Category Archives: Festivals

Its all about the lesser known festivals of India.. through my eyes…..

A festival for protection of the borders- Chowdi

While on a random drive around the Malenadu region, my curious eyes fell on a family of road-trippers who were out on a rather interesting journey.. It was an unusual sighting of wooden toys with a beautiful backdrop of the Bhadra dam in the backdrop.. I got off the car to click a few pictures of wooden toys consisting of six people riding on a pull cart.. I did not know what it represented and who had left them.. We continued our journey all the way from Bhadravathi to down the hills of Agumbe via Shimoga while spotting several carts carrying different representations, all lying on roadside. My curiosity grew intense and got an insight into what all of these really meant after consulting a friend who happens to be a native of this region.

This is a part of Chowdi- a festival endemic to this region of Malenaadu. Maari is the sister of goddess Durga, she’s the controller of evils. She likes drinking blood and doesn’t spare any evil passing her way. Gadi Maari- the protector of the borders, keeps a vigil on evil entering into the village. During Chowdi, Gadi Maari who is always stationed at the village border is invited into the village and celebrated once in a year. She is represented with a wooden pull cart.

The cart and all other representations on it are made of a special wood called ‘Ghost wood’, painted and decked up. As the cart enters a boundary, the villagers start to collect money from all localites to manage the expenses of the festivities ahead. Animal sacrifice is an important part of this ritual where blood of either sheep or  roosters is offered to Maari, the village keeper. All possible things are taken care of to keep this violent diety calm and happy. It culminates in a lavish dinner served to all villagers. This is a rather rude way of telling let the evil eyes (Maari Kannu) not fall on the happiness of the village, we have made Maari happy with all that she likes during the festival, now her job is to guard the boundaries, let her stay there!

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A Gadi Maari cart by the roadside

Then, the cart is hand-pulled and left at the exit boundary of the village i.e. entrance of the next village. There-on the festival starts at the next village and the cart thus moves forward from one village to the other. The transport of these carts to the next village is mostly done during the night so that the evil doesn’t find its way back into the village. People leave broomsticks, clay pots, umbrellas etc. alongside the cart as weapons of Maari. This trip of the Maari thus traverses all the way from the hills down to finally reach the ocean. This entire cycle repeats in every two years.

So with one cart starting in each village, I wondered how many carts may pass through any given village throughout the 2 years period and how many animal sacrifices need to be done. I was told that some villages may have several carts at a time and some may never have any. For convenience, yet some villages accumulate the carts and celebrate all at once. Spread across the calendar, carts keep coming and carts keep going.. But it’s an opportunity for the entire village for some joyous celebration together!

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The not so Holi- Festival of Braj Bhoomi

Holi is Big in Northern India and the most beautiful in the Braj Bhoomi- the Land of Lord Krishna. Festivities start a week in advance with Lath-mar Holi in Barsana and Nandgaon, phoolonwali Holi (Holi played with flowers) and Widow’s Holi in Vrindavan, Huranga at Baldeo and Holika dahan and Rangowali Holi at Mathura and Vrindavan are some of the major parts of the festival. Articles, blogs and photos are all over the internet about how beautiful this celebration is and the fun of participating in the festival of colours. Deeply inspired, a two week trip was planned through the state of Uttar Pradesh whole-ly, to soak in the festive fervor of Holi.

As per plan, we reached Vrindavan to spend the last two days of Holi- the main days and get coloured in different hues of Gulal. The plan was to reach the hotel, change to clothes that we had kept aside specifically for Holi and then go out to the areas where the colours were being thrown at. However, the entire town was already painted with colours by the time we arrived in our delayed train. A samaritan helped us get an e-rickshaw so that we could reach our hotel. The rickshaw had to squeeze its way through the crowd that had already gathered out on all roads. By the time we reached the hotel, we started to feel miserable about having wasted our leaves and having travelled all the way to Mathura from Bangalore was a big mistake. It was very unfortunate that our experience of the famous Vrindavan Holi was no-where close to fun. Although we were inside the rickshaw, we felt more vulnerable to getting coloured than the rickshaw itself. Goon like mobs would specially target people who were new to this kind of celebration. I had atleast 4-5 men together hold me by my head inside the rickshaw and colour my face. Few others even pulled my scarf and shawl to ensure that every inch of skin was coloured. No! It was not a pleasant way to welcome guests to a new place!

Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan is where Holi is best celebrated with the priests throwing colours at everyone. On the day of Choti Holi, although we managed to go to the temple, we were drenched in wet colours. Leave that, our faces, hands and every bit of skin was chapped because we were smeared either with coloured cement or sand. This mixture is a norm and hurts like hell when it is being thrown at. We somehow managed to catch glimpses of Holika that were being burnt in some interior corners of the town. Women folk had gathered around effigies placed in the middle of firewood, food grains, vegetables and all other important things required for burning the pyre. We were colour soaked till the bone by the time we braved the task of reaching the safe confines of our hotel doorstep amid all the cemented colours and sand. Taking pity at our plight, our hotel incharge asked us to stay indoors the following day, as the last day could get wilder.

Finally, the main day of our fortnight long trip had arrived. But, we could barely think of venturing out on the streets on the day of Rangowali holi. Since our hotel was located in the main city area, we set our chairs out in the balcony of our room on the 3rd floor and watched the frenzy on the streets. It was disappointing to watch the Rangowali Holi turn into an event of Kheechadwali Holi (Holi played with water from the drainage). This kind of celebration can give the worst memories especially for girls and foreigners while goons attempt with ruthless amount of coloured glass powder. It can affect your eyes, skin, blood vessels anything! On top of it all, people are sloshed in Bhang and one cannot be sure of what’s gonna happen next!

Really, I’m not exaggerating the displeasure; the festival of colours is exaggerated through good photography by the photo enthusiasts who are all mostly male. I’d bet you not to plan your Holi trip to Braj with a bunch of girlfriends or with anyone who is new to this area. I strongly recommend you either plan on the day of Phoolon wali Holi or be a part of a private Holi celebration at a friend’s place amidst known crowd. This trip to Mathura has left scars of ir-repairable displeasure and sadness!

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The Banke Bihari temple Clicking credits: Gowtham Shastry

A Buffalo Valentine at Kambala

14-Feb-2016

The air painted red with romance and roses, the atmosphere illuminated with candles and balloons.. Couples holding hands out on dates- both young and old…. That’s the scene in rest of the world on that day.. But for me, Valentine’s day was an unusual form of celebration amid the Tulu-Naadu people. It was a celebration of folk culture and a celebration of earth’s gifts. While in some parts, it is the celebration post harvest, yet in other parts it is a celebration to commence the sowing season for the next crop. The Dakshina Kannada region, fondly called ‘Tulu-Nadu’ was a place where love and war co-existed on that day.. LOVE for a sport of thousands of passionate spectators and a WAR of prestige for hundreds of participating landlords. And amid all pomp and pride, a buffalo soldier fights it out in glory thus emerging as the showstopper..!!

A rickshaw ride from the Mangalore city centre traversed through some Kuccha roads, then across a highway and completely off-road to reach the banks of river Nethravati. Coconut tree lined mud road flanked with dozens of anchored fishing boats on the river bank ended straight at the arena where the big-event was set to take place. As I stood amid thousands of spectators in the gallery, the air felt heavy with anxiety. The show-stealers of the day walked down the ramp(Read it the slush pool) one-by-one to take their places and get set for their D-day. A day where all the effort and hard-work of hundreds of buffalo owners will be put to test. It was time to score off ‘Kambala’ from my bucket list when I decided to spend my weekend at ‘Joppinamogaru Kambala-2016’ in the coastal stretches of Mangalore.

The ‘Raging bull’, the ’Buffalo skinned’ are idioms that we commonly refer to humans as expressions of exasperation. But when all the action brings forth the literal sense of these words- The event happens to be ‘Kambala’. Kambala is a sport where He-buffaloes are made to run on a mud filled slush track to reach the ‘Nishana’ or the finishing post. In the modern races, there are usually two tracks running parallel and thus called ‘Jodu Kare’ or ‘pair of tracks’. Each track is given a name so that it becomes easy to communicate in events where both the tracks are being used. In Joppinamogaru, the tracks are called Jaya kare and Vijaya kare. A coin is tossed for the team to choose the track. As loud drums beats and hoot sound of the timekeeper goes out, the whip lash of the runner crackles in the air before it hits the buffalo and the action finally takes off… The soldiers begin the battle..

There are different forms of kambala. Firstly, the Negilu category- Here, a representation of a plough is attached to the buffaloes which has evolved over period of modernisation. This is a race mostly for the younger buffaloes. Usually two pairs of buffaloes are made to run at a time and the fastest of the two is considered for the consecutive rounds.

