Feast, Festival, Spring, Celebration, Popular, Ceremony
For the history of the cult there is in these works much to interest one in the description and determination of popular festivals in honor of the great sectarian gods. Further details of more specific nature are given in other works which need not here be regarded. By far the most important of these festivals are those that seem to have been absorbed by the sectarian cults, although they were originally more popular. Weber in the paper on the r[=a]jas[=u]ya, to which we have had occasion several times to refer, has shown that a popular element abided long in the formal celebrations of the Brahmanic ritual. is soundly beaten; that gaming creeps into the ceremony as a popular aspect; that there was a special ceremony to care katsenjammer caused by over-drinking; and that the whole ceremony was a popular spring festival, such as is found to-day (but without the royal part in the play).
Undoubtedly the original celebration was a popular one. Today the most interesting of these popular fêtes is in all respects the New Year's Festival and the Spring Festival. The latter has been cut up into several parts, and to show the whole intent of the original ceremonial it is necessary to take up the disjecta membra and place them side by side, as has been done by Wilson, whose sketch of these two festivals, together with that by Gover of the New Year's Feast called Pongol, we give in abstract, premising that, however close be the comparison with European festivals of like nature, we doubt whether there is any historical connection between them and the Hindu celebrations.
We begin with the more popular New Year's, the Pongol: The interesting feature of this South India festival is that the Hindus have done their best to alter its divinities and failed. They have, indeed, for Indra and Agni got Krishna formally accepted as the god in whose honor it is supposed to be held, but the feast remains a native festival, and no one really thinks of the Puranic gods in connection with it. Europe also has seen such dynamic alterations of divinities in cases where feasts would insist till patrons of an orthodox kind were foisted upon them to give an air of propriety to that which remained heathenish. The Pongol is a New Year's festival lasting for three days. The first day is for Indra; the second, for (Agni) S[=u]rya; the third (to which is added, as a wind-up, a fourth day), for cattle. The whole feast is a harvest-home and celebration of cattle. The chief ceremony is the cooking of rice, which is put to boil with great solemnity, and luck for the next year is argued from its boiling well. If it does so a universal shout arises, all rush about, congratulate, and give presents to each other, and merry-making follows. On the cattle-days the beasts are led about with painted horns and decorated with ribbons, and are then chased and robbed by the boys. The image of Ganeça is the only one seen, and his worship is rather perfunctory. On the evening of the last day the women have a party, paying obeisance to a peacock, and indulging in a family reunion of very simple character. On this occasion the girl-wife may return for a few hours to her mother. It is the only general fête for women during the year.
Not unlike this festival of the extreme south is the New Year's celebration at the mouth of the Ganges. Here there is a grand fair and jewels are cast into the river as propitiation to the river-goddess. Not long ago it was quite customary to fling children also into the river, but this usage has now been abolished. Offerings are made to the Manes, general and particular, and to the All-gods. As with the Pongol, the feast is one of good-fellowship where presents are distributed, and its limit is the end of the third day. After this the festivities have no religious character. Thousands of pilgrims assemble for this fête. Wilson, who gives an account of this celebration, compares the ancient Roman New Year's, with the mutui amoris pignora which were sent at that season. The gifts in India are sweetmeats and other delicacies, ominous of good for the next year.
On the 2d of February occurs a feast to Çr[=i], or Lakshm[=i], Vishnu's bride, patroness of all prosperity to her worshippers. At present it is a literary festival on which all books, inkstands, pens, etc., are cleaned and worshipped, as adjuncts to Sarasvat[=i], the goddess of learning. This is rather significant, for Sarasvat[=i] is properly the wife of Brahm[=a], but the Vishnuites of Bengal have made her the wife of Vishnu, and identified her with Çr[=i]. It is to be noticed that in this sole celebration of abstract learning and literature there is no recognition of Çiva, but rather of his rival. Çiva and Ganeça are revered because they might impede, not because, as does Sarasvat[=i], they further literary accomplishment. Sarasvat[=i] is almost the only fair goddess. She is represented not as a horror, but as a beautiful woman sitting on a lotus, graceful in shape, a crescent on her brow. The boys, too, celebrate the day with games, bat and ball, prisoner's base, and others "of a very European character." The admixture of sectarian cults is shown by the transference to this Vishnuite feast of the Çivaite (Durg[=a]) practice of casting into the river the images of the goddess. When applied distinctly to Sarasvat[=i] the feast is observed in August-September; when to Lakshm[=i], in October-November, or in February. There is, however, another feast, celebrated in the North and South, which comes on the exact date fixed by the Romans for the beginning of spring, and as an ending to this there is a feast to K[=a]ma, Cupid, and his bride Rati ('Enjoyment'). This is the Vasanta, or spring festival of prosperity and love, which probably was the first form of the Lakshm[=i]-Sarasvat[=i] feast.
Another traditional feast of this month is the 10th (the eleventh lunar day of the light half of M[=a]gha). The eleventh lunar day is particularly holy with the Vishnuites, as is said in the Brahma Pur[=a]na, and this is a Vishnuite festival. It is a day of fasting and prayer, with presents to priests. It appears to be a mixture of Vedic prayers and domestic Vishnu-worship. On the 11th of February the fast is continued, and in both the object is expiation of sin. The latter is called the feast of 'six sesamum acts,' for sesamum is a holy plant, and in each act of this rite it plays a part. Other rites of this month are to the Manes on the 14th, 22d, and 24th of February. Bathing and oblation are requisite, and all are of a lustral and expiatory nature. Wilson remarks on the fact that it is the same time of year in which the Romans gave oblations to the Manes, and that Februus is the god of purification. "There can be no reasonable doubt that the Feralia of the Romans and the Çr[=a]ddha (feast to the Manes) of the Hindus, the worship of the Pitris and of the Manes, have a common character, and had a common origin."
