Jaipur may be India’s quintessential tourist city, but few can beat its vibrancy during the Teej festival when the splendor is colorful.
Pink City swings towards Teej
Celebrated throughout Rajasthan, Tamjj is a delightful combination of faith and festival and is mainly observed by women. While the day begins with married women praying to Goddess Parvati for the well-being of their husbands, the rest of the traditional two-day festival is spent dressing up, singing, dancing and sharing specially made sweets. One of the biggest attractions of this festival is the flowery swings. The gaiety of the colorfully dressed and bejeweled women of all ages must be seen to be believed as they swing their exit. In Jaipur, preparations for the festival start much earlier, with women scouring the markets for colorful clothes – especially the lehariya (tie-and-dye) sarees – and ornaments.
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On the day of Teej, a huge procession starts from the Tripoliya Gate of the City Palace in the late afternoon. Teams of musicians and dancers, processions of horses, elephants and oxen precede the palanquin carrying the idol of Goddess Parvati, known as Teej Mata. The procession ends at the Chaugan. To celebrate the festival, the state tourism department usually organizes a five-day cultural festival here that brings together different groups not only from Rajasthan but also from other states. Last year, a Food and Craft Bazaar was also organized for the occasion in Shilpagram. Since Teej is a monsoon festival and is held in July-August, be prepared for rain and humid climate. With countless hotels, and this is outside the regular tourist season, finding accommodation is not a problem. But remember, Jaipur’s Teej procession – an excellent photo-op is very popular and a humongous crowd gathers at the spot. So you really have to be very early to get a vantage point. The main festival falls on July 22-23 this year.
Located about 200 km from Jaipur, Bundi is one of the lesser known cities in the Hadoti region of Rajasthan. A month after the rest of the state observes Teej, Bundi celebrates Kajli Teej. Here too, the goddess is carried in a colorful palanquin and taken in a procession that culminates in a huge compound on the edge of the city. A major fair is organized here, together with cultural festivals. The festival falls on August 4.
VARSHA MANGAL, SHANTINIKETAN
Tribute to Tagore during monsoon
Weighed by the monsoon blues? Escape to the leafy neighborhoods of Shantiniketan, the abode of peace, about 140 km from Kolkata. Watch the dark monsoon clouds roll in from the horizon and pour their moisture over the vast and undulating swath of red earth. Small streams come to life and crisscross the grooves of Khowai, while the tall palm trees nod their heads in delight.
This is also the time when Viswa Bharati, the internationally renowned university founded by poet Rabindranath Tagore and housed in Shantiniketan, prepares to observe two of its lesser-known festivals. During every Shravan (which falls on August 7 this year), the university holds a simple ceremony to pay tribute to the founder on his death anniversary and observe the tradition of Briksharopan (tree planting) that Tagore himself had introduced. Amid the display of Rabindrasangeet, a guest of honor plants a sapling (usually carried to the site in a decorated palanquin by a group of traditionally dressed young men). The next day, Sriniketan, about three kilometers from the university, celebrates Halakarshan (cultivation of the land). Tagore had established the Rural Reconstruction Center in Sriniketan to encourage the agricultural community and local artisans. As students sing Tagore’s songs, a pair of oxen tied to a plowshare – all gaily decorated – is driven across a piece of land, a symbolic beginning of the period of cultivation. The monsoon festival calendar concludes with Varsha Mangal, an evening of cultural performances based on Tagore’s poems, plays and songs. Because the students and teachers are the executors, the date and time are determined by the university.
Shantiniketan today is a combination of the meditation center founded by Tagore’s father and the residential college founded by Tagore. The adjacent village and railway of Bolpur has grown into a busy trading town. About 140 km from Kolkata, Bolpur is also connected to the city by train. Tourist accommodation – hotels, resorts and homestays – are located in and around the city. The place is known for its batik printed textiles and leather goods, terracotta art and paintings.
PHYANG AND GUSTOR, LADAK
A glimpse into the festivities of Ladakh
The monasteries of Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir, are known for their festive pageantry. Since the harsh climate and difficult lifestyle leave little time for enjoyment, these festivals draw huge crowds from the surrounding towns and villages.Chhams are the highlight of most festivities.
The monks wear colorful masks and flowing garments to represent various characters, including good and evil, and dance to the rhythm of traditional music played by an orchestra of long flutes and trumpets, drums and other strange musical instruments. Although the story of the dance dramas may differ from festival to festival, the underlying theme is invariably the triumph of good over evil. About 49 km west of Leh (and along the more famous Spituk Gompa), Phyang was founded in the 16th century and is home to the monks of the Kagyupa sect of Buddhism. Like hemis, every three years an ancient thangka (scroll painting) created in the memory of the monk Skyabje Jigten Gombo is put on display for the public.
From Kargil, about 12 hours from Leh, the road winds to Zanskar in southern Ladakh. Karsha, Zanskar’s largest monastery, is located on a hill overlooking the Stod River and can be approached from the town of Padum on the opposite bank. Karsha’s Gustor festival (also celebrated by other monasteries at different times) is known for the rituals and elaborate dance performed by the black-hatted monks. With the gradually increasing popularity of the region, a large number of Indian and foreign guests come to join the locals, so arrive early and take a seat.
The extravagant Rath Yatra in Puri
Tucked away in India’s eastern coast, Puri is a seaside town better known for its 12th-century temple Lord Jagannath. The auspicious festival of Ratha Yatra (Chariot festival) in Puri is as famous as Jagannath Temple. This festival is also called Gundicha Jatra, Navadina Jatra, Ghosa Jatra or Dasavatara Jatra. The three gigantic chariots rolling down the Bada Danda of Puri, pulled by a sea of people, is a sight you will not soon forget. The gigantic crowd pulls on the ropes tied to the axles of the towering chariots amid chants and shouts of ‘Jai Jagannath’. For more information, check out the page on Puri Rath Yatra.