Archive for the ‘Festivals’ Category

Getting married to a Malayali, I get to celebrate the festivals of Kerala as well. This is my second Vishu, though first one which I’ll be celebrating. Unlike Kannadigas Malayalis have very few big festivals and Vishu is one of them. To put it in simple words, it is their Ugadi, the New Year of Malayalis.

Vishu is free from the usual pomp and show and merry-making associated with other festivities. This one has nothing to do with religion, as the first day for Medam is the unchangeable day of Vishu, whereas other festivals are determined according to the lunar asterisms on which they fall. This day is the astronomical new year day. Malayalis believe that the fortunes for the year depend upon the nature of the object one sees first in the morning of Vishu day. Malayalam month of Medam according to the Kollam calendar usually falls on April 14.

The word ‘Vishu’ in Sanskrit means ‘equal’. Therefore Vishu is more probably denoting one of the equinox days. Although Vishu (first of Medam) is the astronomical new year day of Kerala, the official Malayalam new year falls on the first month of Chingam (August-September).

A reasonably sized Uruli is used to arrange the Kani. Uruli is an open-mouthed shallow circular vessel made out of bell metal. The uruli is made of panchaloham, an aggregate of five metals. Panchaloham being symbolic of the universe, which comprises the five great elements—earth, water, fire, air and space.

In the region of Kollam, Akshatam, a mixture of rice and turmeric, which is divided into halves of husked and un-husked rice, is placed in uruli. While in other parts of Kerala, Unakkalari (raw rice) is the first ingredient that goes into the Kani Uruli to act as a support base for the other items to be positioned.

Placed over that is a fresh white cloth (with golden embroidery), followed by a carefully selected Kanivellari (golden coloured, shapely cucumber), Vettila (betel leaves), Pazhukkapakku (reddish yellow coloured ripe arecanut), golden coloured mango fruit, ripe yellow jack fruit (halved) and a shining brass valkannadi (hand mirror).

A nice, well-starched cloth is then pleated fan-like and inserted into a highly polished brass kindi (a spouted puja vessel used for pouring sacred water). The val-kannadi, a special type of mirror with an extremely long and thin handle, often decorated with gold, is also inserted into the kindi. The kindi is then placed in the uruli on top of the rice.

In many places, Ramayanam or any of the scriptures written on Palm leaves (Thaaliyola) is also added to the auspicious constituents of the Kani arranged in the uruli. After this, a gold coin or gold ornament is placed on top of all. Then a pair of halved coconuts upright, filled with oil along with cotton wicks are kept nearby.

Then in a small flat-bottomed vessel, they keep little rice, a silver coin and some flowers. After the Kanikanal, thinking of a wish, if one takes the coin and check if its top side is head or tail. Depends on this one may know if his/her wish would be realised or not.

Then the Kani Uruli is kept in front of the statue or picture of Lord Krishna (in Northern Kerala, the valkannadi signifies or is the embodiment of Goddess Bhagavathi). Then uruli, picture and the surroundings are decorated with Konnappoovu (Indian Laburnum). A lit Nilavilakku (bronze oil lamp) is placed nearby in such a way as it imparts a golden yellow hue to the Kani-ambience.

Two lamps, which are fashioned from the two halves of a split coconut, are also kept in the uruli. The wicks are made from pieces of starched cloth that are folded into bulbs at the base. These bulbs are placed into the coconut oil that fills the lamps, anchoring the wicks in place. The lighting of the deepam welcomes God into our lives and is also symbolic of spiritual knowledge—the remover of the darkness of ignorance.

Gold, both in colour and in coin, is central to the Vishukkani. Kanikkonna, a golden-yellow flower is used liberally throughout the puja room. This flower only blooms when the sun is in its most exalted position astrologically, the month surrounding Vishu.

In the puja room, the flower verily represents the sun itself, the eyes of Lord Vishnu. Gold coins are symbols of monetary affluence, as well as cultural and spiritual wealth, which the elders of the family must share freely with the younger generation.

The grandmother or mother who arranges the Vishukkani will sleep in the puja room after she is finished and then, waking during the auspicious hour of the Brahma muhurata (4 am to 6 am), she will light the oil-lamp wicks and take in the auspicious sight. She will then walk to the rooms where the rest of the family is sleeping and wake them. Covering their eyes, she will then lead them to the puja room, where she will allow them to take in the auspicious sight.

