Monsoon has more or less retracted from the whole country and now is time for some serious fun and fest. India’s festive season officially is about to underway and will continue for more than a couple of months. October starts with an extended weekend owing to Gandhi Jayanti. But there is much more that one can do in this autumn, especially in the later half of the month of October. Let’s have a look at some of the top ideas for travel in this month.
Ramnagar Ramlila, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
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.
Date: 27th September-27th October 2015
Venue: Ramnagar, Varanasi
Classical Music and Dance at Soorya Festival
For ten days every year Thiruvanthapuram in Kerala reverberates with the sound of music. 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, Bharta Natyam, 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 is a leading stage and film society, functioning with its headquarters in Trivandrum, the capital of kerala, the southernmost state of india. Soorya has its Chapters in 36 countries in the world. Soorya also has it’s actively working Chapters in 60 Centres in India. he main activities of Soorya include screening films of artistic excellence, presenting film directors and holding their retrospectives, organizing seminars and discussions, conducting festivals of music, dance, talk, video, theatre, painting, photography. 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.
Date: 1st-10th October 2015
Venue: 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.
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.
Date: 12th -22nd October 2015
Venue: Ramlila Maidan, Delhi
Mysore Dasara, Mysore, Karnataka
On top of the list for its sheer grandeur and participation is Mysore Dasara. 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. This event that marked the victory of Good over Evil is the inspiration behind the Dasara festivities. Mysore’s most famous festival is the 10 day Dasara, when the entire city gets itself up to celebrations that include a majestic procession, dance, music, varieties of cultural activities and a torch light parade. Mahishasura is the demon from whose name, the name Mysore has been derived. 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. Festivities were first started by the Wodeyar King, Raja Wodeyar I (1578-1617 CE) in the year 1610. It was during the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III in the year 1805, when the king started the tradition of having a special durbar in the Mysore Palace during Dasara, which was attended by members of the royal family, special invitees, officials and the masses. The Mysore Palace is lit up on all the 10 days of Dasara. On Vijayadashami, the traditional Dasara procession (locally known as Jamboo Savari) is held on the streets of Mysore city. The main attraction of this procession is the idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari which is placed in a golden howdah on the top of a decorated elephant. This idol is worshipped by the royal couple and other invitees before it is taken around in the procession. Colourful tableaux, dance groups, music bands, armed forces, folklores, the royal identities, decorated elephants, horses and camels form a part of the procession which starts from the Mysore Palace and culminates at a place called Bannimantap, where the Banni tree (Prosopis spicigera) is worshipped. According to a legend of the Mahabharata, Banni tree was used by the Pandavas to hide their arms during their one-year period of Agnatavasa (living life incognito). Before undertaking any warfare, the kings traditionally worshipped this tree to help them emerge victorious in the war. The Dasara festivities would culminate on the night of Vijayadashami with an event held in the grounds at Bannimantap called as Panjina Kavayithu (torch-light parade).
Date: 12th -22nd October 2015
Venue: Mysore, Karnataka
Bastar Dussehra, Jagdalpur, Chattisgarh
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. The festival involves participation of all the major tribes of Bastar. Bastar lies in Dandakaranya region, where Lord Rama is believed to have spent fourteen years of his exile; yet the Dussehra here has nothing to do with Lord Rama or the Ramayana and has a distinct identity of its own that is unique to anywhere else in India. Instead of rejoicing and celebrating in the traditional style, the tribals celebrate Dussehra by hailing Devi Maoli (Bastar’s native deity, the elder sister of Devi Danteshwari, family goddess of the ruling Kakatiya family) and all her sisters. Bastar Dussehra is replete with historical facts and cultural legacies. Dussehra is celebrated by the Raj family for ten days, a period where arms gifted by their family Goddess are worshipped with ardent devotion. A unique tradition is the formal handing over of the charge of the state’s management to the Diwan in the presence of the Zamindars and other noted people of Bastar region. A lot of history and lore is attached to the Dussehra festival in this part of the country. The origin of Bastar Dussehra goes back to an event in the 15th century A.D. The Kakatiya ruler (descendants of