Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Raksha Bandhan – The Bond of Rakhi That Defines the Love between a Brother and a Sister

Sister Tying Rakhi Around Brother's Wrist

Raksha bandhan is the festival when the sacred thread of rakhi is tied around the wrist of the brother by his sister. Raksha bandhan festival or the rakhi festival is thus the celebration of the unconditional love and affection between brothers and sisters. Sisters start the preparation of rakhi festival a fortnight before. They buy rakhis, rakhi sweets, rakhi gifts and rakhi thalis to celebrate the occasion with their brother. Raksha bandhan means a bond of protection which the sister ties around the wrist of her brother asking her to protect her.

When is rakhi celebrated?
Rakhi festival usually falls in the month of August. The 2010 raksha bandhan falls on 24th August.  

History of raksha bandhan festival
Raksha bandhan is traditionally a Hindu festival which originated some 6000 years back when the Indus Valley Civilization came into existence. During the reign of Emperor Humayun, when the Rajputs were fighting the Muslim invaders, rakhi meant a spiritual bond of protecting the sisters. Rani Karnawati sent rakhi to Emperor Humayun to protect herself and her kingdom from invader Bahadur Shah. Another account of rakhi has been found as long back as 300 B.C when the wife of Alexander the Great had sent rakhi to King Puru so that he would protect her marriage by not killing her husband in the war. Rakhi festival or rakhi utsav was all the more popularized by Rabindranath Tagore for promoting unity and commitment amongst all the members of the society.

Rakhi Bazaar
Legends of raksha bandhan festival
There are several raksha bandhan legends. It is believed that during a fierce war between the demons and the Gods, Lord Indra and his queen Indrani tied rakhi around Lord Brihaspati’s wrist powered by mantras and he in turn made the Gods victorious in the war. There’s another legend where the demon king Bali, who was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu was tied a rakhi by Goddess Lakshmi. Yamuna, the sister of Lord Yama or the Lord of Death had also tied her brother the sacred of knot of rakhi and this impressed him so much that he declared whoever would get a rakhi tied by Yamuna and would pledge to protect her, he would become immortal. It is said that even draupadi had tied a strip of cloth around Krishna’s wrist to stop his arm from bleeding in a fight against an evil king. This strip of cloth became the seed of brotherly and sisterly affection between Draupadi and Lord Krishna.
Rakhi Pooja Thali

Raksha bandhan traditions and customs
The preparation of rakhi festival begins with the rakhi puja thali. The rakhi or the raksha bandhan puja thali comprises rice grains, incense sticks, sweets, diyas or earthen lamps, roli, tilak and rakhi threads. All the family members take bath and the sisters prepare the rakshabandhan puja thali after that. Then, the family offers prayers to the deities. After that, the sisters perform aarti and tie rakhis around their brothers’ wrists. Then, they apply a tilak of kumkum powder on their brothers’ foreheads and offer rakhi sweets to them. The entire ritual takes place with the sister reciting some special mantras. In return, the brothers offer rakhi gifts to their sisters.

Rakhi Sweets
Regional rakhi celebrations
Due to numerous legends and different histories, the festival of raksha bandhan is celebrated in different ways in different parts of India. Thus, the raksha bandhan festival has various names across the entire Indian subcontinent. The rakshabandhan festival is more popular as rakhi purnima in the north and North West part of India. Nariyal purnima is popular along the Western Ghats and celebrated with great festive fervor in Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and also Karnataka. In Gujarat, Rakshabandhan day is also celebrated as Pavitropana. Avani Avittam or Upakarmam festival is celebrated in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Orissa. Rakshabandhan is more famous as Kajari Purnima or Shravani in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

Picture source: thecolorsofindia.com, talash.com, giftstoindia24x7.com, toursoperatorindia.com

Monday, August 23, 2010

Onam Festival – The Harvest Festival of Kerala

Onam festival is one of those festivals of India, which is celebrated mainly in the Southern part of India. To be precise, Onam festival is celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala. It holds the status of being the biggest festival of Kerala. The first day and the last of this ten day long festival are the most important of all. The great popularity of Onam festival and the rich cultural presentation of Kerala during this time of the year made Onam the National Festival of Kerala since 1961. The very imagination of Onam festival in Kerala conjures up images of snake boat race, decorated elephants, folk songs and dances, elaborate feasts and flowers.

Kerala Onam dates
Onam festival is traditionally celebrated during the month of Malayali Chingam which is sometime within August to September. In this season, Kerala glows up in its magnificent best with pleasantly sunny weather, lush paddy grains and fruit and flower laden trees. The festival of Onam commemorates the homecoming of the legendary King Mahabali. The Onam carnival lasts for 10 days and within those beautiful gleeful days brings out the very best of the culture and tradition of Kerala. The Kerala 2010 Onam falls on 23rd August.