Upon opening one’s eyes, one is overwhelmed with the glorious darshan of the Lord. The mirror, which is symbolic of Bhagavati (Devi), not only increases the lustre of the Vishukkani via the reflection it offers, but also shows our own face. The mirror also points to the importance of making our mind pure enough to render devotional service with true and unadulterated love to Lord Krishna.

The Vishukkani is not reserved only for those who come to the puja room, but is taken around, for the viewing of the elderly and sick who are too frail to come to the shrine. It is also brought outside and shown to the family cows. As it is brought to the cowshed, it in fact is on display for the birds, the trees, for all of nature to see.

There are also beliefs that if you do not see a proper Vishukani, then you will lose a year from your life or have bad luck, depending on how much you see.

Next, comes the Kaineettam (token amount of money). The eldest member of the family takes some silver coins and gives them to all junior members with some raw rice and Kanippoo (flower of cassia). Vishukkaineettam should be given freely and accepted with reverence. On Vishu, the highly affluent families will not only give money to their children but also their neighbours, perhaps the entire village. After this the children begin to fire crackers.

According to legends, the Kollam era is said to have begun on the day Parashurama, the sixth incarnation of Vishnu, created Kerala by making the waters of the Arabian Sea recede. Parashurama had vowed to exterminate the Kshatriya caste from the face of the earth. In keeping with this oath, he went to war with Rama, who was a Kshatriya. During the battle, he realised that Rama was none other than the seventh incarnation of Vishnu. He realised that the purpose of his own life had come to an end and decided to spend the rest of his life in meditation. For this, he wanted a place where he could meditate in total peace. The gods granted him a boon according to which, he was to throw his battle axe into the sea and land would rise along the distance it covered. This is how Kerala was created.

Vishu is also a day of feasting, wherein the edibles consist of roughly equal proportions of salty, sweet, sour and bitter items. Feast items include Veppampoorasam (a bitter preparation of neem) and Mampazhapachadi (a sour mango soup). Saddhya is a major part of all Kerala festivals. But for Vishu, Vishu Kanji and Thoran are more important. The Kanji is made of rice, coconut milk and spices. For the side dish, that is Thoran also there are mandatory ingredients.

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Sri Rama Navami

Posted: April 3, 2009 in Festivals
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According to legends, Dasharatha, king of Ayodhya, had three wives — Kaushalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. Their greatest worry was that they had no heir to the throne. Rishi Vasistha suggested him to perform Puthra Kamesti Yagna, through which he can have a desired child. He also told him to bring Maharshi Rushya Shrunga to perform the yagna for him. King Dasharath goes to Maharshi Rushya Shrunga’s ashram to get him. Maharshi agrees and and performs the yagna. As the result of yagna, Yagneshwar appears and hands Dasharath a bowl of Payasam and asks him to give it to his wives. Dasharath gives half of the payasam to his elder wife Kausalya, and another half to his younger wife Kaikeyi. They both give half of their portions to Sumitra. After few days, all three queens conceive. On the ninth day (Navami) of Chaitra Masa (first month in Hindu calendar), at noon Kaushlya gives birth to Lord Sri Rama, Kaikeyi gives birth to Bharatha, and Sumitra to twin boys, Lakshmana and Shatrughana. This day is celebrated as Sri Rama Navami.

Hindus normally perform Kalyanotsavam (marriage celebration) with small idols of Rama and Sita at their houses, and at the end of the day the deity is taken to a procession on the streets. This day also marks the end of the nine-day utsavam called Chaitra Navaratri, celebrated in Maharashtra, or Vasanthothsava,  celebrated in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, which starts with Ugadi or Gudi Padwa. For the occasion, Hindus fast or restrict themselves to a specific diet. Temples are decorated and readings of the Ramayana take place.

Happy Ugadi

Posted: March 27, 2009 in Festivals
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Ugadi is the beginning of Hindu New Year. It marks the onset of spring, of new life and new beginning.

ugadi

Ugadi has two terms — Yuga and Aadi means beginning of new age. The onset of spring also marks a beginning of new life with plants getting new life, with fresh and tender shoots and leaves. Ugadi marks the beginning of a new Hindu lunar calendar with a change in the moon’s orbit. It is a day when predictions made for the New Year. Panchangas are read in temples and homes. Ugadi is a season of spring coming with fresh crop of mangoes. Mango and neem tress fill the fresh aroma making the air healthy.

