The Tribune - Spectrum

, March 10, 2002

Culture as reflected in festivals and fairs
Kuldip Kalia

Encyclopaedia of Fairs and Festivals by Som Deb and B. Sinha. Raj Publications. Delhi. Pp 256. Rs 750

THE culture of any nation is reflected through the seasonal and colourful celebrations, thereby making fairs and festivals the significant and wonderful prism of our social, moral and religious values and traditions. These, in fact, act as ‘binding’ and depict the sense of oneness among the different communities and regions. Such celebrations are, perhaps, the best ways of keeping our past intact and maintaining continuity with the future. These are the so-called memorable and symbolic events.

These are also the symbols of devotion and the secular character of a nation. Anyway, can you name the deity who is worshipped by both the Hindus and Muslims in the Sunderbans of Bengal? Here is a hint. She is not Devi but called as Bibi. She is Banbibi. Thus in the forest region, she does not simply act as the protector but also symbolises the image of our secularism. Similarly Khwajr Khizr — the saint of bhestis is of Muslim origin but is regarded as ‘god of water’ by the Hindus.

Truly speaking, fairs and festivals are the great source of inspirations, information and knowledge. Many of us may not be knowing that on the Akshaya Tritiya festival, Hindus do not take salt as a ‘token of austerity’. Simply barley flour mixed water and sugar is taken and that is too after taking a bath in some sacred river.


If November is the ‘All Saints’ Day’ for Christians how can they forget about ‘All Soul’s Day’ which falls on November 2. This day is for the ‘near and dear’ ones who are not alive. Prayers are offered in the cemetery. They believe in the survival of human beings beyond death and reaffirm the ‘hope for salvation’ through the mercy of God.

Some of our festivals are, in fact, agricultural festivals and these are linked with fertility. The ambuvaci/Amati/Ameti Festival" is a four-day-long ritual. Hindus believe that the Mother Earth menstruates during this period and thereby any kind of ploughing/digging is not allowed. Even sexual intercourse is forbidden. Then comes the "Bhekuliar-biya" festival which means of frogs" This is linked with "magical rites associated with the fertility cult".

There is a myth that the world was created by Lord Brahma on the first day of Chaitra. This is observed as Chaitra Pratipada mainly in Maharashtra. If this is true, how can we forged chaturmasa when Lord Vishnu goes to sleep? Such an event, perhaps, make it ‘inauspicious’ for marriages etc. When Lord Vishnu sleeps, then there must be an occasion for celebration on his awakening oh! that is there, it is Deo-uthan Ekadashi.

Undoubtedly, Hindus, Sikhs and Jains can have different reasons for celebration but they do celebrate Divali. For Hindus, Lord Rama returned from Lanka. It is also believed that Lord Shiva declared this day as auspicious for gambling. In many parts of India, this tradition of gambling is still prevalent. Even for thieves, it is the day for ‘good luck’. If they commit big robbery successfully then it brings good fortune throughout the year. For the Jains, Lord Mahavira obtained final Nirvana. But Sikhs celebrate it in the honour of their sixth Guru, Hargobind who reached Amritsar after his release from captivity.

One should know why do we call ‘Good Friday as ‘Good,’ particularly when it is the day of "passion and death of Jesus on the cross! It is considered to be the source of "Man’s salvation" and to get "relief from sufferings".

Magh Mela is said to be a smaller version of Kumbh Mela. Besides other places, people come to Allahabad for a period of one month. The reason is to have a bath in the Sangam every morning. The festival Makar Sankranti has its own mythological interpretation. Bhishma is said to have waited till this day in order to seek permission for entering heaven directly. This is Ultarayana when Surya believes to have changed his orbit and entered Makara-Rishi. But for rural folks in Andhra Pradesh, it is an occasion to be used for purchasing the clothes for the whole year.

There is an interesting story for Naga Panchamai Mela. There is a deep well, popularly known as Naga Kuan, in northern Kashi where the people from the region plunge into the water which is about thirty feet deep. This is said to have emerged from the netherworld’s Patala, which is the realm of the nagas.

Name any month, any religion, any country where fairs and festivals are not performed or celebrated but this book deals with India only. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains and others celebrate one occasion or the other almost throughout the year and sometimes two or three festivals in one month.

Every state, whether it is Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Assam, Nagaland or Punjab, has a list of exclusive range of festivals. In Orissa, if you find the Rath Yatra, then Pushkar Mela is celebrated in Rajasthan; Renuka fair in Himachal; Maghi Mela/Baisakhi in Punjab so on and so forth. Then there are festivals exclusively for women such as "Karva Chauth’, Teej or Teejri. There is a season for cattle fairs like ‘Nalwari cattle fair’. How can we forget about religious centres like Amritsar, Varanasi, Hardwar, Vrindavan, Rameshwaram etc?

The author deserves a word of appreciation for producing this volume but there is a scope for improvement. At certain places, the information is scanty, and, there are some places which need to be incorporated. Magh Mela could not find a place in the ‘index’.