Legend of Onam festival
According the legendary tale of Onam, Mahabali was a demon king, under whose reign the people of his kingdom were always happy. However, his only shortcoming was his ego and to put an end to the mighty king’s ego and ever growing popularity, the Gods from the heaven above brought an end to his reign abruptly. However, because he was otherwise a good king and was immensely attached to the people of his kingdom, he was granted the boon to make annual visits to his people by the God. So, every year Onam is celebrated to mark the legendary king’s homecoming.

Onam rituals
The first day of the ten days Onam festival is called Atham and the last day is called Thiru Onam. Onam Atham is marked by people taking early bath and offering prayers in the temples. This day also begins the Onam Pookalam ritual. The preparations of Thiru Onam also start on the same day and the ritualistic breakfast for the following festival days becomes steamed bananas with fried pappadam. The ninth day of Onam festival is called Utradam, when the Tarawads or tenants/depends of a joint family and villagers offer Onam greetings and Onam gifts to the elder most in the family or Karanavar. This Onam gifts are called Onakazhcha. On the day of Thiru Onam, people wake up very early in the morning, clean the house and smear the courtyards with cow dungs. Then conic shapes called 'Trikkakara Appan' are formed and placed in the important parts of the house. This ritual again as another legend associated with it. Elaborate poojas and prayer are performed and Nivedyam is prepared to be offered to God, followed by merry shouts or 'Aarppu Vilikkukal'. On this day, the eldest member of the family or Karanavar offers Onam gifts or Onapudava to the younger members. This is followed by a grand lunch called Onam Onasadya feast. Houses are lit with lamps or diyas in the evening and Lord Ganapathy is worshiped.

Onam dances and folk performances
Men and women join in to perform special traditional Kerala dances to beautify the glorious Onam festival all the more. The popularly performed Onam dances are –

* Kaikotti kali
* Thumbi Thullal
* Kummatti kali
* Pulikali

Onam celebrations
The best part of Onam celebrations is the grand Onasadya feast. The Onam Onasadya feast is prepared on the 10th day of Onam festival. The Onasadya feast is a nine course meals which essentially comprises 10 to 13 different varieties of traditional Keralan dishes. The Onam Onasadya feast is served traditionally on banana leaves and people relish the food sitting on a floor laid mat. The enchanting feature of the Kerala Onam festival is Vallamkali. The Onam Vallamkali is a Snake Boat Race which is held on the Pampa River. During Kerala Onam, there also lives a strong tradition of playing games. These Onam games are collectively known as Onakalilal and are the next most popular event after the Onam boat race. These include rigorous men oriented sports like Onam Talappanthukali (ball game), Onam Ambeyyal (Archery) and Kutukutu. Then of course there are these combats called Onam Kayyankali and Onam Attakalam. Onam Pookalam is another attraction. Onam Pookalam is basically a floral mat intricately designed by the women to welcome King Mahabali.

picture source: thecolorsofindia.com, rajuindia.com, allinclusivekerala.com, keralamoments.com, festivals.iloveindia.com, wismalayalee.org

How the Recent Landslides in the Hills Haven Taken a Toll on Indian Tourism

The Panorama of Leh Town in Ladakh
Floods and landslides dominated the hill tourism scene of India for at least half of the August month. One of the first places to have got affected was Himachal Pradesh. Owing to the flash floods that washed away a portion of Leh earlier this month, the National Highway -22 leading to Himachal Pradesh, got blocked. This got trapped several foreign and domestic tourists, not to mention that several tourist arrivals to Manali and nearby tourist places were called off or delayed. The British travelers were issued a travel advisory by their country to not to travel to Leh in Jammu & Kashmir.

Darjeeling Toy Train On a Fine Day
Roadways connecting Leh to Manali and Srinagar were closed to motor vehicles and this disrupted tourism in both the states all the more. Last year, Himachal Pradesh had drawn some 400,583 foreign tourists. Manali is a hotspot for backpackers from US, France, Italy, Britain and Germany because of its superb adventure tourism conditions and facilities and most tourists love to drive or trek the scenic 475 km long Manali-Leh highway. The heavy rains caused landslides in the Himalayan Buddhist Circuit along the Manali-Keylong-Kaza route and this also came as a tourism setback in India. Later, in the middle of the month, the traffic in the closed roads were partially restored, though, the highways connecting Upshi and Rumptse in Ladakh are still not out of their landslide debris. Only small vehicles are plying the partially restored routes.

Konkan Railway
The cloudburst of August 6 in Choglamsar village of Leh created fresh wounds in the face of Indian tourism after taking several lives and washing away homes and buildings with mud slides and flash floods. The roads in West Bengal's Darjeeling district also caved in owing to landslides. Not only did it upset major road links linking the hill district internally, but also suspended the Darjeeling toy train services. Around the same time, down in the southern part of India, landslide disrupted the Goa-Mumbai Konkan railway route. We can only pray for the priceless lives lost in the Leh cloudburst incident and extend the maximum support to the existing life in the village while we look up to the government with hope filled eyes to restore the face of Indian tourism in the hills as early as possible.

picture source: asiagrace.com, excusemeworld.com, travelmarg.com