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Negilu Kambala

Hagga kambala- This form is similar to the Negilu kambala, only difference being that the negilu or the plough is replaced by a hagga or a rope. Both these forms of the sport requires a great deal of stamina for the runner as he too is expected to run as fast as the buffaloes.

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Hagga Kambala

Adda halage kambala- This is a category mainly for the senior buffaloes(decided by age). A cross wooden plank is attached to the buffaloes on which the driver stands firmly and controls the speed and direction of the buffaloes to reach the Nishana. This is mostly a time based event where one pair runs at a time and the fastest pair is awarded.

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A pair of buffaloes getting ready to run the Adda Halage Kambala

Kane halage kambala- In this form, a round wooden plank with two holes is tied to the buffalo pair and the driver stands on it to control them. Two strips of white cloth are tied across the track which are used for measurement of the height of water spurt. One cloth is tied at a height of 7.5kolu(9.37mts) and the other at 6.5kolu(8.125mts). Faster the pair runs, higher the water spurts out of the holes on the plank. Here, one pair runs at a time and is specific to the senior buffalo category. It is very difficult to run at the expected speed and hence every team that spurts high enough to wet the cloth is awarded unlike the other forms.

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Kane Halage Kambala

With a history of over 500years, the event is a treat to watch the enthusiasm and the energy of the participants and the spectators. However, it is heart wrenching at the same time to see the welts and the swollen bruises on the buffaloes as a result of continuous whip lashing. For this reason, Kambala has been in the radar of seeing a ban for a while now as demanded  by several animal rights activists. We don’t know what the future beholds, but one MUST experience the vibrance of India’s rich folk culture in all forms before its name joins the pages of history..

Backwaters and boat races at Allapuzha

We alighted at Ernakulam railway station at the end of an overnight train journey, from where- another hour’s journey in a local train took us to our destination- Allapuzha or fondly called Alleppey. We were there to experience the festivities of ‘Vallamkali- The Olympics of Kuttanad’. It was the 2nd Friday of August 2012 – A day before the Biiigg sporting event of South India- “The Nehru trophy boat race”. This is an annual event held in the Vembanad lake- the longest lake in India spanning several districts of Kerala. The lake that’s known by different names in different parts of Kerala is refered to as the Punnamada Lake in the Kuttanad regional. It was noon by the time we checked into our hotel room. We freshened up and set out to explore the backwater villages of Alleppey.. We hired a ‘Shikhara- the boat which motored us through the narrow stretches of the canals. We cruised on the backwaters, passing through villages- where womenfolk were washing clothes, men were fishing, while few kids on some stretch were diving into the waters for a swim. We enjoyed our ride as we picked up some fresh lobsters and pomfret at the local market alongway and got them cooked in the local style at a fisherman’s house.

The Shikara cruise in the narrow canals of Alleppey
The Shikara cruise in the narrow canals of Alleppey

Further, we were oared across to the end of the canal which opened into the wide Vembanad lake where all the teams were practising  and the venue was getting set for the ‘Big’ event. The energy and enthusiasm was no less than the main event itself. Though we wanted to stay there till sunset, the government deadline for cruising in the waters forced us to return to the jetty before 06.00.p.m.

On returning to the mainland, we meandered through the lanes of Alleppey town searching for a heavenly dose of piping hot Kerala chai and palam-pori (Banana fritters). We passed across the once famous- now non-functional coir industries of Alleppey as we searched our way to the beach where we spent the remaining time until dark.

A stationed shikara enroute to the Alleppey beach
A stationed shikara enroute to the Alleppey beach

The town usually sleeps to silence after 7.00.p.m. in any part of Kerala state. But, we were there to make the most of the little time we had with us and not wanting to waste it sitting in the cosy of the hotel room. We happened to see a hoarding of a concert happening at a stadium and headed there hoping to capture some nice photos of the Theyyam show. We did enjoy theyyam.. But we were in for a surprise when we decided to stay for a little longer- we were smitten by something else.. MUSIC..!! A MIND-BLOWING show by the violin maestro- Balabaskaran and team.. We were LOST in dreamland..!!

The next morning, we had to reach the racing venue as early as 08.00.a.m. to get a seat. One by one, the snake boats arrived for assembly. Locally called as the Chundan Vallam (Beaked boats), these 100~120 feet long wooden canoes carry 90- 110 rowers and move like snakes through the channels. These boats are the world’s biggest water vessel used for sports . And soon.. The event started. Races took place in different categories with even the women rowers. All through the event, only one thing echoed in the atmosphere- Vanchipattu or the Boat song. Every single soul in the arena was singing songs of cheer.

