Have you heard about these ‘secret’ Indian festivals?
They say there’s a festival every day in some part of India. Some are part of popular culture, others less so. Here’s a look at some of the lesser-known ones – colourful, fun, strange and even secretive.
Koovagam: A gathering of the transgender community
The small village in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram district lends its name to 15-day annual festival that takes place in April-May every year. It’s unique because the festival celebrates the uniqueness of transgender individuals. They gather in their thousands at the Koothandavar Temple and enact a ritual of marry the resident deity. The ritual goes back to an ancient myth of Lord Vishnu assuming the form of a woman known as Mohini and marrying Shiva. Today, the festivities are accompanied by beauty parades and other contests for the participants. In recent times, with Koovagam attracting media attention the festival has also become a festival for discussing various social issues pertaining to the transgender community.
Jallikattu: The taming of bulls
Heard of the bull run of Pamplona? Well, the Jallikattu, also known as Manjavirattu, is a homespun version celebrated in Tamil Nadu. The village of Alanganallur in Madurai district is famous for this event when men try to tame and take control of bulls reared specifically for this sport. Last year, however, the courts stayed the festival following complaints from animal rights activists. The people of Alanganallur, however, hope that it will be revived and soon. To them, Jallikattu is an art form and a tradition they do not want to lose.
Kulasai Dasara: So many Kalis
The Dasara celebration of Mysore is well-known. Less-known, but no less spectacular is the one in the Mutharamman Temple in Kulasekaranpattinam not far from Thootthukkudi. The slaying of the demon Mahishasura is one of its highlights as also the thousands of devotees who arrive at the temple dressed as Kali, other forms of Durga and other gods. They fast for several days, seeking various boons from the Mutharamman, before arriving to participate in the festival.
Kunde Festival: Tribals hurl abuse at the gods
One of the high points of the Coorg calendar is the Kunde Habba celebrated by the tribals of the region in the month of May. The tribal communities in Thithimathi, Devarapura and the surrounding areas gather together and hurl abuse at the gods. The ancient story goes that Lord Aiyappa took the tribes hunting in the forest, but abandoned them when he saw the Goddess Bhadrakali and fell in love with her. So, the Kunde Habba is the tribals getting their revenge and trying also to win back the attention of the gods. Special songs are also part of the ceremonies.
Tarnetar Mela: A marriage market for tribals
This is a three-day fair held in August-September in Tarnetar in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat. The fair coincides with the Trineteshwar temple festival. Amidst much singing and traditional dancing – such as the Garba and Rasada – the villagers of Saurashtra gather here in all their festive finery. Interestingly, the celebrations also double as a marriage market for the tribals here and many an alliance is arranged at the mela.
Shigmotsav: No, it’s not the carnival
The carnival in Goa, which precedes Lent, is known everywhere. But few know that the state celebrates an impressive Hindu festival, Shigmotsav, which also comprises floats, troupes of swirling dancers and much colour and pageantry. Groups of villagers pass through the main streets of Panaji enacting scenes from the epics and other religious tales.
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