Category Archives: f. Worship Rituals and Festivals

Kalarippayattu

Kalarippayattu is the term given to the oldest martial arts form founded in the state of Kerala in India’s southwest. The word, Kalarippayattu, broken down means: kalari or “place of training” and payattu, “exercise”. Kalarippayattu only began to be considered a martial art in 20th century during the revival of the sport (Green 2001a). Kalarippayattu, historically, is said to date back to the 11th century during a prolonged period of turmoil in the kingdom of Cera. During this time groups of Brahmins trained themselves and others in art of warfare and supported the war with the Colas. After the fall of the Cera kingdom, and the region of Kerala was divided, a group of Brahmins continued to practice their military art. The cattar or yatra, the sub-caste of brahmins also called “half –brahmins” for their devotion to the practice of arms combat, proceeded to teach, train, fight and dominate in the martial arts for centuries. Keralopathi, the legendary Kerala Brahmin chronicle tells of how the brahmakshatra, (the land where Brahmins take on Ksatriya roles) was given by Parasurama, and given instruction that the ardhabrahmana (half-brahmins) should fulfill military roles such as guards or soldiers (Mills 23-24). Parasurama, a warrior sage, is said to be the founder of Kerala and the first in the lineage of teaching families. Along with the yatras, other caste groups were trained in the art of Kalarippayattu. The Nayars were both soldiers and personal physical therapists to high-ranking officials such as district rulers or the local raja. The ideals of Kalarippayattu are also said to date back to the time of the Vedas. The concept of vital points (marman) can be traced back to the Rg Veda, in the story where the god Indra slays the demon Vrtra by attacking his vital spot with his vajra (thunderbolt) (Green 2001a).

During British rule Kalarippayattu experienced a decline because of an increase in military technologies such as firearms. It survived through the teachings of a few masters throughout the region, especially in the northern area. In 1920 Kalarippayattu started to revive with a sudden interest in the local art forms. Then in 1958, a few years after Kerala became a state government, the Kerala Kalarippayat Association was formed making Kalarippayattu an official sport. However, Kalarippayattu was still an unknown sport for most of the next few decades. Over the years that Kalarippayattu has been in practice, many forms and styles of it have emerged such as Arappukai, Pillartanni, Vatten, etc. However, many styles were lost, especially in the 19th century where there was a drive to strip power away from the Nayars and centralize power using European institutional models. Nowadays, there are three styles recognized by the Kerala Kalarippayat Association: Northern, Central and Southern, all named for their geographical region (Green 2001a).

Practitioners of Kalarippayattu focus on strict training methods and meditative practices to link the body and mind together. The basis of Kalarippayattu is the knowledge of the three “bodies of practice”: The first is the fluid body of humors and saps attained by rigorous seasonal training. The second is knowledge of the body, composed of bone, muscle, and vital spots. The third is the manifestation of the interior body through yogic practices to awaken the inner “serpent power (kundalini sakti) (Green 2001a). The learning of these practices are essential in creating the ideal state where “The body becomes all eyes”, which is a state of heightened awareness of all your surroundings and being able to act on impulse and instinct, much like an animal (McDonald 1570-1571).

Training in the art of Kalarippayattu is done in a kalari, which traditionally would be a pit dug in the ground, however, modern practitioners go to gyms (McDonald1569). The kalari itself is seen as a temple, with varying number of deities that are worshipped daily during the training season (Green 2001a). Training is traditionally started at age 7 and is for boys and girls. The training season is carried out during the cool monsoon season (June – August) (Zarrilli 25). Clothing prescribed is usually a loin cloth for males and loose fitting clothes for women. Entering the kalari is much like entering a Hindu temple: enter with your right foot first, and touch your forehead and chest with your right hand. The student crosses the kalari and pays respect and performs puja (worship) to the guardian deity of the kalari. Practice usually begins by oiling the body (McDonald 1570) and then start going through body exercise sequences (meippayattu) which link yoga asana-like poses, steps, kicks, jumps and turns and hand-arm coordination’s performed in increasing speed and difficulty. The poses are designed after dynamic animals such as the horse, peacock, serpent and so on (Green 2001b). When students are ready physically, spiritually and ethically, they are allowed to move onto weapons training. It starts with wooden weapons such as the long staff, and then is moved on to combat weapons like swords, and spears. Ideally, if practitioners are ready, the weapon should become an extension of their body-mind. Armed combat, much like un-armed combat is designed to attack and defend the body’s vital spots (Green 2001a). During the training period, special dietary, behavioral and observances are taken on that resemble one of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s yoga. These may include never sleeping during the day and not staying awake at night, no sexual intercourse during training, to never misuse what is learned, and to be a good person (Zarrilli 25).

Along with physical exercise, meditation and massage are important aspects of Kalarippayattu training. Meditation is a way to increase concentration, and through different methods one can attain a higher form of one-point concentration. One method is to repeat particular mantras. Past masters of Kalarippayattu possessed mantra “tool boxes”, with mantras each having its own purpose such as one to worship a specific deity or another that has healing properties used during treatment of wounds. Before exercises begin, students are to massage oil on themselves and during training, full body massages are given by the master’s feet as he holds onto ropes suspended from the ceiling. These massages are done so that it will stimulate a person’s wind humor and create more flexibility and fluidity in the body (Green 2001a).

Although Kalarippayattu is a martial art, it has many other applications other than self defense. Constant discipline calms the three humors in the body: wind, phlegm, and fire. Knowledge of these humors is important to a practitioner of Kalarippayattu because when you know about the body it is easier to train and to treat injuries (Zarrilli 36). The concept of vital spots is important to both self-defense and medicine. In the 2nd century when Susruta wrote the classic Sanskrit medical text, 107 vital spots had been discovered to aid surgical intervention. With the knowledge of the vital spots, a master could injure or kill someone in a “counter application” of the previous use by striking a vital spot, or avoid them during therapeutic massages. Kalarippayattu, although a martial art, is also an important cultural aspect of Kerala and is on constant display in duels, displays of talent, or cultural applications such as dance and dance-dramas. So diverse is its use, that it is even used in a Christian dance-drama form, Cavittu Natakam displaying the Christian heroes St. George and Charlemagne (Green 2001a).

Martial arts, whether it is in Japan or India, are based on its key principles and devotional attitudes. Kalarippayattu is the unique martial art of the Kerala area and has been developing for thousands of years. Its ideals of exercise and meditation have been used in many other ways and in many other areas from medicine to warfare and even drama. The diverse use of Kalarippayattu is a testament to this dynamic and powerful martial art and to the culture that developed it.

Bibliography:

McDonald, Ian. (2003) Hindu Nationalism, Cultural Spaces, and Bodily Practices in India. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol 46, No. 11: 1563-1576

Mills, James H. (2005) Subaltern Sports: Politics in South Asia. London: Anthern Press. Pg 23- 24.