The oarsmen '"Women"
The oarsmen ‘”Women”

We still had time to explore the town and so boarded a bus to Champakulam. As we passed through the waterlogged villages of Kuttand, we were reminded that the region we were passing is the ‘granary of Kerala’ or the rice bowl of Kerala and is one of the few places in the world where farming is done below sea level.

Soon, we reached the St. Mary Forane Church. Since it was a Sunday, we were lucky to take part in the mass. This waterside church, built in 427A.D. is a testimony for time with its finely maintained beautiful mural paintings. From there, we took a boat to reach the other end of the river: the place of the oldest market known as Kalloorkkadu angadi.

Champakulam St. Marys church
Champakulam St. Marys church

If not the race, we’d have some more time to explore Karumadi Thodu and Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna temple. The former is famous for the black granite idol of lord Buddha and the latter being known for the ‘Palpayasam’ or the milk porridge offered as prasad to the diety.

We then walked to the Latin church in the town from whose terrace, the entire town of Alleppey can be viewed during visiting hours. What particularly captured our attention was the cemetery where all members of a family were buried in the same pit. Hundreds of such graves laid within the church premises.

The premises of the Latin Church
The premises of the Latin Church

We then left for our lodge to check out as our return train was scheduled for the night. If at all, we had half a day’s time extra- We’d definitely make it to the church located at Kokkothamangalam- one of the seven churches founded by St.Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. And we’d want to visit the Ayyappan temple, in Mukkal vattam near Muhamma that’s known for the Kalari from which Lord Ayyappa learnt his martial arts. The hermitage where Ayyappan lived during the training period has been preserved in its original form by successive generations of the Cheerappanchira family.

Anyway.. We had to leave the place with a heart soaked and mind filled with beautiful memories of sailing afloat on a boat in the backwaters of the beautiful country of God and hope to return soon.

The Kodava Hockey Festival

Army and Hockey runs in Kodava blood.. It is that time of the year again when the schools and colleges are closed for summer.. Bosses have approved the leave requests from their Kodava employees atleast a month in advance.. Schedule is out.. Flight tickets booked in time as a player /Techie/Banker working abroad has to make it for their family match.. Its the biggest and the maddest festival dedicated to a sport anywhere in the world… It’s the ‘Kodava Hockey Festival’ yet again…!!

Over 250 teams participate with players including people of all age groups- right from a 10yr old primary school kid to a 75 yrs old granma.. Anyone with a mere passion for the game are allowed to join the team, only to fight it out for the coveted trophy each year.. Only 2 rules apply to participate- #1. Be a Kodava and represent your family team   #2. Play the game with passion.

One Kodava family volunteers to take the ownership to organise this huge event each year. This year- it was the ‘Madanda’ family. Hooked up with too much work, I couldn’t make it to this year’s tournament.

The Iychettira cup cover photo
The Iychettira cup cover photo

Hence, I’d like to make a mention of the last tournament I had attended- ‘The Iychettira Cup-2012’.

The Indian hockey team during the opening match
The Indian hockey team during the opening match

The opening ceremony was a gala event with some of the who’s who of the Indian VVIP league gracing the event.. It was followed by a nail biting, action packed, stiff fight during the exhibition match between the ‘Indian national team’ and the ‘Coorg XI’.. The men in blue(Oops.. in white) battled it out at the end though..

Palanganda vs Kaliyanda match in progress
Palanganda vs Kaliyanda match in progress

During the 23 days long sporting fiesta, the family where I belong to- The Somayanda family, came through till the 5th round/the quarter finals, but failed to make it further.. The last day was the final fight between Palanganda and Kaliyanda.. The latter lost the cup inspite of a tough fight of 1-2.

Trophies lined up for the final presentation ceremony
Trophies lined up for the final presentation ceremony

One has to experience the madness sitting amidst the crowd cheering for their family teams atleast once in their lifetime.. All up there in the spectator gallery with just one thought in their mind and one feeling in their hearts- ‘HOCKEY’..!!

Picture courtesy: Iychettira cup website

Misty mountains and Madikeri Dussehra

Very few people know of the grandeur of the Dasara celebrations in Madikeri. Considered next to Mysore Dasara in pomp and celebrations in Karnataka; it is a 9 days long event.
 
