Fringed by the Arabian Sea, with a hint of the
desert, prosperious and very, very beautiful, Gujarati is inhabited
by a people who find the slightest excuse to celebrate. And what
celebrations! Colour and spectacle merge together in a delightful
The year begins on a
celebratory note with Make Sankranti, and what better way to
show your freewheeling spirit than flying kites. Called Utarayan
in Gujarat, Makar Sankranti on January 13 marks the shift of the
winter sun into the northern hemisphere, indicating that spring is
but round the corner. This day is celebrated with the flying of kites
all over the state. But in Ahmedabad, where Gujarat Tourism organizes
an international kite flying competition, a seeming hysteria pervades
the city. Gujarats commercial capital is converted into a
fun-fair ground with people thronging rooftops to fly and compete in
kite-flying competitions. That prizes are offered, and competitors
come from countries as far off as Japan, Thailand, Singapore,
Australia, France and more, makes it a very lively event indeed. And
various food-stalls all over the city with their mouth-watering
snacks are like the icing on a cake of fun-filled fantasy.
Gujarat Tourism also
organizes the Kutch Desert Festival (February-March) which
aims to introduce the cultural attractions of the Kutch region. Held
in the arid Kutch, close to the Dhrang Mela which celebrates
Shivratri, the festival in honour of Lord Shiva. It is a
lyrical ballad with the full-throated music and song of the desert in
attendance, accompanied by the hypnotic beat of the regions
folk dancers. The treasures of the desert, those glowing patches of
mirror-worked embroideries, the elegant lines of furniture, work on
wood and metal, is on display, and for sale at unbelievably
inexpensive rates, following the ritual bargaining which makes it so
much fun. Gujarat Tourism sets up a tented village for visitors
during the fair; hotels are available at nearby Bhuj and Gandhidham.
The Bhavanth Fair held at Junagadh, also coincides with
Shivratri and is dedicated to the Hindu God of Destruction. While, as
in other Shiva temples, ritual worship is conducted, the Bhavnath
Fair is known for its unusually high attendance of Naga Sadhus
ascetics who are naked for they believe themselves to be sky-clad.
The ascetics and most believers bathe in the Mrig Kund, and their
arrival in stately processions and carvans is a sight that rivets
The month of March marks
Mahavir Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the founder of the
Jain sect, Lord Mahavir. A contemporary of Buddha, Mahavira Jain
founded a new religion based on tolerance and non-violence (Jain
ascetics walk bare feet lest they crush insects under their shoes,
and wear muslin patches across their nose and mouth to avoid killing
little insects by breathing them in). The anniversary celebrations
are marked with particular fervour in Palitana, a hill dotted with
Jain shrines of the most incredible beauty.
March/April is marked by
a number of fairs. The Chote Udepur Tribal Fairs, several in
number, take place in villages around Chote Udepur (base point for
visitors: Vadodara). These celebrate the harvest, and village
entertainment consisting of gymnastics and tribal dances adds to the
colour. Fourteen days after Holi, the Chitra Vichitra Tribal Fair
in North Gurarat, in the foothills of the Aravallis, combines
mourning and nostalgia for the dead with betrothals between members
of the Bhil community. This fair, held at the confluence of the Sai
and Pihari rivers, is a showcase of tribal culture. However, two
weeks before Holi, another tribal fair is held during the Dangs
Darbar. The Dangs region close to the hill resort of Saputara, is
a tribal belt, and during this darbar or court, the chieftains
of all the aboriginal villages of the area meet for a conclave.
Feasting is a natural fallout, complete with music and dancing.
There is more yet in
March/April. Close to Porbandar (where Mahatama Gandhi was born and
lived as a youth) is Madhavpur with a clean beach and a shore temple.
Here it is believed, Lord Krishna married his wife, Rukmini. On the
occasion of the Madhavpur Fair, the Mer tribals of the region
re-enact the marriage ceremony with all its colourful traditions.
And finally, also in
March/April, the Shah Alam Fair is held at the Ahmedabad
mausoleum of the 15th century religious leader of the same
Ahmed Shah, the Muslim
founder of the city of Ahmedabad, looked up to Shah Ahmed Khattu Gunj
Baksh for guidance. His memory is consecrated in the Sarkhej Fair
held at Sarkhej, a little away from the city limits, every
Gujarat has a large
concentration of Parsees, members of the Zoarashtrian community. The
Parsee New Year, Pateti, is celebrated in Ahmedabad and
in South Gujarat where the Parsees are concentrated.
Janamashtmi as we know it in the rest of the country, is
celebrated in August/September, commemorating the birth of Lord
Krishna. The monsoonal weather at this time of the year appropriately
recalling the stormy, wet night on which Krishna was born. He grew up
to rule the seaside town of Dwarka, and died there. Celebrations at
the temples here are naturally festive.
of Rajasthans Pushkar Fair is the Tarnetar Fair (August/
September). It is said that it was at Tarnetar that Draupadis
swayambar or betrothal to the five Pandava brothers (heroes of
the epic tale, the Mahabharata) took place. On this occasion, at the
Shiva temple here, members of pastoral communities such as the
Rabaris and Bhadrawads gather for choosing their life-companions.
Dressed in their best, young men and women size up their prospects as
they gather in one of Indias most colourful fairs. Nor is this
a social occasion alone, for it is believed that the Ganga once
flowed here, and so prayers at the temple by day are accompanied by
song and dance at night. And once-upon-a-time dreams of
lovers find a meeting ground for the happily-ever-afters.
Accommodation in the fair grounds is arranged in tents, while hotels
are available at Wankaner and Rajkot close by.
spectacular event is Navratri, the festival of nine nights
celebrated in September/October. Starting ten days before Dusshera
when effigies of Ravana are burnt to celebrate the victory of Lord
Rama over the demon-king, it takes place all over the state, from the
smallest hamlet to its bustling cities. People keep fasts, prepare
special meals to be eaten just one a day, and fill in the evenings
with performances of Gujarats most popular dance forms, the
garba and the dandiya raas. Sticks clack-clack as
dancers whirl around in circles, maintaining a beat with their sticks
which they bounce off their partners stick as they bend and twirl and
move in graceful movements.
November too has a large
number of celebrations. The Vautha Livestock fair is held near
Lothal, one of the most important sites of the Indus Valley
civilization. Fittingly, the fair is a trading event for livestock
and donkeys, an activity that is as old as civilization itself.
Another livestock fair, the Sidhpur Camel Fair, is held near
Patan. A modest event, since camels are not nearly as important in
Gurarat as in Rajasthan. Nevertheless it has all the colour and
spectacle of any other Gujarati mela.
The same month, the
Somnath Mahadeo Fair (at the great Somnath shore temple near
Veraval) celebrates the wedding of Kartikeya, Parvati and Shivas
son, with dances and stage shows. Somnath is considered one of
Hinduisms holiest shrines. The Shamlaji Fair, held at
the Shamlaji shrine in the North Gujarat Aravallis close to the
border of Rajasthan, lasts 21 days, and attracts tribals form the
neighbouring regions. The fair is a spectacular event. Getting there,
however, is not convenient, and accommodation is in Rajasthans
Dungarpur, a former royal state. The Pavagadh Fair in Pavagadh
is held in honour of the Goddess Mahakali, while the Swaminarayan
Fair (held at most Swaminarayan temples in the state) is best
seen at Gadhada.
All too soon its
the end of the year, and Makar Sankranti time again, a time to
take wing with the kites in the sky.