Green, Thomas A. (2001a) In Martial Arts of the World: Kalarippayattu. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Green, Thomas A. (2001b) In Martial Arts of the World: India. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Zarrilli, Phillip B. (1994) Kalarippayattu: A South Indian Martial Art and the Yoga and _ Ayurvedic Paradigms. Journal of Asian Martial Arts 3, 3: 10-50

Related Topics:

Patanjali

Sanga Tamil

Dhanur Veda

Asana Yoga

Ayurveda

Nayars

Yatra

Thang-Ta

Marmas

Marmashastram

Vadivu

Arappukai

Pillartanni

Vatten

Recommended Websites:

http://prd.kerala.gov.in/kalarippayatu.htm

www.kalariworld.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalaripayattu

Article written by: Anthony Erickson (March 16, 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Attukal Pongala (South Indian Festival)

The Attukal Pongala festival is annual event where Pongala, an offering of boiled rice is made to Attukal Amma, which translates as “mother” (Jennett 2005:35). The festival has grown substantially over the years, depicting the profound meaning the festival has to women. The festival is held in Thiruvanthapuram, the capital city of Kerla, India. It is a festival of unique significance, as the devotees are all women, which within the Hindu tradition is not an abundant occurrence as Hinduism is known as a male-dominated religion and until recently there has been little research into the roles women play. This is of great value as women perform complex and intriguing rituals (Gross 68). The festival is noteworthy as women from various classes, communities and religions band together to worship the goddess (referred to as mother but who has numerous names which are used interchangeably, such as Devi, Bhagavati and Bhadrakah which respectively mean goddess, powerful supreme deity and auspicious Kali) [from this point forward the goddess will be referred to as Bhagavati]. The festival serves to bring women together as a whole, not divide them into castes and classes. This dissolving of caste distinction is noteworthy as “fifty years ago the mothers of the women who today offer Pongala could not have drunk from the same well, eaten in the same room, or even walked down the street at the same time; yet today they sit and cook for the Goddess side by side” (Jennett 2005: 43). Now women from all different walks of life perform the rituals together. The only women that are unable to participate in the ritual are those women who are menstruating. These women, as well as women who are not able to attend for other reasons, may ask a friend or family member to prepare an offering of Pongala for them (Jennett 2005:40).

The offering of Pongala to Attukal Amma is a ritual in the non-Sanskritic tradition; therefore, there are no written texts, and instead the text is song and poetry that is orally exchanged through rituals, dances, and dramas (Jennett 2005:36). The festival is held in late February to early March, during the month of Kumbham, which means earthen pot (Jennett 2005:40). The festival has grown from women performing the ritual in the fields to small shrines, to gatherings of hundreds of thousands of people (Jennett 2000:5). Pongala day is the ninth day during the ten day festival, which also coincides with a full moon. On the ninth day, the women wake early, and begin the day by pouring water on their head, in preparation for Attukal Pongala. Before the sun has even risen, the women will set three bricks in the formation of a triangle on which to later set their earthen pots (Jennett 2005:6). Women are dressed in their traditional mundu, which are two lengths of white cotton wrapped over a skirt and blouse. The cotton is preferable in comparison to the polyester variety for safety reasons, as the close quarters (2 feet separate one fire from the next) create a fire hazard (Jennett 2005:42). By the time the sun begins to rise, the streets are full of music and people. The numerous people spread for miles and miles surrounding the Attukal Temple. Many women have arrived many days earlier to ensure they find the most auspicious spots and throughout the entire festival many devotees have set up shrines for Bhagavati (Jennett 2000:7).

Living near the temple is thought to be auspicious and it is believed that the goddess will bring prosperity to those who live in her land. Many people that live within or close to the Attukal Temple kindly open their courtyards to provide family, friends and even strangers a place to cook their Pongala (Jennett 2005:14).

By midmorning the pots will begin to be filled with the necessary ingredients, such as rice, water and jaggery (unrefined sugar cane) (Jennett 2000:7). The fact that the ingredients are very cheap allows nearly any woman to participate. However, even before the barriers of castes began to fall, the upper castes would supply the women of lower castes with the supplies needed (Jennett 2005:38). Songs are continually sung and the song that is retold throughout the festival is the story of Kannaki, a woman who is betrayed by her husband and her king. There are numerous versions of the story but the deeper meaning is found through what Kannaki symbolizes, which is the “capacity of divine power in female form to bring retributive justice to those whom the law fails to protect” (Jennett 2005:44). As this song is again being recounted, the priest will begin to light some of the devotees’ fires. While this is occurring a loud speaker dictates the instructions so a mass of women devotees, who are unable to visually follow the priests actions, are able to follow in step. It is important that the women do the cooking together as it provides a sense of unity and also allows the women to band together and leave their many other daily worries behind. It is a unique day as it is one of the few days where they are not responsible for their children or husbands (Jennett 2005:42) Once the fire is lit, they wait for the water to boil. Once that water is brought to a boil the women will slowly add the rice, ensuring they do not spill and add the rice in an arati motion (circular motion).

At this point some women differ on whether or not it is auspicious to allow their pot of Pongala to boil over; it is crucial for some to allow their pot of rice to boil over, where other women feel that it is critical that it does not flow over as it seems wasteful (Jennett 2005: 45). This in conjunction with the fact that some women use red-rice in the ritual while others use white polished rice signifies how the ritual has been tailored to the various women and their traditions and what the ritual symbolizes to each individual. The objective of performing the ritual naturally varies across the women who perform the ritual. For example some women “ask the Goddess for something and make a vow and if it is granted they will offer Pongala” (Jennett 2005:46). This signifies the mutual relationship between the women and the Goddess. While others feel that by feeding Bhagavati it will provide additional blessings to the community (Jennett 2001:15). Once the rice has finished cooking the women wait for a priest to sprinkle rosewater on the rice in order to bless the goddess. After this women will begin to leave and return their trek back to their homes to share their Pongala with their friends and families (Jennett 2001:16).

References

Jennett, Dianne (2005) “A million shaktis rising: Pongala, a women’s festival in Kerala, India”. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 21(1).

Jennett, Dianne (2000) “Red rice for Bhagavati/cooking for kannaki:An ethnographic/organic inquiry of the pongala ritual at attukal temple, Kerala, south India”. Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 61(2).

Gross, Rita (1996) “Feminism and Religion: An introduction”. Boston, MA.: Beacon Press.

Related Topics for further investigation

Kannaki

Devi

Bhagavati

Bhadrakah

The role of women in Hinduism

Kerala

Attukal Temple

Kavu

Dalit

Noteworthy Websites related to the topic

www.onamfestival.org/attukal-pongala-festival.html

www.attukal.org/pongala.htm

www.hindu.com/2006/02/15/stories/2006021523410300.htm

attukalpongala.blogspot.com/

www.hindu-blog.com/2007/11/attukalpongala-2008.html

pattini.org/

Written by Lindsey Schneider (April 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Devadasi

Devadasi means god servant or slave. They are sometimes seen as the godking’s wives, or simply married to their temple, but since the Christian influence has come into South- East Asia, they have been also called prostitutes and have lost most of their high social ranking. The Devadasi are mostly young girls, given to the temple by their parents. There they are taught sacred dances and ceremonies pertaining to the God of the temple. At many of the temples they would perform these cultural acts naked or wearing very little (Sirhandi 44). This is one of the reasons the cult was seen as improper by other cultures. More recently there have been legal ramifications from the treatment of the Devadasi. This introduction into the Devadasi will attempt to explain the complex world in which the Devadasi play a pivotal role.

One of the greatest advantages of the Devadasis was that they could never be widowed (Orchard 2380). This allowed them a higher status than most other women, as being widowed can lead to losing everything. This may be one of the reasons that the Devadasi were seen as ranking higher than most other women in social status. They were sometimes seen as the development of the female Brahmin. Since women were no longer allowed to be priests, it can be said that the Devadasi took over the women’s portion of the ritual performances.

