India is blessed with the presence of many communities of different ethnicities, creeds, appearances, and religions, and each community has its own distinct customs and ways of celebrating itself.
India is a name that conjures up a thousand emotions in people across the globe, many of whom travel miles to reach this diverse land to quench their unfathomable quest for answers to this universe. The land is adorned with the colours and emotions of innumerable tribes, each of whom has brought their own unique distinctiveness to make it a multifarious society full of the celebration of life.
This country is blessed with the presence of many communities of different ethnicities, creeds, appearances, and religions. Each community here has its own distinct custom and ways of celebrating itself. Each community worships its own divine figures and has rituals unique to the place where they reside. The people of India are vibrant and because of their cultural diversity, they celebrate numerous festivals that are very close to their hearts in some unique way which may seem initially strange to the outside world. These festivals are performed with much fervour and gusto.
The different festivals of India not only bring people from all across the world, but they also give the outsiders a chance to interact with the local traditions, food, fashion, customs and the people. The festivals of India are numerous and we will discuss only a few of them here, which are quite unique in one way or another. Some of these festivals are only limited to the places of their origin and are not known to many Indians from other parts of the country. However, all of them are very fascinating.
A Hindu folk festival
The first festival that we discuss here is called ‘Gajan’. It is actually a folk festival of Hindus, but there are no restrictions on other communities to attend it. It is celebrated mainly in West Bengal. The festival has probably got its name from the fact that the participating monks and sadhus here make a roaring sound during the celebration. The word ‘Gajan’ is a corruption of the Indian word ‘garjan’, which means the roaring sounds made by humans or other species. The religious or the mythological significance of this festival is that Lord Shiva gets married to Harakali on this day. Accordingly, village fairs are organised all across West Bengal to celebrate its piousness.
The next festival on the list is the Karam (or Karma) Festival of Jharkhand. It is primarily an agricultural festival and is very popular there. The idea of this festival is to care for Mother Nature and trees, as the people of Jharkhand are inherently connected to the land and nature.
There is a legend associated with its celebration. According to some stories, once here in a village, there was a family of many brothers who used to go to their fields together to work, and their wives would carry their meals every day during lunchtime. One day, the wives did not turn up with the meals. Hungry and enraged, the brothers went home and found their wives to be dancing under a Karam tree in a trance. They got so angry to see their wives in such a state, that they cut that tree and threw it into the river. They were cursed by the tree deity for this cruelty and faced severe starvation. But, on the advice of a Brahmin, they later went to search for the tree and upon discovering it, restored it and worshipped in the way it deserved the devotion. This story is the basis for this festival. This festival is also a reminder that our identities should be fundamentally connected to the land and its produce.
From the East, we now move to North India to discuss a very unique festival called Hola Mohalla, which sometimes happens at the time of Holi. Like many other festivals, it is also an annual affair, and it is celebrated on a large scale at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. It is a grand festival of the Sikhs in India and around the world. This festival is performed by the devotees of this faith to mark their reverence for their Gurus, where display of athletic and warrior skills of the community are carried out. The name is likely to have evolved from two words, one which implies a military charge and another word implying an organised procession. Thus, when combined together, the festival’s name literally means ‘the charge of an army’.
Women dancers at the Dhamail festival.
The next entry that we will discuss is the festival of Bathukamma, and the word roughly means 'Mother Goddess come alive'. This floral festival is celebrated predominantly by the Hindu women of Telangana to honour the patron goddess of womanhood, Gauri Devi. During this festival, beautiful flower stacks are arranged uniquely in the shape of a temple to honour her, with seasonal flowers and those having medicinal values. This festival comes during the second half of the monsoon season, but before the onset of winter. The monsoon rains usually bring plenty of freshwater into the water bodies of this region and hence the rustic nature blossoms here in all her majestic glory giving a vibrant bloom to its uncultivated land across this state, making it glow and emitting an intoxicating fragrance.
‘Shigmo’ is a famous festival of Goa, celebrated by the Hindu community there during the springtime, which is usually around March every year. This festival spans over a fortnight, with different days earmarked for diverse celebrations. It is a very colourful festival which consists of traditional folk and street dancing with elaborately built floats depicting scenes from regional mythology.
The next one, called ‘Dhamail’, is more a tradition than a festival. It is intrinsically connected to the local traditions and festivals of India. The word is probably a variant of ‘Dhamaal’ which means boundless celebration or joy in this country. Dhamail is a distinct folk dance that is traditionally performed widely with music all across India, it is one of the major forms of celebration for all Indians. This folk dance of joy was originally started in Sylhet in present-day Bangladesh, but now performed in many parts of Assam and also in other parts of India. It speaks of the eternal love between Radha and Krishna, and the inner significance of this dance form is that the newly wedded couple must unite their souls in such fashion of eternal love. It is performed mostly like a musical chair and at auspicious occasions like weddings. One can witness this folk dance mostly during a marriage ceremony or any other happy occasion.
‘Kila Raipur Sports Festival’ of Punjab, popularly called the Rural Olympics, is held in the winter season. The village of Kila Raipur in the Ludhiana district is famous for this unique annual event. A lot of foreign tourists come here to witness the uniqueness of rural sports.
The last one on the list is the ‘Jal Mahotsav Festival’, India’s largest water carnival. Hanuwantiya, located on the banks of the Indira Sagar dam in Madhya Pradesh, hosts this event. It is also an annual event that draws millions of tourists from across the world and is held with much fervour. Water is a life-giver and its importance is celebrated in this festival in a grand way.
Saurav Ranjan Datta is an internationally recognised quiz researcher, a writer for several publications for the last 10 years, a poet, a traveller and a quiz master. He has also worked for several reputed organisations in the corporate world in senior positions for the last 15 years.
First Published: IST