Chalukya Dynasty) King Purushottam Deo visited Jagannath Puri temple for worship and came back as ‘Rath-pati’, which means he could from then on mount the chariot as he had the necessary ‘divine permission’ for it. This tradition has withstood the test of time and is being maintained till date – it is now celebrated with all fervor as the 500-year-old festival of Bastar. Interestingly, earlier it was a Hindu festival, but later the tribal customs and norms were assimilated into the festivities. For ten days, the king (as the high-priest of Devi Danteshwari) gives up his office and worships the goddess Danteshwari full-time. Local versions of the Ramayana, including the banishment of Lord Rama for fourteen years and his victory over Ravana, abound in Bastar region. The celebrations too are culturally rich. On the tenth day, the chief of Bastar is symbolically kidnapped in his sleep by Muria tribesmen and taken to their settlement in village Kunharbokra. In the evening, the chief, seated on a huge rath, is slowly taken towards the town. Bhatra tribals have a special role to essay in this ceremony – armed with bows and arrows they make way for the rath. Each tribe has a set role to play in the ceremonies. The rath is always exclusively constructed by the Saoras tribesmen. The iron nails used in the wooden rath are made by Lohars, blacksmiths. The ropes for dragging it are prepared and supplied by Parja tribesmen. Its construction is supervised by the Dhakada people. Before the rath is actually used, it is fervently worshipped by members of the Khaki caste. The girl who gets possessed in the temple of Kachhingudi Devi always hails from a weaver family. The musical band is played by the same caste year after year. The Bastar Dussehra is surely a study in tradition and influenced by local myths as well as religious beliefs as none other festival in the country. The pristine tribal culture is maintained to the core and age-old beliefs are adhered to with extreme sanctity.
Date: 12th -22nd October 2015
Venue: Jagdalpur, Bastar, Chattisgarh
Kota Dussehra, Kota, Rajasthan
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. The whole area boasts an attractive during this festival. This festival is celebrated all over the country but the Kota Dussehra is quite unique for it is more than just the beginning of a festive period. More than 75 feet tall effigies of the demons Ravana, Kumbhakarana and Meghnad are burnt on Dussehra day to symbolise the victory of good over evil. Usually these effigies are filled with crackers. A young child dressed as Lord Ram is made to shoot an arrow of fire at Ravana and the huge figure is burnt. Villagers gather here dressed in multicoloured clothes to offer prayers to Lord Rama and to celebrate his victory over Ravana. Prominent artistes from all over the country are invited to participate in cultural programmes who enthral the huge audience with their performances. Rich in courtly splendour and age old traditions, the Dussehra festival here is marked by a glittering procession which attracts thousands from the surrounding villages. Like all festivals in Rajasthan, it provides a good opportunity to the traders to display their attractive wares to the rural and urban buyers. Small effigies of Lord Ram, Sita and Lakhsman are very common works of sculpture. The Dussehra Fair of Kota, popularly known as Dussehra Mela, is the most important event in the cultural calendar of the city. The history of this Dussehra fair goes back to 1723 AD. History tells that the celebration of Dussehra was started in the reign of Mahrao Durjanshal Singh Hada. At that time various religious programs at different temples were the main event of the ceremonies. Apart from this tradition of processions with royal splendour and the “Darikhana”, a royal meet of different Thikanedaars at the Palace, also started in the same period. During the State time the period of Dussehra festival was 3 days and the height of effigies of Ravan and his family was between 20 to 25 feet. This tradition was continued by the other Hada rulers. But the credit of making this religious event more attractive and colourful goes to Maharao Ummed Singh II (1889-1940 A.D.) Since then the festivities have changed manifolds. Now the Dussehra fair is observed for 25 days. The height of the effigies of Ravan and his family has been raised to 75 Feet. Along with religious programs, many cultural programs have also become part of this astonishing event. On Vijayadashmi, somebody representing the erstwhile royal family shoots an arrow toward the effigy of Ravan which depicts the death of Ravan by the hands of Ram. More than 1 Lac people from Kota and nearby villages reach Dussehra Maidan to witness this event. From the next day onward the series of cultural programs starts. Prominent artists from all over the country are invited to participate in various cultural programmes. The events include kavi sammelans, Sindhi cultural programme, bhajan sandhya, Rajasthani poets meet, cultural show by schoolchildren, Rajasthani folk music and dance programme, all-India mushaira, Punjabi programme, qawwali night, etc. An interesting mixed cultural event of a nature of a semi-urban fair.
