With Social distancing becoming the new normal, the world and its people are never going to be the same again. Whilst at this, I consider myself fortunate for having some of the finest experiences during my travel in India, prior to Covid-19. Mostly village fairs and religious congregations are something that draw most crowds, world over. Apart from them, there are yet a few non-religious events that are extremely popular in India and are crowd-pullers.
Here is my list of five such events which perhaps are never going to be the same when normalcy sets in again.
1. The Live rocket launch viewing in Andhra Pradesh: With a seating capacity of over 10000 spectators, witnessing a rocket launch at Sriharikota is once in a lifetime thing. I was fortunate to see the biggest space vehicle yet from the Indian stables (the GSLV) roar into space. The launch of ‘Chandrayaan-2’ was the last biggest event from ISRO before lockdown. Click here to read further.
2. The Republic day parade at New Delhi:One of the largest displays of the Indian might in terms of culture alongside the discipline and strength of the combined defense forces, people throng the Rajpath road at New Delhi in thousands every year. I’m guessing that it may never be the same again.
3. The Boat race of Kerala: This event is a sporting event that’s more of a prestige to win and a craze to watch. I had the opportunity to witness this madness in the biggest festival of them all- The Nehru boat race. Click here to read further.
4. The hornbill festival of Nagaland: An event to celebrate the amalgamation of cultures of all tribes of Nagaland, this annual event is a must be at-least once. I was fortunate to be there in the December of 2019, the last event before the world went under lockdown.
5. The Kodava hockey festival in Karnataka: The world knows that India is a frenzy nation when it comes to cricket. The madness at the stadium is on a next level. But the national sport of India- Hockey is celebrated at an altogether different high in Kodagu district of Karnataka. This congregation holds the Guinness record for being the largest festival dedicated to Hockey in the world. Click here to read further.
Come the night of Mahashivaratri, there will be festivities across the country. People stay up all night and participate in bhajans, pooja offerings, chariot pulling etc. all to keep themselves awake for the night, so that their beloved Lord, Shiva gets good rest after taking care of them all year. But it is the day that follows the revered night, that is the essence to this story of mine. The day that follows Mahashivaratri is when Shakthi, the consort of Shiva and thus, the female power is celebrated across the Northern part of Tamil Nadu. The companionship of Mother Angalamman to Shiva, the graveyard dweller is celebrated with a festival called the ‘Mayana Kollai’. As a friend explains, Mayana Kollai translates to the ‘Raid of the graveyard’ in Tamil. I had planned to witness this festival at one such temple dedicated to Angalamman, closer home, at Kaveripattinam.
The festivities had started as early as the sunrise at the Angalamman temple, with the Goddess being taken on a temple car/ chariot. She is supposed to travel along the streets of the town, to the graveyard by evening from where she returns to the temple by night. All other rituals that are part of this journey of her’s are what make this festival more interesting. It is a festival where the entire town / village participates with no barrier of caste or societal status. The chariot leaves the temple with the idol of Angalamman.
She is greeted by devotees who throw a mixture of salt crystals and black pepper or beans all along her way. She is hailed as a symbol of fertility who is calm throughout the year and takes on her powerful form on this day, once in a year. The villagers get their body pierced with various things near the temple premises and walk across the village to the graveyard, where the piercings are removed. This body paining is what they believe, is a gratitude to the almighty for the wishes that have come true or as a part of a prayer that needs to be fulfilled. The size and things pierced can vary depending on individual’s prayers. While those with tridents pierced around their mouth are a very common sight, the more pious go further to get their torso pierced with hundreds of lemons. Yet, a few pull cars, buses, trucks or large stones with ropes that are hooked through their bare skin.
If u peek into one of the many shops (I don’t know if that is the correct noun for such places) around the town, apart from those getting the body piercings, you will find another set of people. Men and children will be getting their faces painted and dressed up in sarees, a representation of Angalamman. With metal arms attached to the backs, elaborate costumes, jewelry and crown worn, Angalamman is impersonated by these people. They hold tridents and dance to the beats of drums across the streets. Several times on their way, they get possessed or get into a state of trance, until they all finally congregate at the graveyard. Animal sacrifice too is a common sight on the streets on this day.
It is evening by the time the temple car and everyone else reaches the graveyard. That is when the most interesting part of the rituals takes place. The folk impersonating the goddess gather around a random grave and dig it up. The bones from the grave are pulled out and chewed by them. This is called the ‘bone chewing’ ritual or what gives the festival its name: Mayana Kollai or the ‘Raid of the graveyard’.
There are several legends and references that explain the significance of this ritual, depending on the region. Here are some of the references I found on the internet.
Post this ritual, the goddess calms down and returns to the temple on the temple car. The festival culminates when the it reaches its home.
While witnessing all this self-violence, I started to deeply think, why this is necessary to please the gods. Although I couldn’t find a convincing conclusion, what I realized is that this form of ritual is not unique to Hinduism alone. It has been largely practiced worldwide, across all major religions. Some of the closest references are:
Stone pulling Ceremony is an annual traditional event held across the Angami villages to commemorate a certain important day. It takes place in one village per year on a rotational basis. So that way, it takes about 5 to 10 years by the time this ceremony reoccurs in a particular village. This event is usually timed around the Hornbill festival as there will be people from across Nagaland and outside visiting Kohima (The region where the Angami tribe is a majority).