The Devadasi tradition can be traced back to the first century BCE (Jeffery 185). Although that date is unclear and some sources dispute that the tradition began between the third and sixth century CE (Orchard 5). At first Devadasis were simply seen as the wives of the god, or married to the temple. They performed sacred dances, sang and played instruments as a part of their relationship with the temple and its rituals. By the Chola Period, 850-1300 CE, (Orchard 6) they had become far more popular and were gaining much attention by their rituals. At this point many believe that their role as sexual beings became exploited. As wives of the temple they would be expected to perform sexual acts either for the temple to prosper or as part of their lives in the temple. In many cases, despite being married to the god of the temple, the women were still able to have children (Ashton, 798). The pressure for families to keep the temple prosperous may have led to increased pressure on sexual intercourse.

There is now a major problem with the Devadasis and their lives. From all the sources it is very hard to distinguish whether they were empowered wives of the god or victims of prostitution. Some sources say that they were simply dancers and entertainers and were not forced to have sexual intercourse with anyone that they do not approve of. Other sources say that they were sold by their families at very young ages and forced to perform sexual acts on anyone that will bring money to the corrupt Brahmans. Since Christianity came to India, the Devadasis have been under scrutiny. In times of British rule the Devadasis lost their social status.

In 1947 an act was passed for the protection of the Devadasis (Hubel 15). This act had become a very controversial and heated topic. Many felt it was necessary while others believed it infringed on their religious rights. According to Teresa Hubel, “the Madras legislature passed an act into law that would change forever the unique culture of the professional temple female dancers of South India (Hubel 15).” This topic is still controversial and has only passed in South India, although that is where most of the remaining Devadasi are. According to some of the sources this law has significantly reduced the amount of Devadasi that are used in the temples and their rituals. However one ethnographic study by Treena Orchard, notes that “between 1,000 and 10,000 girls are introduced into the Devadasi each year (Orchard 6).” It is difficult to tell what the proper figures are from most of the sources available. Either way, the law has had a significant effect on the treatment toward the Devadasi, now they are portrayed as prostitutes that are being protected. The ethnographic studies done on the Devadasi mostly depict them as sex-trade workers, but most studies ignore the fascinating history behind their rituals and traditions.

The Devadasi is a complex ritual and tradition. It has been a struggle for those still remaining in the ritual dancing to avoid being subject to calls of prostitution and becoming part of the corrupt nature of some of the temples. For most of those who have studied the Devadasi it was difficult to get anyone attached to the temples to openly discuss their roles (Ashton, 797). They are afraid of being viewed negatively as prostitutes, and the stigma that goes with their position within the temple rituals. Dancers are still used in many ceremonies and are called Devadasi but it is difficult to say what their positions are beyond entertaining at certain ceremonies. The ancient tradition of being married to a god and serving him for ones entire life is no longer found. The Devadasi way has changed along with the colonization and foreign influence in India.

The Devadasi are in a very difficult position in the caste system. They were once in a Brahman sub-caste but now they have been pushed out by outside cultures. They are seen as entertainers to gods and past kings, but modern-day prostitutes. Their position is very hard to place in Hindu society; it is unfortunate that their rituals seem so poorly understood by the sources.


Bibliography

Aston, Martha Bush (1987) Review of: Wives of the God-King: The Rituals of the Devadasis of Puri, by Frederique Apffel-Marglin. American Ethnologist, Volume 14; 4, 797-798 Malden:Blackwell Publishing

Hubel, Teresa (1994) Devadasi Defiance and the Man-Eater of Malgudi. Journal of Commonwealth Liturature, Volume 29; 15, 15-28 London, Canada.

Jeffery, Roger (1990) Review of: Nityasumangali: Devadasi Tradition in South India, By Saskia C. Kersenboom-Story. The Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 49; 1, 184-185ABI/INFORM Global.

Orchard, Treena Rae (2007) Girl, Woman, Lover, Mother: Towards a new understanding of child prostitution among young Devadasis in rural Karnataka, India. Social Science & Medicine, Volume 64, Issue 12, 2379-2390 Vancouver.

Orchard, Treena Rae (2007) In This Life: The Impact of Gender and Tradition on Sexuality and Relationships for Devadasi Sex Workers in Rural India. Sexuality and Culture, Volume 11; 1, 3-27.

Sirhandi, Marcella C. (1999) Manipulating Cultural Idioms: In Contemporary Indian Art. Art Journal, Volume 58; 3, 40-47.

Related Readings

Apffel-Marglin, Frederique (1985) Wives of the God-King: The Rituals of the Devadasis of Puri. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Priyadarshini, Vijaisri (2004) Recasting the Devadasi: Patterns of Sacred Prostitution in Colonial South India. Delhi: Kanishka Publishers.

Related Topics

Bharatanatyam

Bombay Devadasi Protection Act

Brahmacharis

Chola

Karnataka

Orissa

Puri

Yellamma


Related Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devadasi

http://www.ashanet.org/library/articles/devadasis.199812.html

http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9030142/Devadasi

http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/Spring02/Chattaraj/index2.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzvFAZ_SfdI

Written by Courtney Rode (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Mahasivaratri (Great Night of Siva Festival)

Maha Sivaratri is a Hindu festival of devotion to the diety Siva. It is celebrated by Hindus who worship Siva as their primary deity. Maha Sivaratri mans “the Great Night of Siva” and it is the fourteenth lunar night (Chaturdasi) of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Phalgun. This typically falls between February and March. There are a number of myths regarding the origin of Sivaratri and most of the stories can be found in the Puranas.

Siva has been worshiped in India since ancient times. He has been worshiped in the form of the Sivalinga or jyorti-linga symbolically representing the jyoti or flame of fire. “Siva is the one of the highest gods of the Hindu pantheon” (Mukherji, 35). Although Siva is known as a destroyer he has numerous other characteristics. His names include Mahadeva, “The Great God” and the name Siva means auspicious God. “Among the Hindu triumvirate, Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver and Shiva is considered the destroyer (Thakur and Roa, 01).

The date of origin of Mahasivaratri is as anonymous as the origin of the Hinduism. The word Sivaratri appears in the Mahabharata and in certain Puranas such as Garuda, Padma, Skanda and Agni Puranas (Welbon and Glenn, 192).

According to the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, which is believed to be apocryphal, the Sivaratri vow was put into the Bhishma’s mouth. “Bhishma was the octogenarian leader of the Kuru forces in the great battle of Kurukshetra.” “According to the legend thus put into the mouth of the dying hero, the fast of Sivaratri was first publicly observed by King Chitra Bhanu” who was the king ruling over the whole of Jambu-Dwipa(ancient name of India) (Mukherji, 39).

As King Chitra Bhanu was on a holy fast on the day of Sivaratri, one of his sages, Ashta-Bakra came on a visit and questioned his abstaining. He told Ashta-Bakra that in his previous life he was a hunter by the name Suswar. He made his living by hunting and killing animals and selling them in the markets to feed his family. On one occasion as he wandered through the forest, he failed to realize that darkness had rolled around and he was unable to go back home. In order to shelter himself he climbed up the bilva (wood-apple) tree. He had hunted a deer that day but he could not take it home to feed his family. He thought of his hungry family and wept. His tears along with the leaves of the bilva tree landed on the linga (Lord Siva). Lord Siva regarded this as an offering from one of his devotees. The next morning as he returned home he bought some food by selling the deer that he hunted in the previous day. A stranger appeared at his doorstep and begged for food before he could eat any himself. Suswar then fed the stranger before he was going to break his own fast. Unknowingly Suswar accomplished the proper observance that Sivaratri requires, a day of fasting and serving food to a Brahman. Suswar lived many years without any idea of the spiritual gain that he attained by accomplishing the Sivaratri Vrata (Ascetic observance on the Night of Siva). When the afterlife came, he learned that he had been blessed and was rewarded with a grand life. According to the Mahabharata, Suswar lived in Siva loka(realm of Siva) for thousands of years and also lived in Indra loka or (realm of Indra)- the heaven, and Brahma loka or (realm of Brahma) the higher heaven. Finally he was promoted to Vaikunda-the realm of the highest heaven (Mukherji, 43).

