The colours and vibrancies associated with Indian festivals are aplenty but there is also an unconventional and quirky side to belief systems in India. Although these celebrations are restricted to their regions of origin, the stories are not.
Fighting a bull at Jallikattu
A cultural festival from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Jallikattu is a bull taming festival. It is part of the famous Pongal celebrations and is observed on the Mattu Pongal day-third day of the four-day event. The word Jallikattu comes from Tamil words jalli which implies gold or silver coins and kattu which means tied. Hundreds of men chase bulls with gold or silver coins attached to their horns. The idea is to catch the prize and claim victory over these tough bulls which are raised wild and fed well in order to make them sturdy and fit for fighting. As opposed to what many assume, the bull isn’t killed in Jallikattu. In fact, the bull that wins is used to service numerous cows preserving the native breed. Jallikattu is a renowned as an ancient ‘sport’, believed to have been practised some 2500 years ago.
A battle of fire during Agni Kheli
Every year in the month of April, the Festival of Kateel Durga Parameswari is celebrated in the temple town of Kateel, 30 km from Mangalore in Karnataka. Performed amidst temple heads and devotees, the festival lasts eight to ten days. Each day of the event, the participants gather before the crack of dawn and worship their gods. They then assemble in an open ground to play the game of fire. The participants are divided into two groups and each one is given five throws of fired palm fronds. Observed in order to appease Hindu goddess Durga, the festival means no harm to fellow participants and some referees make sure that the throws do not turn personal. The fire battle is intense and lasts 15 minutes every day for eight to ten days. After the fire fight, devotees walk towards the temple, where another 5 minutes of fire throwing takes place. The injured are sprayed with holy water called Kumkumarchane.
Mass flogging during Muharram
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and literally means the ‘forbidden’. It is a holy month observed with days of fasts, remembrance and mourning. It marks the anniversary of the battle of Karbala, in which Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was martyred. A yearly mourning, Muharram commemorates the incident. On its tenth day or the Ashura, Shiite worshippers flog themselves as sign of grief for Imam Hussein. During processions, men mercilessly flog their bodies with blades attached to chains and bleed themselves to a state of utter devotional trance where they claim to feel no pain.
Skewer through at the Taipusam festival
Dedicated to the Hindu god of war, Lord Murugan, the festival Thaipusma is celebrated by the Tamil community in India and also in Malaysia, Singapore and Guadeloupe. It falls on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai and marks the occasion when Parvati – the Hindu goddess of love, fertility and devotion gave a vel (spear) to Murugana- son of Shiva, so that he could kill the demon Soorapadman. The festival thus marks the destruction of the evil. To celebrate it, to offer their prayers and to seek holy blessings, Hindu devotees pierce various parts of their bodies with skewers passing through layers of their skin.
Be a Tiger at Pulikali festival
The participants paint themselves as tigers and hunters in yellow, red and black and dance to entertain a large crowd in Thrissur in Kerala. Celebrated on the fourth day of the famed Onam celebrations in this part of the country, Pulikali involves singing and dancing to traditional folk beats. Otherwise a male dominated festival, lately Pulikali has begun to see participation by females too.