Uttar Pradesh, one of Indias largest
States, is a conglomeration of an astounding number of fairs and
festivals and the entire expanse of land with its veritable beliefs
is a treasure trove of festivities, abounding almost every month.
Perhaps, one of the
biggest crowd puller of all is the Sangam at Prayag, in
Allahabad, Believed to be imbued with sin washing powers, it is at
the confluence of the River Ganga the Yamuna and the mythical
Saraswati which is believed to be a subterranean stream at Prayag.
This confluence is the venue for a great annual bathing festival
which takes place in the month of Magh (Jan-Feb.) known as
Magh Mela. It starts on a full moon day and lasts for 15 days
toa month and attracts thousands of pilgrims who come for a dip.
Every twelfth year, this mela is known as Kumbh Mela and every
sixth year it is known as Ardh Kumbh. Kumbh is a tradition
maintained over centuries. Legend traces the origin of this unique
festival to the creation of the Universe. According to mythology, the
gods and demons once churned the oceans to retrieve a pitcher
containing the nectar of immortality amrit -- after
which a struggle ensued between the two to wrest control of this
pitcher. It is said that during the scuffle, a few drops of amrit
were spilled at places, making them hallowed and sacred. The waters
at the Sangam are believed to have received the amrit too and a dip
in these holy waters during the Kumbh is believed to cleanse and
purify the soul.
The mela attracts the
devout from all across the world, merging into one gigantic body of
worshippers. It is in actuality, a bathing ritual but living on the
banks of the Triveni and conducting rites there, holds a special
religious significance. For the mela, tents and huts sprout along the
banks which come alive to chanted mantras, and chiming bells,
sacred dips and the fragrance of incense and flowers. A huge township
springs up on over 25 acres of vacant land, and elaborate
arrangements are made to provide security and regular infrastructure
to the approximately 40,000 sadhus, 5,00,000 kalpavasis and
20,000 people who come for a few days. At the Kumbh the sadhus have
special privilege they come in a procession, to be the first
to bathe. They are followers of Shiva and are naked with matted hair.
Ash is smeared all over their bodies and many carry spears, swords,
daggers tridents and banners and they dip their spears at the holy
confluence, signaling the start of the bathing.
which is usually, on the 14th of January, signals the
start of the Maga Mela and is a significant day in the Hindu
calendar. On this day a fast is observed. Fasts or vrata is
the most ancient tradition for performing religious worship. The
hall-mark of the day, of course, is a dip in the Sangam after which
worship of various gods and goddesses is followed by distribution of
alms to the poor blankets and clarified butter (ghee)
particularly. This day is also commonly known as khichdi in
the northern parts of Uttar Pradesh.
As winter gradually
begins to wane, there is a distinct flamboyancy in the air, that is
felt instantly and Basant Panchami is celebrated with much
pomp. This is a significant festival in Uttar Pradesh. It heralds the
arrival of spring, one of the most beautiful seasons of the year. On
this day, Lord Vishnu is worshipped even as people attired in bright
yellow colour, apply a paste made of sesame seeds and also bathe with
sesame water. An elaborate feast is organized for the Brahmins. All
over the State raga basant (raga: pattern of notes; basant;
spring) resounds and in Braj Bhoomi, worship of Radha and Krishna
commences. The Goddess Saraswati too is worshipped on this day as it
is believed that Lord Krishna pleased with her bestowed a boon, which
is why see is remembered on this day.
though celebrated throughout the country, is particularly popular
here. Being one of the most important days of Lord Shivas
worship, regular fasting and worship purifies the soul and also
extricates tendencies of violence.
After Holi, in the
following months of Chaitra (March-April) is the festival of
Ram Navami. It is in honour of Lord Ramas birthday. In
Ayodhya (his birth place) a huge fair is organized that lasts for two
days. On the ninth of Navratra people keep awake the whole night.
Special worship is performed on the 10th morning and by
gifting land, cows, gold, sesame seeds and clothes, one is guaranteed
entry into heaven.
Janmashtami or the
birthday of Lord Krishna, under the Rohini Nakshatra (a
constellation of stars) in the month of August, generates a mass
fervor and hymns are sung all through the night and fasts observed.
This is followed by Sharad Purnima in the month of Asvina
(September-October), when the full moon in all its glory, showers
amrit on earth and those mortals who partake of it are granted
immense peace of mind.
Prior to these, in the
month of Shravana (July-August) is the Vrindavan Shravan
festival, observed in the temple of Rangji, in Mathura. Legend
has it that Lord Vishnu deputed His elephant to collect flowers for
him. Unfortunately the crocodile held his leg and began to drag him
into the water. Lord Vishnu rescued the elephant and killed the
crocodile. Effigies of elephants and crocodiles are floated in the
tank and the story of Gajendra Moksha enacted.
Two days before Diwali is
the festival of Dhan Teras, celebrated in honour of Goddess
Dhanvantri the divine healer and physician of the Gods. She
came out of sea, during the legendary, Samundra Manthan and
authored Ayurveda, the ancient treatise on the treatment of
diseases. People wear new clothes on this day and purchase utensils.
In the very same month of
Kartik (October-November) is Kans ke Mela. In Mathura
and Fatehpur Sikri, Agra is commemorated the destruction of Kans
(Lord Krishnas evil uncle). At the fair the effigy of Kans is
In Northern Uttar Pradesh
in the hill region(now Uttaranchal), the practice of worshipping nature is highly
prevalent. The entire year is marked with festivals where people
offer their prayers to various manifestations of nature. One such
festival in Kumaon which is followed by a fair, is Khatadua.
On this day young girls and boys decorate an ornamental platter of
flowers and fruits and offer it to the fire. After this they partake
of the Prasada. Ganga Dussehra is yet another popular festival
of the hills to commemorate the arrival of the River Ganges on earth.
A dip in the Ganga, on this day cleanses the sins of the mortals. The
Nanda Devi Festival, celebrated in the Nanda Devi Shrine, near
the local lake, is again peculiar to the hilly region. It was
originally started by Baj Bahadur Chand, contemporary of Aurangzeb.
Though most fairs have a
religious connotation, in Uttar Pradesh there are a few that have no
connections with religion yet are perennially popular Dadri
Fair in Balia that lasts for three weeks and the Cattle Fair
at Katra Gulab Singh, in Pratapgarh. Spread over several acres of
land that is owned by the feudal family of Pratapgarh and adjacent to
a beautiful property offering a panoramic view, it is a massive
congregation of humans and animals. Thousands of cattle, including
camels, cows, buffaloes and goats, are sold here and extensive
transactions take place. Commencing ten days after Dussehra, it
carries on for 20 days. People camp here and stay till deals are
sealed and prices procured. Breaking the monotony of the business are
the various means for entertainment: circus, magic shows, eateries,
stalls for knick knacks and nautanki or folk theatre. Dust
mingling with aromatic whiffs from stalls, happy faces and easy
camaraderie, drowned in loud and raucous music, all convey a deep
rooted sense of festivity not easy to match.