In the Puranic accounts, Siva married the golden Parvati and tells her that this day is remarkably valued him. Therefore, those who perform the prescribed ascetic observance on this day will be freed from all sins. According to the myths of the Siva Purana, the gods Vishnu and Brahma wanted to know who between them the superior power was. This let them to fight each other Siva intervened as a jyoti (Flame of fire) to make them realize the futility of their fight (Thakur and Roa, 01).

According to another legend in the Siva Purana, during Samudra Manthan(the churning of the ocean) by the Asuras and the Devas, Halalak (a highly toxic poison) came out from the ocean and it was capable of destroying the entire creation. Visnu advised the Devas and the Asuras to prey to Siva for their lives. Siva drank the poison and it lodged in his throat; thus Lord Siva is known as Nilakantha (the Blue Throated). In order to dissipate the poison Siva had to stay awake the whole night.The Devas and Asuras prayed the whole night in the vigil. Pleased with their devotion, Nilakantha declared that whoever worshiped him on that day would have their wishes fulfilled.

Celebration of Mahasivaratri

The celebration of Sivaratri differs from place to place, and actual practices also differ depending on the circumstances (Welbon and Yocum 203). For example, in Chennai (Madras) people usually limit themselves to fasting, keeping awake, and listening to stories of Mahasivaratri. However in other places such as Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh Mahasivaratri is celebrated as their royal family festival and their rites of worship are more elaborate (Thakur and Roa, 04). “In certain parts of India people still drink a concoction called bhang, prepared by pouring water over hemp leaves and adding almonds, rose leaves, opium etc (Welbon and Yocum, 204)”. They believe that this is the favourite beverage of Siva.

On Sivaratri day, devotees awake at sunrise and purify them with a bath in the Ganga River or in the sacred water at their local temple. Purification is not only for their body, but also it involves a mental, moral, and spiritually by cleansing by calming certain qualities within them (Manohar 200). During the day devotees will fast; the types of fasting differ from person to person according to their circumstances. Some devotees will fast the whole day and others will get one light meal (vegetarian food mostly fruits and milk). They may spend their day repeating mantra (japa of Om namo sivaya) and Meditation. At night they conduct a Vigil and rites such as offering bilva (wood apple) leaves, water, and milk. The rituals involved abhiseka (bath to the Sivalinga), and offering of Puspa (flower), dhupa (incense), dipa (flame), naivedya (food). The next day devotees must entertain a stranger or guest with offerings of food and gift. This is said to accomplish the custom of Mahasivaratri and devotees believe they will receive blessing from Siva himself.

Fasting, Vigil, and Puja

Fasting, vigil, and puja (Prayer) are the most important religious observance among the devotees of Sivaratri. In order to achieve the successful outcome of Sivaratri, the devotees must prepare themselves physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually by cultivation of certain merits such as ten set of injunction in the Kalanirnaya of Madhva(Patmury, 1994);

1. Ahimsa (non-violent), it is a rule of conduct that prevent the killing or injuring of living beings. “It is closely connected with the notion that all kinds of violence entail negative karmic consequences (Wikipedia)”.

2. Satya (Truthfulness) which includes refraining from false witness. It is a term of power due to its purity and meaning.

3. Akrodha (freedom from anger) keeping the mind free from feelings of anger, jealous and hatred (Patmury, 1994).

4. Bramacarya (Celibacy) is true love of God, its include being celibacy in mind. Body and mind should wander from though of God (Patmury, 1994).

5. Daya (compassion) is being sympathy. It means ‘suffering in the suffering of all beings’

6. Ksama (forbearance) is being patience, forgiveness or quietude.

7. Santatman (calmness of mind) is being peacefulness and surrender to the God. Accepting happy and pain equally or accepting victory and defeat equally.

8. Krodhahina (Devoid of fits of passion) mind and thoughts completely focuses on God.

9. Tapas (Austerities) fasting, wakefulness, and concentration (Patmury, 1994).

10. “Drohahina (free from malice) destroying all corrupting influences (Patmury, 1994)”.

According to Sivapurana (a legend of Siva), Upavasa (fasting the whole day) is the most important worship of deity Siva, and there is a special significance of the six essential items are used in the worship of Siva in the festival of Sivaratri puja.

1. Ritual bathing of Sivalinga with water, milk, honey, and bilva (wood apple) leaves.

2. The vermilion paste applied on the Sivalinga

3. Offering of fruits symbolizes long life and indulgence of desires.

4. Burning of incents sticks surrender the wealth.

5. The lighting of the lamp symbolizes attainment of knowledge

6. Offering of betel leaves marks satisfaction with worldly pleasures.

“The fasting and keeping vigilare symbolic of the control of the senses so that they may be restrained from wandering in search of deluding objects (Patmury, 1994)”. Keeping vigil also means waiting for the self-revelation of the Lord. It is also means that awaken from the darkness. Awake from the darkness is believed to be the attainment of self- realization (Atman).

Conclusion

Mahasivaratri unifies the many different life and experience in the life of Hindus, not only in the community but also in the relationship between God and worshippers. As we know, in the Hindu tradition, Brahmin worships the God representing the entire community of worshipers. Though, in the festival of Sivaratri all men and women gain permission to perform the ritual rites from the brahmins regardless of their class or caste system. It symbolizes that all human being are equal. Further, by undergoing preliminary purification rites of physical and spiritual purification with “holy water” and “sacred mantras” the relationship between god and devotees even become closer. Man became a giver and God become a receiver of devotees’ offerings, which open up the channels of power and mutual relatedness between God and Men. The channel between God and men blocked the selfish desire and false notation. Finally, the miserable forces of sin and guilt are destroyed by the production of auspicious forces.

The festival of Sivaratri begins with the grave vow and accomplishes with the prayers, request for compassion and thanks giving. Devotees of Siva believe that pure love of God is a way of achieving moksa (self-realization).

According to J.H.M. Yinger’s definition of religion, “Religion, then, can be defined as a system of beliefs and practices by means of which a group of people struggles with these ultimate problems of human life. It expresses their refusal to capitulate to death, to give up in the face of frustration, to allow hostility to tear apart their human association… the quality of view implies two things: first a belief that evil, pain, bewilderment and injustice are fundamental factors of existence; and second, a conviction that man can ultimately be saved from these facts (Patmury, 1994)”.

According to the Hindus believe, as a destroyer, deity Siva destroys the bad sins, and provide welfare for the worshipers who accomplish the vow of the Sivaratri; thus, devotees live more peaceful, more loving with giving and sharing. Therefore, celebrating the festival of Mahasivaratri helps human lives become more peaceful and joyful, and it leads to have a healthful life, which means festivals are not only the believes of particular society, they are the way of life to being part of the world.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Welbon, Guy and Yocum, Glenn (1982) Studies on Religion in South India and Sri Lanka, Volume 1: Religious festivals in South India and Sri Lanka. lucknow: Perm Printing Press.

