Jaipur may be India’s quintessential tourist city, but few can beat its vibrancy during the Teej festival when the splendor is colorful.
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Pink City meanders to Teej
Celebrated throughout Rajasthan, Tamjj is a delightful combination of faith and celebration 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 attired and bejeweled women of all ages has to be seen to be believed as they sway with their exit. In Jaipur, preparations for the festival begin much earlier, with the women scouring the markets for colorful clothes – especially the lehariya (tie-and-dye) sarees – and ornaments.
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 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 held in July-August, be prepared for the 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 huge crowds gather at the place. So you have to be really really early to get a viewpoint. The main festival falls on July 22-23 this year.
Located about 200 km from Jaipur, Bundi is one of the lesser known towns in the Hadoti region of Rajasthan. A month after the rest of the state observes Teej, Bundi celebrates the 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 outskirts of the city. A major fair is organized here along with cultural festivals. The festival falls on August 4.
VARSHA MANGAL, SHANTINIKETAN
Tribute to Tagore during monsoon
Weighed down by the monsoon blues? Escape to the green quarters 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 strip of red earth. Small streams come to life and crisscross the grooves of Khowai, while the tall palm trees nod their heads in delight.
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This is also 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 (planting trees) 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 the Halakarshan (cultivation of the land). Tagore had established the Center of Rural Reconstruction in Sriniketan to encourage the agricultural community and local artisans. As students sing Tagore’s songs, a pair of oxen tied to plowshares – all gaily decorated – are driven across a patch of land, symbolic beginning of the period of cultivation. The monsoon festival calendar closes with Varsha Mangal, an evening of cultural performances set to Tagore’s poems, plays and songs. Since the students and teachers are the performers, the date and time is determined by the university.
Shantiniketan today is a combination of the meditation center founded by Tagore’s father and the residential university founded by Tagore. The adjoining 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 EN 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 climax of most festivities.
The monks don colorful masks and flowing garments to represent various characters, including good and evil, and dance to the beat 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) made in 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 situated on a hill overlooking the Stod River and can be approached by 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 to join the locals, so arrive early and take a seat.
The extravagant Rath Yatra in Puri
Tucked away in the eastern coast of India, Puri is a seaside town, better known for its 12th-century temple Heer Jagannath. The auspicious feast of Rath 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 spectacle you won’t soon forget. The gargantuan crowd pulls the ropes tied to the axes of the towering chariots amid chants and shouts of ‘Jai Jagannath’. For more information, check out the page on Puri Rath Yatra.