The festivities start off on the day of Mahalaya Amavasya with 4 karagas getting all set at a place called Pampina Kere. These Karagas represent the 4 Mariamma temples of the town: Dandina Mariamma, Kanchi Kamakshi, Kundurumotte Sri Chowti Mariamma and Kote Mariamma. The Vrathadharis or the Karaga holders travel across the town to all households through the 6 days of Navarathri. They dance and perform a balancing act with the idols on their shaved heads with a knife in one hand and a club(Bettha) in the other. 
Karaga: Starting at Pampina kere
Karaga: Starting at Pampina kere
On the eighth day: people decorate their shops and vehicles to celebrate Ayudha Pooja- Also, vehicles are decorated and assembled at Gandhi Maidan where the best one is awarded in each category.
A tableau outside one of the participant shops
A tableau outside one of the participant shops
A tableau on one of the participant vehicles
A tableau on one of the participant vehicles
The 9th night commemorates the last part of the Dasara celebrations where 10 temple cars or Dasha Mantapas- one from each temple depicting a story from one of the epics. Each tableau will be as long as 4-5 trailers connected to a tractor. This inturn will have separate trucks loaded with sound systems and other backup.
One of the DashaMantapas
One of the DashaMantapas
The participating temples in this grand finale of Dasara are: mantapa of Kote Mahaganapathy temple, Sri Kanchikamakshi temple, Pete Sri Rama Mandira, Sri Kote Mariamma temple, Dechoor Sri Rama Mandira temple, Sri Chowdeshwari temple, Sri Dandina Mariamma temple,  Sri Karavale Bhagavathi temple, Sri Kodanda Rama temple and Kundurumotte Sri Chowti Mariamma temple. 
Another tableaux in action: Part 1
Another tableaux in action: Part 1
Another tableaux in action: Part 2
Another tableaux in action: Part 2
Another tableaux in action: Part 3
Another tableaux in action: Part 3
These mantaps will congregate at the center of the town in late night hours and put up a great show of colour, light, sound and an amazing display of creativity.. people flock to see this splendous show of efforts of over a 100 dedicated minds behind every tableau. The best temple car is awarded each year.. Finally- all the 10 mantaps proceed towards ‘Banni mantap’ and this brings the curtains down on the festivities and marks the dawn of a new day..

The abandoned tribes and the abuses- Kunde Habba

I always wanted to witness this celebration but have been quite apprehensive about facing the wrath of the abuses that will follow with the joy.. And moreover, this happens in the southern part of Coorg and I get to know that the festival happened only after it has happened..!! 

But some wild wishes do come true- this time my encounter was unplanned and I’m glad it happened.. Occasion: “Kunde Namme” a.k.a. Kunde Habba or the “Festival of abuses”. 

The tribes belonging to the Jenu-kurubas, Betta-Kurubas, Yeravas, Paniyas, Kembetti and other sects all congregate in a common place- usually a town area to celebrate their festival of abuses and to make merry. By abuse- I mean abuse God, man, machine and everything that they come across on that day. This is a tradition that has passed on through generations among these tribes.

Kunde Namme- The masked men
Kunde Namme- The masked men

Legend has it that the main deity Aiyyappa had taken the tribe into a thick jungle for hunting. Deep in the jungle, he fell in love with Bhadrakali and eloped with her leaving his followers abandoned. Since then, the day is observed every year where these tribes abuse their god for betraying them. They find god in everything and every person they come across and hence abuse them in turn. 

The people are togged in weird clothes- some men dress up like seductress, some like ghosts, some like witches and some dress up just random and as weird as possible. 

They block every man(outside the tribe) on roads, barge into shops in the town and demand money. If you don’t pay them what they demand- you are abused; If you pay what you are demanded for- you still get abused..!! Remember.. God will not come to your rescue on that day as he himself is in soup 😛 (Kidding..!!)

Kunde Namme- Another group of well dressed men
Kunde Namme- Another group of well dressed men
Kunde Namme- Dressed up men all set to charge into a shop
Kunde Namme- Dressed up men all set to charge into a shop

Also, most of the members of this group belong to the labour class who work in estates, domestic helps etc. Hence, the day doubles as a good chance for them to vent out all the frustration on their masters..!!

A man dressed up like a girl
A man dressed up like a girl
Kunde Namme- The band set guys
Kunde Namme- The band set guys

But, at the end of the day- they all congregate in their common place of worship and surrender to their god, plead for his mercy and ask for his blessings for the rest of the year. A part of the total money they collect for the day is used to have a lavish dinner and the rest is religiously offered to the deity. 

This festival happens on the 4th Thursday in the month of May and is celebrated in and around Gonikoppal considering its proximity to the Nagarhole National Park where most of these tribes are based.