Mukherji, A.C (1989) Hindu Fasts and feasts .New Dhelhi: India. Efficient offset Printers.

Thakur, Anita and Rao, Nalini (2000) Maha Sivaratri: A Study in South Asian Woman’s forum

Vanlaltlani, T and Patmury, Joseph (1994) Sivaratri: An Indian festival of Repentance. Doing theology with the festivals and customs of Asia, Singapore. pp 59-68

WEBSITES RELATED TO THE TOPIC

http://www.rudraksha-ratna.com/mahasivaratri.html

http://hinduismhome.com.shop/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=61

http://www.baps.org/festivals/Shivaratri/index.htm

http://www.dlshq.org/religions/shivaratri.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/maha_Shivaratri

http://www.mahashivratri.org/mahashivratri-festival.html

http://www.4to40.com/festivals/index.asp?id=71&celebrate=Linga_Purana

Written by Saga Perinpasivam (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Devadasis

Devadasi literally means “maid servant of god” (Goswami xxiv). ‘Deva’ means god and ‘dasi’ means female servant. The Devadasis are women who (either voluntarily or given up) are married to a god and from then serve in that god’s temple. The earliest evidence of such women is found in a cavern just south of Banaras. The cave is carved with Prakrit writing from around the days of Ashoka and reads: “The excellent young man Devadinna the painter loved Utanuka, the slave-girl of the God” (Chakraborthy 18). The art of the Devadasis has continued to today.

The role of women in the Indian society has gone through changes up to the modern day. Some suspect that women were respected in ancient Indian culture since Manu stated that “where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes, but where they are not unhappy, the family ever prospers” (Chakraborthy 2). Men were aware of the importance of women as essential to marriage, family, and child bearing. For women’s protection the first real law on marriage for girls was the Child Marriage Restraint Act (Sarda Act) 1927, which stated that it was illegal for girls to marry below the age of 14 (Chakraborthy 9). However, women were not able to own property until the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act allowed them to own property jointly with their husbands (Chakraborthy 9). One of the most respectable ways a woman could serve her community was to become a servant of god. Women would dutifully marry a deity and serve in the temple for the rest of her life. It was originally a noble position to hold, but sadly, as history took its course, the role of the Devadasis became more and more degraded.

The origins of the Devadasis are a little obscure. An actual founder is still unknown (Chakraborthy 13). One speculation is that the gods were viewed as feudal lords and the virgin girls were offered for service to please the gods (Chakraborthy 16). Another theory, by Sir James Frazer, is that the girls were models of a Great Mother Goddess, who had many lovers, which coincides with the idea that the Devadasis were for “sacred prostitution” (Chakraborthy 15). Another more commonly held view of the derivation of the dancing girls is that because women needed to marry, and it was a great disgrace for a husband to die, marrying a deity would result in an eternal marriage. This gave the women immediate and lasting auspiciousness (Goswami xxiv). It was said that the “Devadasis who were married to deities were regarded with honour as celestial nymphs” (Goswami xxiv). When women leave their families to marry, their parents no longer have any rights to them; she is wholly her husband’s. For the parents’ sake, if their daughter was to marry a deity, she would be free to look after her parents in their old age (Chakraborthy 16). Once the tradition became established however, parents kept the custom alive. Women of the community often would request favours from the gods (usually to have a safe birth), and promised in return that they would give their daughters to the temple (Chakraborthy 16). Some families even led a tradition in which “a girl from each generation is compulsorily dedicated to God” (Chakraborthy 16).

Not all women were chosen equally to be a Devadasi. A woman needed to be attractive, smart, audacious, a hard worker, lively, skilled in dance, and have many other good qualities (Goswami xxv). A parent could offer a child from birth, but these qualifications were for women who gave themselves to the temple. There was a special type of marriage ceremony for women who were joining the Devadasis. The first part was a vow, which was made, in some cases, before the child was even born, and offered the girl as a gift to the deity (Chakraborthy 28). Following the marriage the Devadasi would be owned by the temple (Chakraborthy 28). The girl then applied oils and bathed, and went to the temple to give gifts to the custodian, who then stood as a proxy for the girl in a worship ceremony (Chakraborthy 29). The girl then receives a “sacred necklace of beads” and her parents celebrated by feeding the neighbourhood, exactly as a real marriage feast would be conducted (Chakraborthy 29). Once the girl had been officially brought into the marriage with the deity, and had fully become a Devadasis, she was trained in the arts of her profession. Sometimes when there were too many girls in a temple, some were allowed to deviate from dancing and singing, and do such activities as acting. These girls were known as Patradavaru (Chakraborthy 25). The duties of the Devadasis were to sing and dance in the morning and evening, attend marriages and other family gatherings, to bring auspiciousness to the family/couple (Chakraborthy 30, Goswami xxiv). In return for their work the girls received “money and a platform to present their art” (Soneji 30). The Devadasis did not live in the temples, but were given tax free land by the royal family (Goswami xxvii).

The central part of the Devadasis’ work was the dancing, which was set to music. Music, which is pleasant to the ears, also “contributes to the growth of mind and body” (Goswami xx). The music that the Devadasis dance to was originally played by instruments called ‘khols’ and ‘tals’, but were later replaced by a modern violin (Goswami xxvi). Many of the dances, and the songs came from the influential texts; such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas (Goswami xxi). The dances may also have association with gods, such a Siva (Goswami xxii). The importance of the dances were to entertain the gods and people, to earn money for the temples, and to help make the religion more widely accepted in the community (Goswami xxi).

The auspiciousness of the Devadasis was continuous so that these “servants of God” had superior status over the other women. A Devadasi did not become ritually impure even when she was menstruating. Therefore she could dance all month long. Nor was she made unclean by a death of someone near her (Soneji 42).

The Devadasis tradition began with the girls being wholesome brides of the gods, but through the generations their morality decayed. Since the girls had to be virgins when they married the deity, they would fulfil their “carnal appetites” with the “priests and aristocrats” (Goswami xxiv). Since the girls danced for the public, rich men were able to observe the beautiful girls, who were then easy prey for prostitution. In the early twentieth century, the younger generations for Devadasis expressed no problem in being paid for sexual favours (Soneji 39).

The Devadasis were once a respected part of the Hindu society, with very important religious responsibilities. Now, though there are hardly any left, the women are exploited for prostitution. The devoted girls who either dedicated themselves, or were given to the temple from birth, still hold important roles in the worship of the deities, but their status in the community has diminished. If the Devadasis could regain their reputation, they could again be the most respected women of Hindu societies.

Bibliography and Recommend Readings

Chakraborthy, Kakolee (2000) Women As Devadasis: Origin and Growth of the Devadasi

Profession. Rajouri Garden, ND: Deep & Deep Publications.

Goswami, Kali Prasad (2000) Devadasi: Dancing Damsel. Darya Ganj, ND: A.P Publishing

Corporation.

