Recently we had the privilege of witnessing a major religious festival of 2 very diverse and little known communities, both rarely experienced by outsiders.
Interestingly both are Vaishnava festivals, but couldn’t be more different from each other
The first was Govardhan puja, which happens just before Diwali, and is a pastoral festival of cow herders. I had earlier seen this celebrated in North India, and the roots are in an episode of Krishna’s childhood.
But amongst the Santhals of Ajodhya hills, this is celebrated in a way that would be completely unrecognizable anywhere else and would shock traditional Vaishnavites.
They celebrate this in much the same way as they celebrate any other festival, even Christmas, by the converts.
They paint their houses and draw beautiful pictures, and decorate the village and their cattle, which are worshipped, in a song called gaijagani .
They dance to traditional folk music, to the heady beat of drums, imbibing freely of country liquor brewed locally, and feast on chicken and pork from sacrificed birds, whose colours are specified for various occasions, and the pig reserved for the final day, Diwali, when, like their Bengali neighbours, they worship Goddess Kali.
All the songs are not religious, and I heard a lot of satire and protest songs along with the more traditional ones
Basically they continued their age old practice by which they worshipped their ancient spirit Gods, just changed the names around when they converted to mainstream Hinduism of the plains people, or the Christianity of the missionaries
The other was from further east, in the island of Majuli, the largest riverine island in the world, on the Brahmaputra, in Upper Assam.
This island can only be reached by boat, and has an unique Vaishnava culture, which has been largely preserved intact for more than three centuries, when Shankardev visited the island and established this as the centre of the new movement that he was propagating.
It was the reformation of the medieval Hindu practices, which was largely Tantrik in the East, and he introduced Vaishnava culture to Assam, which continues to be the primary religious practice today.
He was a multifaceted personality, and wrote songs and plays on Krishna’s life, setting them to music, choreographed dances, introduced mask making and established a series of monasteries which would preserve and propagate these art forms as a method of spreading the Krishna cult.
We were lucky to visit during the festival of Raas, when each village puts up a grand show and a re-enactment of Krishna’s life, but in the exact same words and to the same music and same choreography as originally created by Sankar Dev, 350 years ago.
The performance goes on all night, and are repeated 3 days in a row to full houses. The same show every year with the same words tunes and gestures doesn’t pall on the audience. The star is the villain, Kamsa, whose larger than life performance enthralls the audience
All villagers are teetotallers and vegetarians during this period, and elaborate meals are cooked. Fish however, is considered a vegetable here, as inevitable in an island community.
The performers are all local people, but the standards are extremely high. The audience comes dressed in finery and are vocally appreciative.
This unique eco system is now preserved as an United nations cultural heritage but the credit for preservation goes to the monasteries and the local population.
The dance form introduced by Sankar Dev is the only classical dance form in Assam and has nuances of Kathak and Manipuri.
What astounded me was that a miniscule agrarian community cut off from the mainland adopted the teachings of a reformer from distant lands and preserved intact this culture for centuries, and have made it known around the area and slowly gaining global recognition.
We returned enriched, despite the language barriers, as the story was familiar, and the root language is Sanskrit, thus many words were quite similar to North Indian languages.
I was left wondering about the diversity of our country, where the same Relegion is practiced in two neighbouring states, both festivals based on the stories of Krishna’s childhood, in such dramatically different ways as to be unrecognizable as being part of the same religion.
This is the personification of the cliche… unity in diversity
♡ Extremely interesting post on celebration Vaishnava festivals by 2 diverse communities along with Marvelous pictures of the event ☘️💐💐💐💥.
“They dance to traditional folk music…………….. worship Goddess Kali”.
♡ Praiseworthy Conclusion:
“where the same Relegion is practiced
………………….in such dramatically different ways as to be unrecognizable as being part of the same religion”.
♡ You took us to both Vaishnava Festivals 🍀💐🙏.
♡ Best Wishes, 💥
LikeLiked by 1 person