Watch the Stone pulling ceremony video here:
The stone referred here is a large monolith that weighs several tons and the size and shape is not fixed. It is at the villagers’ liberty to pick the monolith they want to use for the occasion and can be either quarried from the village itself or bought from somewhere else depending on the resources. The large stone slab is then placed on a sled that is made of tree trunks and pulled using thick entwined vines from the forest. Thousands of Angami Naga men pull the large monolith over a few kilometers to finally errect it upright, engrave the details of the event and mark the day. This year, the stone pulling ceremony was held at Mima village. It was organised to commemorate the 75th anniversary of christianity in the village. The monolith was symbolized for forgiveness, friendship and peace to the enmities that the village had with various villages before the coming of the gospel to Mima village.
The typical stone pulling ceremony (Click here to watch the complete video) is solemnised by the pastor from the village’s church with recitals from the Angami bible before the start. It is then followed by firing a round of shots from the muzzle loaded guns in the air. The captain stands on the slab and shouts Angami cheers through a loudspeaker to motivate the pullers. While all the strong and younger men folk of the village join hands to pull the stone, The eldest two men of the clan walk, leading the tribe. The women get dressed in their traditional attire and walk with a khophi (an utility basket woven with bamboo or cane) hung on their back and they stay around as a mark of support to the pullers. A few of these women carry cotton in containers made of dried bottle guard and walk ahead of the pullers as a part of the tradition. And yet, the remaining women go around distributing gruel made of ‘Job’s tears or Chinese pearl barley’ to all the passersby and the participants from their traditional Aluminium pots. It is served in bamboo cups that are carried in the baskets hung around their foreheads. The gruel provides an instant boost of carbohydrates for the toiling men in the hot sun.
In a Christian majority state, the tribal traditions are still thriving. It was a different experience watching the entire village dressed in their ethnic best and gathering to pull the stone uphill from the starting point to its destination. I somehow drew parallels with the chariot pulling tradition of the Puri Jagannath and several other temples of South India.
Isn’t it true that we all somehow follow the same way of life, only with different names for our faith and the process we follow to achieve it?
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 300 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.
Hence, I’d like to make a mention of the last tournament I had attended- ‘The Iychettira Cup-2012’.
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..
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.
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’..!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
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..!!)
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..!!
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.
After a lot of last minute hiccups, the planning of more than 3 months had finally materialised.. And there we were… At Allapuzha.
At 10.a.m we were on the stands looking out for a nice place which would give us a good view of the river. The 60th Annual Nehru Boat Race was scheduled to start at 2.30.p.m. ‘The crowd had started to pour in from as early as 6.a.m., to get a good seat’, we were told.
Pam and I were sitting in the last row (We considered ourselves fortunate enough for getting chairs to sit).. Sam had ventured out of our stands to get some good photographs and to find a better corner seat for all of us.
Just then, this gang of 6 huge Malayali men dressed in their white Lungis came in and stood behind us.. They pushed our chairs forward so that they could accommodate a few more chairs on the already crammed podium. We barely had space to keep our legs and we were wondering what they were upto. Without knowing the language, we only ended up giving them some wild stares. Pam belted out a few words in Kannada.
Next thing we saw was: Each of these men placing biiig hand bags in between their legs, covered by their lungis and each- pulling out a bottle of local brew (the tags on the bottle indicated that it was pure-strong-local). They pulled out a glass from their bag and poured the drink and gulped it all down RAW in the blink of an eye (It was faster than that of one drinking water). And then… One of them started to utter something to us- From the fact that he had just finished a bottoms up and the tone of his speech, we knew for sure that we were being verbally abused. Although with my little knowledge of the language, I managed to understand a few swears, I instructed Pam not to react. We would surely be outnumbered by men there, in God’s own country. Like a call from God himself- Sam called us to inform us that he had found a better place for all of us to sit. We vacated the spot in the very same minute.
On the way, Pam walked upto a cop and said, “Those men in the last row there, are boozing; Each man is carrying at least a bottle which they are not supposed to possess in a public gathering”. The cop replied an apologetic “OK, OK Sir, We will look into it” and walked off as if Pam had just spoken to deaf ears.
We met Sam and just as we were narrating the scene to him- We saw 2 more men carrying handbags and settling down right beside us. And soon they pulled out a bottle each, bottoms up, gobbled up some minced beef and then started cheering at the water in front of them, where the race was yet to begin. Even before we reacted, Sam pointed at the platform onto our left. More than 10 men were repeating the same procedure- handbags covered by lungis- bottoms up- cheer out loud. And then we looked behind at the gallery- and we were like “What the F***…??”. Every lungi fellow had a glass in his hand..!!! And then we knew, the exact reason for getting such a vague response from that cop. The Policemen were clearly outnumbered by those drunkards and that seemed like quite a normal phenomenon to the cops to take any action. And we too quickly learnt to live with it..!! Soon, the crowd of drunkards increased and also the excitement.
And.. The boat race had a roaring start with a lot of frenzy and madness.. We too were at the peak of our excitement.. And suddenly this scuffle started between 2 groups. The next thing we saw was random people being thrown into the river by random people… Typical to any Indian movie, the cops gave a late entry. They arrived in speed boats and pulled out a couple of them from the water and sped away..
The below picture shows:
A hard core fan who watched the match sitting on a coconut tree from 10.a.m to 7.00.p.m.
A drunk fan standing on a pole and cheering for his team whose limbs finally gave way into the water after 5hrs.
Another bunch of fans seated in the gallery who are supporting themselves by holding onto the electric lines.
This was definitely one hell of a maddening-superbly-awesomeness-crazy-experience that I am going to cherish for life.
Kerala: “The Land Of Lungis” is truly God’s own Country… L.O.L. 😀
Have you ever experienced any such psychotic crowds? Share it with me.. 🙂