-70 chundan (snake) boats participate in the race. Mascot for this year’s race is a prawn sailing a boat.
When: 12th August 2017
Where: Punnamada Backwaters, Punnamada, Alappuzha. Nearest railway station is Alappuzha, about 8 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 85 km from Alappuzha town.
Janmashtami at Mathura
Birth of Krishna, one of the biggest annual festivals in Hindu mythology and there can be no other place better to celebrate this than Mathura, considered to be place of his birth in the prison and Gokul (Vrindavan) where he was brought up. It’s a day of traditional fasting until midnight, the time when Krishna is believed to have been born. At that time there are huge celebrations in the temples with special pujas and prasadas. But the intensity and traditions of celebrations in Mathura-Vrindavan region are entirely different from rest of the country. At many place such as Nandgaon the celebrations will start as early as from Raksha Bandhan and will continue till Radhashtami. All households in the area will celebrate the day as birth of child in their own homes. At Gokul, next day after Janmashtami, there will be a huge celebration of Nandotsava in memory of the day when whole area came to know that a child is born to Nanda and Yashoda in Gokul. Best time to visit these places, to understand the culture and to soak into a very distinct celebration and festivities. Mathura is close and loaded with all type of staying options.
When: 14th August 2017
Where: Mathura/Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh
Getting there: Mathura is less than two hours journey from Delhi and just an hours journey from Agra. It is on main rail route connecting Delhi to central and southern India. Many tourists will plan a trip to Mathura and Agra together.
Monsoon Festival at Saputara
Situated in densely forested plateau in the Sahayadri range, Saputara holds the distinction of being the only hill station in Gujarat. Saputara has been developed as a planned hill resort with amenities like hotels, parks, boat clubs and museums to ensure an enjoyable holiday for everyone in the cool of hills. The drive to Saputara is breathtaking with the serpentine road commencing from Waghai. The hill station is most enjoyable in the monsoon when clouds descend on the land. One can see brooks and streams flowing down the valley which makes for a spectacular haven for trekkers as well, as there are numerous forest trails. So every year there is a monsoon festival almost a month long to give you ample time to be part of the festivities. Tourists can enjoy Saputara at its best. One can hire services of a local guide to roam around. Echo point, Wagah Bari, Step Garden, Artistic village, Log huts, Saputara museum, Lake, Sunset point, ropeway are among the spots, one can enjoy. So go and breathe in the freshness of Saputara with is echoing green hues, lush with flowers, and watch the meditating rain drops sitting still on sloping leaves. Some of the thickest forest cover in the state of Gujarat envelops you. Drench yourself in nature and fun!
When: 13th August 2017 to 11th September 2017
Where: Saputara, Gujarat
Getting there: Nearest railway station is Waghai, which is 50 kms from Saputara city center. While nearest airport is Surat, almost 156 kms from here. Saputara is well connected through roads to major cities of state. Mumbai is just 255 kms from here via Nashik. Ahmedabad is 400 kms from here.
Another Kailash on Manimahesh Yatra
It’s very interesting that we consider it unsafe to go to hills during rains, but still most of the pilgrimages in hills do take place only during rains- may be it is Kailash-Mansarovar or Amarnath or Chardham or Chota Kailash. Almost all of them are related to mythical abodes of Shiva. Another one among the list is Manimahesh in Himachal. Manimahesh is a high altitude lake at an altitude of 13,500 feet. On the east of this lake is Kailash Mountain with an altitude of 18,564 feet. They both come in Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. Every year there is a pilgrimage from Hudsor to Manimahesh Lake (15 kms). Earlier this Yatra used to start from Bharmaur, but since now Hudsor has become a road head, people have started walking on foot from Hudsor. There is no exact version of how this Yatra started, but it indeed is many centuries old. Bharmaur and Chamba are historical cities with versions dating back after 550 A.D. Temples in Bharmaur are architectural beauties. And Yatra is also a trekkers’ delight. Yatra normally starts on Janmashtami and ends on Radhashtami.
When: 15th August 2017 to 29th August 2017
Where: Hudsor (Bharmaur), Dist- Chamba, Himachal Pradesh
Getting there: Hudsor is 17 kms from Bharmaur and 82 kms from Chamba. Pathankot at distance of 220 kms is the closest convenient railhead, from where you can take buses to Chamba and then Bharmaur.
Kajli Teej in Bundi
This is celebrated exactly a fortnight after the regular Shravan Teej. The festival of Kajli Teej is unique to the city of Bundi. A dazzlingly theatrical and lively event, it is held every year in the month of Bhadra (July-August). This week-long celebration filled with gaiety and fanfare pays homage to Goddess Uma by the seekers of marital bliss and love. Women wear colourful traditional costumes, new sets of bangles and decorate their hands with beautiful henna designs. A local fair is held nearby which is extremely popular with the rural folk around Bundi. Handicrafts such as traditional kataar, paintings, bangles, rural handicrafts and fancy eatables attract many people from Rajasthan, other parts of India and foreign shores.
When: 9-10 August 2017
Where: Bundi, Rajasthan
Dakthok Tsetsu, Ladakh
Last month we discussed about monastic festivals of Ladakh. The trend continues this month with two more monastic festivals- Dak-Thok Tse-Chu and Sani Nasjal. Dak-Thok Tse-Chu starts tomorrow, so those lucky ones who are already in Leh can witness the festival for next two days.
