India is a potpourri of the new and old, the modern and traditional.
Below are some of the extraordinary festivals (sometimes bordering on weird) celebrated in the country:
1) Puli Kali - Kerala
This is a festival observed annually for Onam, which sees thousands of male devotees take to the streets to dance and prance with their bodies painted like tiger. They would also play hide-and-seek games with men dressed as hunters. It is said that this practice, which translates into "play of the tiger", dates back a couple of hundred years when a local king introduced this folk art.
2) Garudan Thookam - Kerala
In this festival, people literally "hang around" from hooks. Participants dress up as Garuda with elaborate headdresses and costumes and sing and dance, before hanging themselves upside down from sharp hooks that pierce several parts of their bodies.
The pierced Garudas (eagles) are then taken around the city temple to seek Goddess Kali's blessings. However, recent days have seen devotees hanging around not with hooks, but by bloth tied around their waists.
3) Pushkar Fair - Rajasthan
This five-day event is the biggest cattle fair in Asia, and sees camels participating in races while dressed in quirky costumes and adorned with jewellery and ornaments. Besides races, the animals also compete in beauty pageants, and take part in musical chairs! The festival also have categories where camel owners can compete, such as measuring the longest moustache and who can tie a turban the fastest.
4) Theyyam - Kerala
This festival sees dancers, dressed in intricate costumes and makeup, dance while being "possessed" by the spirits of Gods and mystical figures. Some dancers sport headwear that can go up to 60 feet tall!
5) Lathmar Holi - Uttar Pradesh
This colorful festival sees participatants lobbing colored powder at each other, and in Barsana, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, ladies hurl sticks at men who try to avoid them. Men who are unfortunate enough to escape on time are made to dress in skirts and dance, all in the name of fun, of course.
6) Dhinga Gavar - Rajasthan
In this festival, women dress up as dacoits, queens, kings, police, and sages. So elaborate are the celebrations that they rent costumes days in advance and hire makeup artists to get them into their respective roles. They then patrol the streets after sunset and beat men who cross their paths with sticks. Some men deliberately try to get beaten as it is believed that those who get beaten by these women will get hitched to the girl of his dreams.
7) Agni Keli - Karnataka
These fiery festival sees male devotees, dressed only in their lower body, throwing burning palm stalks at each other for 15 minutes straight. It is believed that the bizarre ritual would appease goddess Durga.
8) Kaya Klesh - Mumbai
This painful event is carried out by Jain Monks, who pluck each strand of hair on their heads, one-by-one, by hand. The excruciating practice is done at least once or twice a year, when the hair grows back. In the Jain tradition, the hair symbolizes illusion and attachment - from which man needs to be liberated. As the process can become extremely painful, the participants' scalps are first dusted with dried cow dung ash before the plucking begins.
9) Banni Festival - Andhra Pradesh
In this festival, devotees gather with sticks in their hands and hit each other - often resulting in a bloody aftermath. Every year, dozens of devotees end up in the hospital after celebrating this festival to celebrate the victory of Lord Malla Malleswara Swamy and Goddess Parvati over demons, and authorities' attempt to stop the practice from taking place have proven futile.
10) Karni Mata festival - Rajasthan
Most of us would run 10 miles upon spotting a rat, but the people who throng the 600-year-old Karni Mata Temple (Temple of Rats) feed rats and some even have the food from which rats have taken a bite, as it is believed to bring good luck. Besides, the devotees also await the chance to spot the "holy" white rats, which make occassional appearances at the temples.
So there you go, some rather weird festivals observed in the land of diversity. Which one do you think is the most bizarre?
Photo source: Listverse, traveltriangle.com, wikipedia
Tue Feb 08 2022