Date: 14th October-8th November 2015
Venue: Kota, Rajasthan
Kullu Dussehra, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
Next in the list is another culture from the north. 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. Numerous stalls offer a varity of local wares. This is also the time when the International Folk Festival is celebrated. Kullu Dusshehra is a beautiful amalgam of history, culture and customs. Unlike other regions of India, here effigies of Ravana, Meghnath and Kumbhakarana are not burnt. It all started back in 1637 A. D. when Raja Jagat Singh was the ruler of the Valley. On the first fortnight of Ashwin month (mid September to mid October), the Raja invites all the 365 Gods and Goddesses of the Valley to Dhalpur maidan (Kullu) to perform a Yagna in Raghunathji’s honor. On the first day of Dusshera Goddess Hadimba of Manali comes down to Kullu. She is the Goddess of the royal family of Kullu. At the entrance of Kullu, the Royal Stick welcomes her and escorts her to the Palace. After blessing the royal family, she comes to Dhalpur. The idol of Raghunathji is saddled around Hadimba and placed in a Rath (chariot) adorned beautifully. Then they wait for the signal from Mata Bhekhli, which is given from top of the hill. The Rath is pulled with the help of ropes from its original place to another spot where it stays for the next six days. More than one hundred gods and goddesses mounted on colourful palanquins participate in this procession. It gives impression as if the doors of heaven have been opened and the gods have come down to the earth to rejoice. On the sixth day of the festival, the assembly of Gods takes place, which is called ‘Mohalla’. It is an impressive and a rare sight to see the multihued palanquins of Gods around the camp of Raghunathji. On the last day, the Rath is again pulled to the banks of river Beas where a pile of thorn bushes is set on fire to depict the burning of Lanka and the Rath is brought back to its original place. Raghunathji is taken back to the temple in Raghunathpur. Thus, world famous Dusshera comes to an end in a dignified way, full of festivities and grandeur. The Dhalpur grounds are full of vendors during Dusshera, who come from different parts of the country to sell their goods.
Date: 22nd -29th October 2015
Venue: Dholpur Maidan, Kullu
Enjoy music at RIFF, Jodhpur
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.”
Date: 23rd-27th October 2015
Venue: Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
Getting there: Jodhpur is well connected by Air, Train and Bus services from all major cities of North India.
The Marwar Festival, Jodhpur
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.
Date: 26th-27th October 2015
Venue: Various places, Jodhpur
Getting there: Jodhpur is well connected by Air, Train and Bus services from all major cities of North India.
Dance and grandeur at Ranakpur
Its Rajasthan once again. Rajasthan stands out as a tourist destination for its colourful fairs and festivals. Ranakpur, a village located in Desuri tehsil near Sadri town in the Pali district of Rajasthan welcomes you all to the “The Ranakpur Festival”. It’s a splendid opportunity for the tourists to once again gain an insight into the life of people of Rajasthan with the onset of cultural and religious festivals one after another. Just like folk festivals in Jodhpur and Jaipur, the holy town of Ranakpur near Pali will also witness the Ranakpur Festival, a melange of Rajasthani folk performances and classical dances as well as renditions by renowned vocal artists and dance performers. Department of Tourism, Rajasthan, is organising this festival which comprises of holy chanting, cultural programmes, conventional Kathak performances and Classical Odissi performances. Besides, every morning at 8.00 o’clock a jungle safari is also organised for the guests of Ranakpur Festival. Some of the other attractions of this festival would be the food and craft bazaar where a great mixture of several cultures and amazing art & craft would be seen and experienced along with the arrangements for Rock Climbing. Beautifully sculptured Jain temples of Ranakpur mark the glory of this renowned place. Considered as one of the five holy places for the Jain community, these were created in the 15th century during the reign of Rana Kumbha. These are enclosed within a wall. The central Chaumukha [four faced temple] is dedicated to Adinathji. The temple is an astounding creation of architectural splendor with 29 halls and 1,444 pillars all distinctly carved, no two pillars being alike. For the tourism buffs a ride to the outskirts like ‘ Sadari’ – ‘Desuri’- ‘Ghanerao’- ‘Narlai’, will be found to be exciting.
Date: 28th -29th October 2015
Venue: Ranakpur, Rajasthan
Getting there: Ranakpur is just 90 minutes’ drive from Udaipur. Udaipur is well connected with air, train and bus services from all major cities of North and West India. From Udaipur, one can hire a taxi or a bus for Ranakpur.
Such colourful festivals of our #incredible India ..
This is a really great write up…I haven’t been to any of these cultural events. But I would love to…
All these seems to be a cultural extravaganza for someone visiting India who would love experience our vast and rich cultural heritage..
That’s absolutely true, Bilna. Thanks a lot.