Orr, Leslie C. (2000) Donors, Devotees, and Daughters of God. Oxford, NY: Oxford UP.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism the Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Soneji, Davesh (2004) Living History, Performing Memory: Devadasi Women in Telugu-

Speaking South India. Dance Research Journal, Vol. 36, Issue 2, p30-49.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Great Mother Goddess

Manu

Marriage

Patradavaru

The Ramayana

The Mahabharata

The Puranas

Siva

Temples

Auspicious

Ritual Purity

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devadasi

http://www.samarthbharat.com/devadasis.htm

http://www.samarthbharat.com/files/devadasihistory.pdf

http://skepdic.com/devadasi.html

http://tribes.tribe.net/devadasis

http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/women/devadasi.htm

Written by Rebecca Bouchard (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Festival of Holi

Hindus celebrate a tremendous number of religious festivals; they are frequent and usually joyous. Hindus are known to have the longest calendar of holidays (Walker 351). Great festivals can be seen as times of general worship and are recognized by the provincial government as public holidays (O’Malley 121). Festivals are celebrated for important days, famous incidents in mythology, moon phases, purification, remission of sins, or worship of a certain god or goddess (Walker 352). Festivals may be celebrated by fasting, vigils, bathing, fairs, chanting, lighting of lamps, games, drinking, and gift offering (Walker 352).

One of the most popular of Hindu celebration is the festival of Holi (O’Malley 123). It is a harvest rite to welcome the return of spring (Prior 41). Holi begins about ten days before the full moon in the month of Phalguna (February-March), but it is usually only observed on the last three days (Kapoor 696). It was once a fertility festival, but now it is seen as a time of hilarity and horseplay (O’Malley 123). It is celebrated after the harvest so that everyone is able to freely enjoy themselves (Prior 41). The festival begins with a bonfire celebrating the cremation of the Holika (Marriott 201). Holika was the sister of the evil King Hiranyakasipu, and together they plotted to kill his son Prahlada, a devotee of Visnu. King Hiranyakasipu had tried many times to kill his son; he threw him into a pit of poisonous snakes, and had elephants trample him while he was sleeping, but Vishnu always saved him (Gateshill and Kadodwala 19). Holika was supposedly fireproof so she brought Prahlada into a fire with her. However Visnu came to the rescue, saved Prahlada, and Holika was burned to death. (Sivananda 19). Another legend is that Holika was a child-eating cannibal who was destroyed by Krsna (Sivanada 19). Whichever myth is believed, ultimately they are both stories of good conquering evil. The burning of the Holika image is symbolically a burning all evils. Devotees start collecting wood early so the bonfire is always huge and in some villages it is a rule that everyone must contributed something to the fire (Marriott 201). The fire is usually lit by a Brahmin and holy water is poured onto the wood (Gateshill and Kadodwala 18). Worshippers dance and mothers carry their babies around the bonfire in a clockwise direction to ask Agni, the god of fire, to bless them (Mayled 15). New corn is cooked in the fire and eaten to celebrate the harvest (Mayled 15). Coconuts, popcorn, dates, and lentil are also roasted in the fire and eaten (Mayled 15). People sometimes will take embers from the fire home to rekindle their own fire.

During the next day, normally forbidden behaviour is allowed (Pastva 79) and barriers of caste and rank are forgotten (Bahree 30). Women beat men with stout canes “just as the milkmaids loved Lord Krsna” (Marriott 205), and washmen, tailors and Brahman priests sing together (Marriott 211). In the past throwing mud, refuse, and even excreta at others was not uncommon (Walker 354), but today coloured powers (gulal) and liquids are playfully thrown at others (Prior 21). People run through the streets and water is thrown either directly from a pot or squirted from plastic containers or balloons sold especially for the festival (Vickery 221). Powders of different hues are also thrown on each other. This is why the festival is referred to as the festival of colors. Parties of boys and men dance in the street impersonating Krsna and people can be heard singing lewd songs and shouting obscenities; this is supposed to drive away devils or evil spirits. The street celebrations and practical joking may remind a Westerner of Mardi Gras (Pastva 79).

Some powder is also smeared on the faces of the deities, especially Krsna and Radha. Youthful Krsna is remembered during this time since he is known for playing tricks. Many worshippers say it is Krsna who taught them how to celebrate the festival of Holi (Marriott 207). The colored water and powders are associated with Krsna and the story about him, Radha and the other gopis (milkmaids) walking by the river on a nice spring day. Krsna threw colored power on Radha and she threw some back on him; pretty soon the milkmaids and the cowherd were all dancing together to Krsnas flute, while they threw red powder all over one another (Mayled 15). To some this may seem like a weird reason to celebrate, but it has a deeper meaning; it shows that Krsna, who is God, wants a special, close relationship with those who worship him (Gateshill and Kadodwala 17).

At noon time, there is a state of truce and every one goes home to bathe and put on fresh clothes (Marriott 203). In the evening, people visit with each other and exchange sweets (Bahree 30). Friends embrace each other three times to wish one another good luck. Devotees are found indulging in all sorts of vices in the name of the Holi festival. Some drink intoxicating liquor, like the festival drink, a sweet and mild, thick, green liquid made up of almonds, sugar, curds of milk, anise, and half a cup of bhnag (juice from the hemp leaf) (Marriott 205), and others bet money and gamble (Sivananda 19). Holi is more popularly celebrated in Northern India. In the South India, Holi celebrations include dolayatra (swing ritual), where images of a deity are placed on decorated swings and swung back and forth by devotees.

Holi is known as the festival of love, as well as the festival of colors. It is a time where two stories are remembered: one about Prahlada and the other about Krsna. Both stories promote the worship of Visnu; Prahlada is a devotee of Visnu and Krsna is one of Visnu’s avataras. Prahlada’s tale shows good winning over evil and Krsna’s story is the basis for the fun and frolic observed during Holi. It is a great festival where every one of all ages and castes participates and “for a moment may experience the role of his opposite” (Marriott 212).


REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS

Bahree, Patricia (1985) The Hindu World. New York: Silver Burdett Company.

Freed, Stanley A., and Ruth S. Freed (1998) Hindu Festivals in a North Indian Village. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Gateshill, Paul and Dilip Kadodwala (1997) Celebrate Hindu Festivals. Illinois: Reed Heinemann Library.

Kapoor, Suboah (2000) The Hindus Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Marriott, McKim (1966) “The Feast of Love.” From Milton Singer ed., Krishna: Myths,Rites and Attitudes. Honolulu: East-West Press, 200-212.

Mayled, John (1987) Religious Festivals. England: Wayward Publishers Limited.

O’Malley, L.S.S. (1970) Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Pastva, Loretta (1986) Great Religions of the World. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s Press.

Prior, Katherine (1999) World Religions Hinduism. New York: Franklin Watts.

Sivananda, Sri Swami (1997) Hindu Fasts and Festivals. Himalayas: The Divine Life Society.

Vickery, Roy A. (1974) “Holi Celebrations in Kathmandu.” Folklore, Vol 87, No. 2 .pp.220-222

Walker, Benjamin (1983) Hindu World. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publisher Pvt. Ltd.

Related Topics For Further Investigation

Dolayatra

Diwali

Gopis

Holika

Krsna

Prahlada

Radha

Visnu

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.colorsofindia.com/holi/aboholi.htm

http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/aa030401a.htm

http://www.indiaexpress.com/rangoli/holi.html

http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/holidays/holi.htm

Article written by Whitney Walsh (April 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ramlilas

The city of Banaras is considered to be the holiest city in the Hindu tradition. Millions of people make pilgrimages to the holy city every year in hopes of fulfilling their spiritual desires. The religious importance of the city is not only recognized by the people of India but also by scholars, anthropologists, sociologists and the likes from all over the world. Many come to study the city while others come to bask in its spiritual and cultural offerings (Kapur 209). The city itself is actually considered by believers to be the dwelling place of all Hindu deities (Hertel and Humes 1). For pious Hindus this grants enormous importance to many of the city’s major festivals. It can be said that Banaras is most proclaimed for its festivals and traditions, one of the most notable of which is the Ramnagar Ramlila. The Ramlila at Ramnagar is an event that takes place every year and is the celebrated victory of Ram over Ravana, from the epic Ramayana.

