FAITHLINE: Indian August is full of fun
August is usually an exciting month in India, charged with festivity. The biggest festival, of course, is Independence Day, and this year it’s a long weekend. The Walled City of Delhi celebrates it in unique ways. One year, a maulana friend from there invited me to see it for myself. We took a cycle rickshaw and progressed slowly down the brightly lit lanes.
The atmosphere was festive and joyous. Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus mingled freely in the crowds. I saw burkha-clad ladies buying sets of tri-coloured bangles and tri-coloured dupattas. There was music at the historic Gauri-Shankar temple and shabad kirtan pouring out of Gurdwara Shish Ganj, the place of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom. We joined the happy throng feasting on sweets and samosas. It was an exhilarating experience to be amid one’s fellow citizens, all celebrating Independence Day. That evening, it felt rather flat going back home to the bland peace of my own neighbourhood, which I otherwise appreciate.
Another big festival people look forward to in August is Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi. From what I have gathered, Raksha Bandhan occurs when the asterism Dhanishta rises in the lunar month of Shravan. Dhanishta is the twenty-third of the twenty-seven nakshatra or lunar asterisms in Indian astronomy and astrology. Shravan is ‘Avani’ in Tamil, and Dhanishta is ‘Avittam’, so the day of Raksha Bandhan is known as ‘Avani Avittam’ in Tamil Nadu.
The markets and the internet are afloat with rakhis of many colours. ‘Mithai aur rakhi’ or ‘sweets and rakhis’ are the buzz, packaging the two together to send to faraway brothers. The market sees new and highly emotional ads about Rakhi, and being sentimental Indians, it’s hard to be unmoved by them. The streets look very colourful when men and boys go by with proudly festooned wrists. Raksha Bandhan may be originally a North Indian festival, but it is so charming that I feel it can go beyond regions and beyond only siblings to friends, elders and anyone who is a supportive presence in one’s life, of any creed.
Another delightful festival in August is Janmashtami. The happiness around it is like sweet liquor in one’s veins. As a child, I had to sing the song ‘Mangaiyargal Yamunaithanil’, about the gopis frolicking in the river and their subsequent moment of truth. But have you been to a big temple and felt the good energy during Janmashtami? One year, I went to such a temple in Delhi, and it was like walking into a party. A ‘bhajan band’ of young men was playing great beats on traditional and modern drums. The public started dancing as soon as it walked in, to periodic calls of “Hari bol!”. People sang and danced so unselfconsciously to celebrate the advent of the Lord that their genuine joy was beautiful to watch.
I have seen this in South India during Namasamkirtanam or devotional concerts when people just get up and dance in an upsurge of joy in God. I have heard that in Pandharpur in Maharashtra, on the banks of the river Chandrabhaga, at the temple of Vithoba (Krishna), devotees believe that the Lord dances in their midst. A Marathi abhang by Saint Namdev avers, ‘Namdev kirtan kari, premabhare naatse Panduranga’ (‘When Namdev sings, Krishna dances with love’).
We cannot speak of Janmashtami without a glimpse of Sri Krishna’s birthplace, Mathura. My most-visited place is the Banke Bihari temple. Pre-pandemic, the best time to go was on a weekday because the narrow lanes leading to it were tightly packed with devotees during the weekends. They came from Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and even Gujarat. Prepare to be squashed flat if you go on Janmashtami. I have been there during Holi, and the elation was at another level if you drifted along as a free-floating particle. During Shravan, the Banke Bihari temple is done up as an arbour of white flowers, a ‘monsoon mahal’. Devotees walk in through a wave of sweet jasmine and tuberose scent. It is quite a contrast to some of the austere Shiva temples I have been to. But as they say, ‘abhisheka priyo Shiva, alankara priyo Vishnu’ (‘Shiva loves ablution and Vishnu loves decoration’).
The month ends with Ganesh Chaturthi, which I don’t associate with turmoil on the streets, but with sweet childhood rituals like making a decorated cardboard umbrella for the terracotta image that we brought home and, of course, modaks. We are taught to see Sri Ganesha as a noble and good-natured presence in our lives. He is the special god of children, and he himself is dearly loved by his parents: ‘Shiva prema pindam bhaje vakratundam’, meaning ‘Hail the lord with the broken tusk, who is Shiva’s darling’.
In sum, this month is full of positive calendar highs with much to enjoy and celebrate.
Narayanan, R. (2022, July 31). FAITHLINE: Indian August is full of fun. . . The New Indian Express. https://www.newindianexpress.com/opinions/2022/aug/01/faithline-indian-august-is-full-of-fun-2482772.html