According to legends the creator of the Hindu pantheon Lord Brahma started creation on Chaitra Shuddha Padhyami or Ugadi.

Great Indian Mathematician Bhaskaracharya’s calculations proclaimed Ugadi as the beginning of the New Year, new month and new day.

On Ugadi day, people wake up before Sunrise, take oil bath and decorate houses with fresh mango and neem leaves. Women draw rangolis in front of their houses.
According to legends, Lord Subramanya and Lord Ganesha were very fond of mangoes. Lord Subramanya exhorted people to tie green mango leaves to the doorway signifying a good crop and well-being. So, people use mango leaves and coconuts on every auspicious occasion to propitiate gods.

Every family cooks Pachadi — a combination of five ingredients — Mango, neem flowers, jaggery, tamarind and coconut. The ingredients reflect our life, a combination of sweet, sour and bitter tastes. Special dishes like Holige and Puliogre are prepared along with Pachadi.

Ugadi is considered to be the most auspicious time to start new ventures.

When I reached office, most of my colleagues’ faces were smeared with colours. One of them came and smeared my face too. In our office, Holi spirit begun two-three days ahead and on the day of Holika Dahan, all the faces looked funny, with different colours. One of them came and asked that there would be Holi bash on the terrace the next day and if I would like to join them. I wondered if that was possible as our work would have begun by that time. At last, the D-Day came and everybody was talking about the bash and most of them reached the terrace to play with colours. They threw coloured powder and coloured water at each other. After playing in colours, they came down and everybody was enjoying the moment. Can’t post any of their pictures, I don’t want to hurt them 😉

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Very few were spared from colours and I was one of those lucky fellows. I remembered my school and college days and how we used to throw colours on our friends. All sweet memories…

Holi, the festival of colours, is celebrated during spring season in not only in India, but also in Surinam, Guyana, Trinidad, the UK, Fiji and Nepal. It is celebrated on the full moon day in the Hindu calendar month of Phalgun.
There are a few stories which tell about the origin of Holi. One among is of Prahlad’s story.

Hiranyakashipu was a king of demons. Lord Brahma had granted him a boon which made it almost impossible for anyone to kill him. For, during the penance he had asked the Lord to grant him a boon which would make him deathless, as he should not be killed during day or night, inside or outside home, not on earth or on sky; neither by man nor animal, neither by astra nor by shastra. After that, he became very powerful, declared himself as the God in the kingdom and started pestering people to worship him. Despite all his orders and threats, his own son Prahlad, who was a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu, refused to worship his father as the God. Hiranyakashipu tried to kill his son by poisoning, him, ordering to be trampled by elephants, bitten by poisonous snakes, but all in vain. Lord Vishnu protected Prahlad in all the attempts, which made the demon king more furious. So, he ordered his sister Holika to sit on a pyre with Prahlad. Holika had a magical shawl which protected her from the fire. When the pyre was lit, a strong wind blew removing the shawl from Holika and wrapping Prahlad. Holika was thus burnt and Prahlad was saved in the fire test. So, the burning of Holika is celebrated as Holika Dahan and Holi.

Lord Krishna is also believed to have popularised the colour festival by playing pranks on gopis in Gokul. When he was younger, Krishna is believed to have complained to his mother Yashodha about the contrast between his dark colour and his consort Radha’s fair colour. Yashodha applied colour to Radha’s face to make Krishna happy. And thus, the Holi was celebrated in all the households.

Holika Dahan is also called as Kama Dahan in South India. Kamadeva, the God of love, was destroyed when he shot his love arrow at Lord Shiva to disrupt his penance and help Parvati to marry Shiva. Lord Shiva opened his third eye and the gaze reduced Kama’s body to ashes. When Kama’s wife Rati (passion) begged Lord Shiva’s mercy on her husband, Shiva restored him, but only as a mental image, representing the true emotional and mental state of love rather than physical lust. The Holi bonfire is believed to be celebrated in commemoration of this event.

Whatever be the reason behind celebrating the festival, people get together for the occasion and spread love and harmony through colours.

holia

Happy Holi!