The 27th of February is the greatest Çivaite day in the year. It celebrates Çiva's first manifestation of himself in phallic form. To keep this day holy expiates from all sin, and secures bliss hereafter. The worshipper must fast and revere the Linga. Offerings are made to the Linga. It is, of course, a celebration formed of unmeaning repetitions of syllables and the invocation of female Çaktis, snapping the fingers, gesticulating, and performing all the humbug called for by Çivaite worship. The Linga is bathed in milk, decorated, wrapped in bilva leaves, and prayed to; which ceremony is repeated at intervals with slight changes. All castes, even the lowest, join in the exercises. Even women may use the mantras. Vigil and fasting are the essentials of this worship.
The next festival closes these great spring celebrations. It bears two names, and originally was a double feast, the first part being the Dol[=a] Y[=a]tr[=a], or 'Swing-procession,' the second part being the execrable Holi. They are still kept distinct in some places, and when this occurs the Dolotsava, or Dol[=a] Y[=a]tr[=a], follows the Holi. They are both spring festivals, and answer roughly to May-day, though in India they come at the full moon of March. We have followed Wilson's enumeration of all the minor spring feasts, that they may be seen in their entirety. But in ancient times there was probably one long Vasantotsava (spring-festival), which lasted for weeks, beginning with a joyous celebration (2d of February) and continuing with lustral ceremonies, as indicated by the now detached feast days already referred to. The original cult, in Wilson's opinion, has been changed, and the Dol[=a] Y[=a]tr[=a] is now given over to the Krishna-cult, while the Hol[=i] divinity is a hobgoblin. The Dol[=a] Yatr[=a] begins with fasting and ends (as Hol[=i]) with fire-worship. An image of Krishna is sprinkled with red powder (ab[=i]r), and after this (religious) ceremony a bonfire is made, and an effigy, Holik[=a], is put upon it and burned. The figure is carried to the fire in a religious procession headed by Vishnuite or Brahman priests, of course accompanied with music and song. After seven circumambulations of the fire the figure is burned. This is the united observance of the first day. At dawn on the morning of the second day the image of Krishna is placed in a swing, dol[=a], and swung back and forth a few times, which ceremony is repeated at noon and at sunset. During the day, wherever a swing is put up, and in the vicinity, it is the common privilege to sprinkle one's friend with the red powder or red rose-water. Boys and common people run about the streets sprinkling red water or red powder over all passengers, and using abusive (obscene) language. The cow-herd caste is conspicuous at this ceremony. The cow-boys, collecting in parties under a koryphaios, hold, as it were, a komos, leaping, singing, and dancing through the streets, striking together the wands which they carry. These cow-boys not only dress (as do others) in new clothes on this occasion, but they give their cattle new equipments, and regard the whole frolic as part of a religious rite in honor of Krishna, the cow-herd. But all sects take part in the performance (that is to say, in the Hol[=i] portion), both Çivaites and Vishnuites. When the moon is full the celebration is at its height. Hol[=i] songs are sung, the crowd throws ab[=i]r the chiefs feast, and an all-night orgy ends the long carousal. In the south the Dol[=a] takes place later, and is distinct from the Hol[=i]. The burning here is of K[=a]ma, commemorating the love-god's death by the fire of Çiva's eye, when the former pierced the latter's heart, and inflamed him with love. For this reason the bonfire is made before a temple of Çiva. K[=a]ma is gone from the northern cult, and in upper India only a hobgoblin, Hol[=i], a foul she-devil, is associated with the rite. The whole performance is described and prescribed in one of the late Pur[=a]nas. In some parts of the country the bonfire of the Hol[=i] is made about a tree, to which offerings are made, and afterwards the whole is set on fire. For a luminous account of the Hol[=i], which is perhaps the worst open rite of Hinduism, participated in by all sects and classes, we may cite the words of the author of Ante-Brahmanical Religions: "It has been termed the Saturnalia or Carnival of the Hindus. Verses the most obscene imaginable are ordered to be read on the occasion. Figures of men and women, in the most indecent and disgusting attitudes, are in many places openly paraded through the streets; the most filthy words are uttered by persons who, on other occasions, would think themselves disgraced by the use of them; bands of men parade the street with their clothes all bespattered with a reddish dye; dirt and filth are thrown upon all that are seen passing along the road; all business is at a stand, all gives way to license and riot."
Besides these the most brilliant festivals are the R[=a]s Y[=a]tr[=a] in Bengal (September-October), commemorating the dance of Krishna with the gop[=i]s or milk-maids, and the 'Lamp-festival' (D[=i]p[=a]l[=a]), also an autumnal celebration.
The festivals that we have reviewed cover but a part of the year, but they will suffice to show the nature of such fêtes as are enjoined in the Pur[=a]nas. There are others, such as the eightfold temple-worship of Krishna as a child, in July or August; the marriage of Krishna's idol to the Tulasi plant; the Awakening of Vishnu, in October, and so forth. But no others compare in importance with the New Year's and Spring festivals, except the Bengal idol-display of Jagann[=a]th, the Rath Y[=a]tr[=a] of 'Juggernaut'; and some others of local celebrity, such as the D[=u]rg[=a]-p[=u]j[=a]. The temples, to which reference has often been made, have this in common with the great Çivaite festivals, that to describe them in detail would be but to translate into words images and wall-paintings, the obscenity of which is better left undescribed. This, of course, is particularly true of the Çiva temples, where the actual Linga is perhaps, as Barth has said, the least objectionable of the sights presented to the eye of the devout worshipper. But the Vishnu temples are as bad. Architecturally admirable, and even wonderful, the interior is but a display of sensual immorality.
|Written By Edward Washburn Hopkins|
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