Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Goddess Saraswati

Devi Saraswati is the Goddess of learning, intellect and creative arts. She is the daughter of Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga. It is believed that goddess Saraswati endows human beings with the powers of speech, wisdom and learning.

She has four hands representing four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness and ego. She has sacred scriptures in one hand and a lotus – the symbol of true knowledge – in the second. With her other two hands she plays the music of love and life on a string instrument called the veena or violin. She is dressed in white – the symbol of purity – and rides on a white swan. A peacock is also associated with her.

Goddess Saraswati is worshipped in Eastern India including the state of Assam on the fifth day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month after black moon day. This year Saraswati Puja is being celebrated on Saturday, the 31st January.

On the puja day idols are installed in almost all schools and colleges and in other places of learning. Idols made of clay are immersed the next day and other idols are preserved for the year.

We fondly remember our school days when our joy knew no limits. Firstly because that day we are not supposed to study—a sought after holiday from books and homework. Secondly it’s a full day out with holy food known as khichdi (meal made of rice and pulses cooked together, spices and vegetables added) provided for lunch. Little girls dress up as grown up women and go to school early morning. At evenings cultural shows are organized and we also visit other educational institutions assessing the style and get-up of the idols as often there are prizes for the best idol. In college days a pleasing dose of budding romanticism is added! Loudspeakers also dish out the popular numbers.

Students, intellectuals, artistes and all creative workers worship Devi Saraswati on all auspicious beginnings of their projects throughout the year. On the Puja day they hold functions at home calling for priests or on their own.

Happy Saraswati Puja!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Magh or Bhogali Bihu—the Harvest Festival of Assam

Bhogali or Magh Bihu—the harvest festival of Assam is celebrated in mid January that is the month of Magh about to begin. Bhogali means ‘aplenty’. And it’s winter when people are more energetic. Bhogali Bihu belongs to the farmers who harvest the ripe golden paddy crops after long and hard work and have a well deserved feast and celebrations.

Magh Bihu falls normally on 13th-14th January as per the timing of Makar Sankranti. Sankranti means changing of direction. The time when the sun changes direction from one constellation (of the zodiac) to another is known as Sankranti. Transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere (Uttarayana) is known as Makar sankranti.

Days prior to the bihu get really hectic in a typical Assamese village. Stacks of harvested golden paddy crops collected in the backyard are taken to the inner courtyard opened and spread in a circular shape. More and more stacks are added and it becomes a rustling circular bed. Then two bullocks are brought in and made to do a merry-go-round thrashing out the grains from the paddy branches by continuously treading on it. The separated grains are then packed in long bags in maunds and deposited in the barn or bharal-ghar. Maunds of paddy are taken to the rice mills as per requirements of daily meals and making of a rich variety of rice cakes.

The first day of the two day festival is Uruka when people get together in specially made thatch roofed and walled by dry banana leaves in a bamboo frame pavilion called bhela-ghar for a feast with the new rice and fish delicacies. This pavilion is lit and burnt up at dawn next day and people worship the fire god with various offerings. Apart from the community feast folks also make a haystack with bamboo and firewood added called meji and burn it up in the morning. During the uruka night people get warm with endless bonfires and hardly sleep.

The second day it’s a bonanza of rice cakes, laddoos of various types and other eatables at all homes with relatives visiting throughout the day. As it’s an auspicious day of Sankranti people do not take cooked rice and non-vegetarian items during daytime.

For Magh Bihu 2009 there are several dampeners. The main one is the continuing terror strikes that are making Assam as well as India bleed. The long strike by the public transporters are leading to reduced supply and shooting prices of vegetables.

Assamese people all over the globe cannot help but observe this joyful festival though they may not get the right kind environment and climatic boosters.