There are many Ramlilas in Banaras. Ramlilas (play) are a way in which a Hindu tales are recreated for audiences in the city. The during the Ramila season there can be up to sixty neighbourhoods that participate by hosting the play on their block (Parkhill 104). The importance of these plays is immense because it sets out to recreate the “epic story of Lord Rama” (Eck 269). Rama is a highly regarded figure in Hinduism. He is considered to be the reincarnation of the deity Visnu. Visnu is one of the highly regarded deities and is widely worshipped across Hindi speaking northern India. This makes the Ramlilas an important and integral element of the city. Many of the roles in the Ramlilas are played by children (specifically boys). This also has an underlying spiritual connection because when the children are playing the role of Rama, or his wife Sita or Hanuman his devotee [For more information on Hindu deities, see Hertel (1998)], they are said to become temporary residence for the deities, during the presentation of the Ramlila (Parkhill 104). During this time there are many pilgrims who also come to the city hoping for a chance to view a Ramlila. Their visits add to the reputation of Banaras as a site of pilgrimage, which already attracts many because of its large number of deities and their temples.

The grandest Ramlila is the one that takes place at Ramnagar. It is a thirty one day theatrical event that attracts hundreds of people from all across the country (Schechner 20). The immensity of this Ramlila is greater than any other in terms of the crowds is attracts and its longevity. Despite its popularity the Ramlila is not strictly meant for entertainment purposes, as we in the west might go and see a theatrical event. It has significant spiritual importance that is not compromised, because all Ramlilas especially those of Ramnagar are “celebratory performances tracing the footsteps of Vishnu” (Schechner 20). The Ramlilas typically enact how Rama suffered when Ravana the demon kidnapped his wife Sita and took her away in hopes of wooing her into marriage. The Ramlilas use ritual and drama to demonstrate how Rama rid the world of Ravana and finally returned to Ayodhya [The city or kingdom to which Ram returns after his victory. See Schechner (1998) for more information] in triumphant victory (Schechner 41). The significance of the story and victory is displayed not only by its performers but also by the spectators who take part in their own rituals that they deem an important part of the Ramlilas. For example, some spectators will not walk on the ground where the Ramlilas are being held in their shoes, because they consider those sites to be like temples, and one would not walk into a temple with shoes on (Schechner 32). The Ramlilas therefore are not merely plays put on by the town people simply for entertainment. They have a strong religious significance for most Hindus. Particularly because Rama, who is regarded as an incarnation of Visnu, is held in high regard. As one scholar remarked, the Ramlilas are “carefully crafted enactments of a narrative transmitting information and values concerning sacred history and geography, social hierarchy, ethics and the personalities of god, heroes, and demons” (Schechner 22).

The epic story and the Ramlilas are significant because of their importance in the Hindu tradition. However they have also been significant in the shaping of Indian life and culture. The Ramnagar Ramlila has been shaped by many years of influence from the Maharajas [Maharajas were the ruling royalty in India until its Independence in 1947; they still exist but have no ruling power. See Schechner (1998)] of Banaras who gathered scholars, poets and theatre practitioners and guided the Ramlila (Schechner 24). The first of these was Maharaja Balwant Singh who ruled in the seventeenth century. Later on Maharaja Ishavari Prasad Narain Singh who ruled in the eighteenth century also played a significant role (Schechner 24). The present Maharaja of Banaras has had no political power in India since its independence in 1947. However he is highly active in his role and participation in the Ramnagar Ramlila because it has been such a tradition for previous kings that his royal identity is now dependent on his involvement in the festival drama (Schechner 37).

Since the kings’ roles in the Ramlila have evolved, it raises the question of how the Ramlila itself has evolved through the ages? Of course the text from which the Ramlilas’ performance is derived has been mostly unchanged for centuries. However, there are some significant changes that have occurred in India culturally and structurally. For one, the power and grandeur of the Maharaja has declined which has led to far less glamorous shows, with only half the materials once used in previous Ramlilas (Schechner 51). There are also some more obvious changes that have occurred as well. The most significant of these is the growth in population of India. This has limited the theatre space available for the Ramnagar Ramlila; in an area where there were once trees and grass, there are now vast amounts of housing and people. Another shift has been in some of the innovative advances that have been introduced in staging the drama. Circumstances now allow production officials to use electrical lighting and other technical innovations (Parkhill 108). However, this creates a spilt between those who want to keep the Ramlila traditional and those interested in using modern innovations. The issue is emotionally charged; many consider the innovations improvements while others see them as tools for corruption (Parkhill 111). Still some feel that the message and value is in the rituals and practice themselves and not the aesthetics of the presentation.

Even with such changes over the centuries in the Ramnagar Ramlila, the sheer magnitude and importance it enjoys today has still not diminished. The story of Rama and Sita is one that has been told for centuries by Brahmins [Brahmins are the priestly caste in Hindu society. See Parkhill (1998)], scholars, and parents to children and will certainly continue. The Ramnagar Ramlila is an event that can only grow in stature. No matter what elements are introduced to enhance its performance the ritual enactments will continue as they have for centuries. As one scholar notes the “Ramlila is not reducible to single meanings or experiences” (Schechner 48). Rather it is an event that can offer something to everybody, from the performers to spectators and even the poor of the city who benefit from offerings by the Maharaja.

REFERENCES

Eck, D. L (1982) Banaras the City of Lights. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hertel, R. Bradley., and Humes, Ann Cynthia (eds.) (1998) Introduction. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Kapur, Anuranha (1990) Actors, Pilgrims, Kins and Gods: The Ramlila at Ramnagar. Calcutta: Seagull Books.

Parkhill, Thomas (1998) Whats Taking Place: Neighborhood Ramlilas in Banaras. Eds. Bradley R. Hertel and Cynthia Ann Humes. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Schechner, Richard (1998) Crossing the Water: Pilgrimage, Movement, and Environmental Scenography of the Ramlila of Ramnagar. Eds. Bradley R. Hertel and Cynthia Ann Humes. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Related Topics

Gods and Goddess:

Sita

Rama

Vishnu

Ravana

Hanuman

Devi

Krsna

Ganesa

Surya

Texts:

Ramayana

The Vedas

The Bhagavad-Gita

Upanishads

Mahabharata

Rg Vedas

Dharma Sastras

Dharma Sutras

Manu

The Aranyakas

Related Websites

http://www.gkindia.com/worldreligions/hindusm.htm

http://www.stthomasu.ca/~parkhill/lila.htm

http://www.unesco.org/culture/intangible-heritage/16apa_uk.htm

http://www.up-tourism.com/fair/ramlila.htm

http://www.sacredsites.com/asia/india/banaras.html

http://www.4to40.com/discoverindia/places/index.asp?article=discoverindia_places_banaras

Written by Osman Shah (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

Divali

Divali, known as the Festival of Lights or Lamps “is one of the most prominent and widely celebrated Hindu festivals” (Schomer 8), and “…in the most limited sense refers to the illuminations made on the [festivals] new-moon night…” (Schomer 13). There are several variations in the Divali festival, its name, rituals, and celebratory meaning. Hence, it is not a festival easily defined or described. Much like any celebration its significance and ritual practice has evolved to meet an individual’s perception of what it should be. The variances in Divali exist locally, regionally, and globally, based on its historical significance, tradition, and individual interpretation. Schomer states that “certain variations in the stories and rituals related to Divali can be traced to regional historical events” (13), thus supporting the realization that Divali is a complex festival. Schomer also explains that there are six principal stories connected to Divali: Bali story, Story of King Hema’s son, Narakasura story, Govardhan story, Shiva-Parvati story, and Yama-Yamuna story, which are all closely related (28) and may share common rituals. Other factors complicating our understanding of the festival are its globalization and evolution. The global movement of Hindus, Jains and Sikhs allow festivals such as Divali to be shared, directly or indirectly, with new cultures resulting in an increased popularity. It is believed that Sikh’s originally celebrated Divali to honour their sixth Guru or the establishment of the Golden Temple in Amritsar (Schomer 25). Jains are said to celebrate Divali to mark the death of Mahavira and that the lighting of lamps compensate for the darkness left after his passing (Schomer 25).

