India has festivals throughout the year, but there are some unheard ancient ones being practised to this day. From dancing on fire and rolling on banana leaves to doing absolutely nothing, here is a list of some unique celebrations from across the subcontinent.
‘Baara masare tera parbaa’ — a popular quote from Odisha, which means 13 festivals in 12 months. This could not be more true in the Indian context — a land brimming with festivals throughout the year.
A blur of colour and activity, a gush of emotion, and a chance for people, regardless of caste or colour, to come together and celebrate, the festivals in India are almost magnetic, drawing people from every corner of the country, and uniting them with a knot of culture.
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But even so, if you live in India or not, there are countless festivals that go by that are unheard of. Be it the wicker basket-weaving festival in Kashmir or ‘Shoonya’ the festival of nothingness, these uncommon fests are the essence of India, and here’s taking a look at them.
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1. Kashmiri Ancient Basket Fishing Festival
When it’s summertime in Kashmir, there is a designated day when the men, women and children of the land, line up along the river banks; wicker baskets at the ready. The grand fishing festival commences, and the air around could not be filled with more excitement.
At the word ‘Go!’, hundreds of men wade into the muddy waters, hitching up their salwars and plunging the baskets into the water. And if luck is on their side, the baskets are pulled out from the water with numerous fish along with weeds, hence cleansing the water in the process. A bag on the head is where the catch is stored.
When: Third week of May
2. Shoonya Festival
“To go beyond our own selves and lose the ego, and acknowledge the tiny nature of existence of the self in the vast, ever-abundant cosmos,” reads the Shoonya festival’s description. The festival invites artists, healers, meditators, travellers, gypsies, professionals, shamans, explorers, and those looking for magic in silence.
If you’re intrigued about the activities that take place during this zero-waste festival, well, that’s the beauty of it all. Nothing! Find yourself, and connect with the people around you.
Where: Jibhi, Himachal Pradesh
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3. Madai Festival
There is no better time to experience the beauty of Chhatisgarh than during the Madai festival. The festival comprises various folk activities that are dedicated to Goddess Kesharpal Kesharpalin Devi, one of the tribal deities, in an attempt to please her. As a tourist, you can watch the various dances, admire folk art, or even shop for tribal handicrafts made.
Where: Kanker, Bastar and Dantewada, Madhya Pradesh
When: December to March
4. Bani Festival
It is said that the immensity of the peace and emotion you experience during the Bani festival is unparalleled. Picture this — streets thronging with crowds of people chanting a string of words with lanterns and torches, and lathis (long sticks). As the legend goes, two demons — Mani and Mallasura — would trouble the noble men in the Devaragattu region.
It’s said that getting rid of the demons from this region was made possible only because of Lord Mala Malleswara Swamy and Goddess Parvati Devi. That’s why, to this day, the locals hit each other lightly on the head with the lathi to signify the victory of the gods.
Where: Andhra Pradesh
5. Made Snana
Enjoying your food takes over a whole new meaning at this festival in Karnataka. Banana leaves on which food had previously been served to Brahmins are kept in a line during the Shashti festival, and people roll on these leaves. While it sounds absurd, the reasoning behind the 500-year-old festival is manyfold. Some go through the rolling practice to cure a skin condition, whereas others do it to purify themselves of sins. Then there are those who roll to fulfil a vow they had taken.
If you have an appetite for adventure, the Theyyam festival will satiate it. There are numerous adventure activities throughout the course of the festival, all dedicated to pleasing the deity. It is believed that the men who perform these extraordinary practices are supreme, and people flock to take their blessings.
Several daring stunts are performed during the festival. Some of them include — dancing while wearing a crown of hair of length 10-12 metres, dancing with burning wicks of wire tied around the waist, walking on fire embers and more.
These 800-year-old practices are believed to impress the celestial bodies.
7. Sufi Festival
Unlike the other festivals, where you are a bystander, the Sufi festival celebrates you in all your uniqueness. The festive air is filled with the chants of soulful music that tug at every heartstring. As the sun goes down in Rajasthan, and the palaces and heritage homes are bathed in a wonderful orange glow, the air seems almost electric with the harmony of Sufi music — which history says has been the bridge between the East and the West.
8. Holla Mohalla Anandpur Sahib
A festival that celebrates valour, bravery, courage, and the display of brotherhood, the Halla Mohalla Anandpur Sahib is a variation of Holi and is celebrated in March as spring sets in. It was initiated by the 10th Sikh leader Guru Gobind Singh in the 10th century and is celebrated by the Sikh warrior order in Punjab.
Numerous campsites are set up across Punjab, and community kitchens are organised here, wherein batches of food are prepared. On the last day of the festival, the warrior Sikhs display horsemanship.
9. Tarnetar Mela
The Tranetar Mela is a burst of colour and activity that takes place in Gujarat. Resembling a fair, the festival is a tribute to Draupadi’s swayamvar, and in fact, a wonderful opportunity for young men and women who are looking for partners. Women who are married wear a black zimi (skirt), and those looking to mingle wear a red zimi. Men meanwhile wear colourful dhotis (a traditional Indian dress).
When: August to September
10. Agni Keli
You wouldn’t want to be put on the streets to witness this eight-day festival in Karnataka. A daring celebration, the agni keli or firefight is commemorated by bare-bodied devotees hurling flaming palms at each other. In this, a person can attach their opponent only five times; the sixth time the palm frond is discarded. The one to get burnt first is then sprayed with water.
The centuries-old festival is practised by devotees to please the goddess and can be witnessed at the Kateel Durga Parameshwari Temple in Mangaluru.
Edited by Pranita Bhat