Thursday, September 24, 2009

Happy Durga Puja!

Goddess Durga, the most powerful form of the shakti cult, is worshipped in India in terms of 'Durga Puja' during Sept-Oct every year. This puja covers five days including the day of installing the idol. It is the biggest festival in Eastern India.

Durga Devi is the destroyer of all evil forces. In the composite idol consisting of Lakshmi Devi, Saraswati Devi, Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartika there is one image a 'danava' or demon being killed by Goddess Durga. Devotees around India worship her throughout the year calling out on her to conquer evil which manifests itself in numerous forms.
On the last day of Durga Puja devi idols are taken to rivers or lakes and immersed amidst joy and fulfillment.

For 2009 Durga Puja starts from today, sasthi or the sixth day of the illuminated lunar cycle when idol is installed. It will continue till 28th that is the Dashami or Dasera when idols are immersed. In Mumbai the first ever Assamese Durga Puja started in 2006 with our efforts is on the fourth year. We went there today and sought Her blessings.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rongali Or Bohag Bihu: The Spring Festival Of Assam!

Rongali or Bohag Bihu marks the beginning of the Assamese New Year from the first month of the Assamese calendar called Bohag falling April 14-15. Since this Bihu also welcomes the advent of the spring season it is called Rongali which means fun and frolic. As nature takes on a lush green dress people go for new cloths too and celebrate. This is the biggest of the three Bihus and one of the biggest festivals of Assam.

Bohag Bihu is mainly observed for three days, but celebrations go on for one full week. First day is called ‘Goru Bihu’ meaning a day dedicated for the cattle. Villagers acknowledge the great service of their prized cows and buffalos by taking them to ponds or rivers for ceremonial bath. They are showered with garlands and select vegetables that are also fed to them. The animals are tethered with new ropes and are wished long lives of service as ever.

Second day is called ‘manuh bihu’ meaning bihu for humans. This being the first day of the New Year people take ritualistic baths and wear new colorful dresses. They visit neighbors and relatives and also welcome them home with special bihu delicacies.

Young boys and girls break into Bihu songs and dances wearing traditional costumes. With the rhythm instrument called dhol and the music of the buffalo horn pipe called pepa the environs resound and resonate. Cultural festivals consisting of song and dance competitions are organized for seven days and celebrity artistes are invited to enthrall the joyful Bihu revelers in the late evenings. All such festivals are held in open grounds. In major towns cultural events attain great professional standards and lucrative awards are given to the competition winners. Groups of boys and girls also go from house to house performing husori or bihu song and dance.

The third day is dedicated to the deities.

People of Assam look forward to these seven days of fun and frolic and celebrate with Great Spirit. All communities irrespective of caste and religion participate with hearts unbound.

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.