Diwali, Dipavali (dip = lamp, avali = row), Dipotsavi, Deepavali and Dipapratipad are alternative names or titles for Divali, mainly dependant upon what region of India or the world the festival is being celebrated. Variations in the festival’s duration are also observed based on the location of the festival, and can range from one to five days. Divali is celebrated for five days and in accordance with lunar calendars. It begins in late Asvina (August – September) and ends in early Karttika (October – November). The festival begins on Dhan Teras, the 13th day of the dark half of Asvina, and ends on Yama Dvitiya, the 2nd day of the light half of Karttika, each day marking a day of celebration for one of the six principle stories in which Divali is linked (please refer to Chart 3 for details). Divali is sometimes viewed as a cluster of holidays, earmarked for the worship of all three principal goddesses: Laksmi (Goddess of Wealth), Kali (Goddess of Destruction), and Saraswati (Goddess of Learning) (Bezbaruah 21). Divali is also seen a festival to mark the change of seasons, the end of harvest, the end of monsoon season, a new business year and a new calendar year (Bezbaruah 15, Schomer 10). It is believed that Divali is most important to the farmers and merchants (the vaisya class); however, according to Bezbaruah, Divali “is celebrated in full force in Delhi” and “is a universal festival” (20).

The most common or mainstream interpretation of the Divali festival is that it is in honour of the Goddess Laksmi, the Goddess of Wealth & Prosperity. After the monsoons people clean, white-wash, and decorate their homes in order to receive Laksmi into their home during the festival. Her visit brings the hope of prosperity for the new year. Lights and rangoli are used to decorate homes and welcome Laksmi [(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangoli) “Rangoli is one of the most popular art forms in India. It is a form of decoration that uses finely ground white powder and colours, and is used commonly outside homes in India. Rangoli can be wall art as well as floor art. The term rangoli is derived from words rang (colour) and aavalli (‘coloured creepers’ or ‘row of colours’)”]. Each day a new rangoli design is drawn, and in addition to lamps inviting Laksmi into homes lamps are also lit and set afloat on the Ganga or other nearby rivers. The floating lamps are seen as indicators of prosperity in the new year, meaning if they float a long distance and remain lit then prosperity will greet the individual and his/her family in the upcoming year. In addition to lamp lighting some people prepare sweets and other delicacies, others clear debts and close accounts and open new ones in the New Year hoping that Laksmi will bless them with prosperity and others purchase new clothing and jewellery. Divali rituals vary between people based on what they can afford, what region of the world they live, and what the significance of the festival represents to them.

Globalization of Divali has led various groups and individuals to compare the festival to other existing festivals and celebrations such as the Anglo-pagan Halloween. The comparison of Halloween to Divali is in part due to certain beliefs that “the lighting of lamps at the Divali festival is intended to scare away evil spirits” (O’Malley 133), and Hospital supports this view of commonality between Divali and Halloween through this statement:

“It is intriguing that in both Europe and India this period of transition is linked with the dead, that at both Hallowe’en and Divali (that is, immediately preceding New Year Day) evil and inauspicious forces on one hand, and the dead on the other, were thought to be let loose. Such similarities, of course, again raise the question of a possible common historical background to these practices (Hospital 249).

Although there may be some commonality between Divali and other festivals (local or global), differences exist because of history, translation, and significance.


Divali Stories As Charters For Ritual (Schomer 29)

Time: Dhan Teras (13th of dark half of Asvina)

Ritual: lighting rows of lamps

Story: Yama’s boon to his emissaries

Time: Narak chaudas (14th of dark half of Asvina)

Ritual: ceremonial baths

Story: Krishna’s boon to Narakasura

Time: Bari Divali (15th of dark half of Asvina)

Ritual: cleaning homes/Laksmi Puja

Story: Lakshmi freed from Bali’s jail

Time: All three days of the “triplet” (13th-15th of dark half of Āśvina)

Ritual: lighting rows of lamps

Story: Vishnu’s boon to Bali

Time: Govardhan (1st of bright half of Karttika)

Ritual: worship of Govardhan

Story: Krishna’s starts Govardhan worship

Ritual: saving the land

Story: gambling Parvati’s boon to Shiva

Time: Yama Dvitīya (2nd of bright half of Karttika)

Ritual: sisters entertaining brothers

Story: Yama’s boon to Yamuna

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Babb, Lawrence A. (1975) The Divine Hierarchy: Popular Hinduism in Central India. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bezbauah, M.P. (2003) Fairs and Festivals of India Vol. III. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.

Devagupta, Rama; Klaus, M. (Illustrator) (May 2001) The slaying of Narakasura. Parabola 26 no 2, May 2001, p 80-81.

Dhal, Upendra Nath (1978) Goddess Laksmi: Origin and Development. New Delhi: Oriental

Publishers.

Dogra, R.C., Dogra, U. (2000) Hindu and Sikh Wedding Ceremonies: with salient features of Hindu and Sikh rituals. New Delhi: Star Publications Pvt. Ltd.

Fuller, C.J. (1992) The Camphor Flame: popular Hinduism and society in India. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Gregory, Ruth W. (1975) Anniversaries and Holidays Third Edition. Chicago: The American Library Association.

Havell, E.B. (2000) Benares, the Sacred City: sketches of Hindu life & religion. New Delhi: Book Faith India.

O’Malley, L.S.S. (1970) Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation. (Original print 1935 at Cambridge University Press).

Pattanaik, Devdutt (2003, c2002) Laksmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune: an introduction.

Mumbai: Vakils, Feffer & Simons.

Schomer, Karine (Spring 1999) Divali: The Study of a Hindu Festival. Journal of Vaisnava Studies.

Vineeth, Vadakethala F. (1987) Religio-cultural festival of India. Journal of Dharma.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangoli April 9, 2006.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Laksmi

Kali

Saraswati

Bali

Narakasura

Yama Yamana

Sikhism

Amritsar

Jainism

Mahavira

Vaisaya Class

Rangoli

Halloween

Festivals

Rituals

Celebrations

Puja

Govardhan

Shiva Parvati

Rama

Holi

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://amitkulkarni.info/pics/diwali-2005/

http://www.diwalifestival.org/

http://www.diwalifestival.org/diwali-rangoli.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diwali

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangoli

http://www.diwalifestival.org/the-tradition-of-rangoli.html

http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/religions/deepavali.htm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/club/your_reports/newsid_1677000/1677032.stm

http://www.arts.wa.gov/progFA/AsianFest/Diwali/faAsianFestdiwalicontents.html

Article written by Lisa Shaw (March 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.