Dak-Thok or Thak-Thok is an important Buddhist festival of Jammu and Kashmir held sometime during the months of July and August. It is generally celebrated on the 10th day of the Tibetan Lunar Calendar. The Buddhists observe a number of Tsechu festivals which are mostly dedicated to Guru Rimpoche or Padma Sambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. The word Dak Thok means black rock in Ladakh. It refers to a cave chapel that is part of the Dak Thok monastery. It is said to be only Nyingma monastery in Ladakh. The members of this sect are followers of Padma Sambhava or Guru Rimpoche. During the Tsechu festivals, these monks and the local people perform the Chham dances together. The dances depict various wrathful and compassionate deities and a variety of animals. The Tsechu is a popular festival. It is celebrated with much gaiety by people in the nearby areas, who participate in the festivities adorned in their finest clothing and jewellery.
When: 2-3 August 2017
Where: Dak Thok monastery, Ladakh. It is 46 kilometres from Leh on the Pangong Lake road from Karu.
Sani Nasjal, Zanskar
Sani Naro-Nasjal is usually celebrated in the first week of August, between the 15th and the 20th of the sixth Tibetan month. It takes place during the blooming of the ‘Guru Neropa Flower’. Every year the statue of Naropa is unveiled in late July or early August on the eve of the Naro-Nasjal Festival. Lamas from Bardan Monastery perform masked dances as ritual offering. Sani Monastery is located next to the village of Sani where the Stod Valley broadens into the central plain of Zanskar in Jammu and Kashmir. It is about 6 km to the northwest of the regional centre of Padum, a gentle two-hour walk. Like Dzongkhul Monastery, it belongs to the Drukpa Kargyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, and is the only one of this order in Zanskar which has nuns. It is thought to be the oldest religious site in the whole region of Ladakh and Zanskar.
When: 6-7 August 2017
Where: Sani monastery, Zanskar
Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai
The spirit of this festival is contagious. Biggest annual occasion for most of Maharashtra and Marathis elsewhere. It has been filmed so many times in Bollywood that it needs no introduction. Perhaps the most filmed festival after Holi in films. Of recently the constant media coverage of ten day celebrations has made many of those Ganesha temples popular among non Marathis as well, maybe it Siddhivinayak or Lalbaugcha Raja. But celebrities and celebrated temples have changes the complexion of the festival too much. To enjoy traditional festivities join a family celebration. This is the day when Lord Ganesha is brought home and given his seat for ten days’ pooja. Weeks or even months before Ganesh Chaturthi, artistic clay models of Lord Ganesha are made for sale by specially skilled artisans. They are beautifully decorated and depict Lord Ganesh in vivid poses. Also called as Vinayak Chaturthi this is the day when mythologically Ganesha was born. The main sweet dish during the festival is the modak, a dumpling made from rice flour/wheat flour with a stuffing of fresh or dry-grated coconut, jaggery, dry fruits and some other condiments.
When : 25th August 2017
Where: All your Marathi friends at Mumbai… Pune…
Athachamayam at Thripunithura
Rain or shine, people will pour out onto the streets of Thripunithura to celebrate the Athachamayam. Athachamayam is conducted every year on the Atham asterism of the Malayalam month Chingam (roughly August/September), at the historical town of Thripunithura near Kochi, Ernakulam district. Athachamayam is a cultural gala that marks the beginning of the ten-day Onam festival in Kerala. The festival, which is celebrated to commemorate the legendary victory of the Raja (King) of Kochi, is also an occasion to witness almost all the folk art forms of Kerala. The gleeful procession, which is part of this festival, reminds the customary procession of the king with his entourage from Thripunithura to the Thrikkakara Vamana temple for participating in the temple festival. The procession, though without the king, still retains its majestic charm. Caparisoned elephants, varieties of folk art forms like Theyyam, Kummatti, Kolkali, Mayilattom, Kummi, Poykal, Ammankudam and Pulikkali, floats, and musical ensembles together form part of the procession. Onam, a festival of abundance and happiness is a period when Kerala comes alive with classical and folk dance performances, music recitals, cultural pageants, boat races and much more!
When: 25th August 2017
Where: Thripunithura Town, Thripunithura, Ernakulam
Getting there: Nearest railway station is Thripunithura at walking distance while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 34 km
Covelong point Classic Surf Contest and Music Festival
Three days filled with surf, yoga, sun and sand, three nights that come alive with the sound of music – the Covelong Point Classic Surf Contest and Music Festival is back for its third edition! What started as a dream, has now become a three day international event – fisherman turned surfer Murthy Megavan always dreamed of starting his own surf school, and today that dream stands tall as a beautiful reality on the shores of Covelong, as the Covelong Point Social Surf School. In 2013, when the TTK Group and EarthSync tied up with the Surfing Federation of India, together they created the Covelong Point Classic Surf and Music Festival. The three days of surfing will witness participants from around India and the globe competing in an exhilarating display of raw surfing talent, while the music festival expands this year to include three stages. This surf competition and music festival brings together surf talent from around the world, and an exciting line up of musicians from around India and the globe. The primary aim of the festival is to use surfing as a catalyst for positive change, empowering the local community with initiatives surrounding their passion for surfing. It is a passion for surfing, a love of music from around the world, and a deep connection to the ocean that continues to drive the festival’s spirit, year after year
When: 25th to 27th August 2017
Where: Covelong Point Social Surf School, Kovalam Village, Chennai