Come September (actually August), and I can feel the magic in the air (at least in my very own air space!) – the magic that is culture, the magic of memories coming alive, the magic of the fabulous festivals of India. And of course, it is fall here, so it is fabulous in its own way. Plus, we also have fabulous festivals of where we live now to add on to the list!!
Note: This is a reworking of an older post (from eleven years ago actually). I have updated in a few ways (added sections/mentioned the ‘then’ parts and ‘now’ parts when needed/other updates where needed).
The Fabulous Festivals I Grew Up With
So I grew up in India, and while it is a never ending set of festivities through the year (almost), the months of August through January seem to have more of them crammed together; like extra chocolates in a box of great treats!! Since it is already September (the end of too, almost), let us go back to last month first before heading forward.
Festival Fever Beginnings
Starting With the Mother Goddess
Festival fever begins for me (and most South Indians) with the Varalakshmi Vratham in mid-August.
What It Is
The Varalakshmi Vratham or Varalakshmi puja is a Hindu celebration of Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Varalakshmi literally translates to “the Lakshmi who offers boons” (with vara meaning boon). Vratham means “vow, resolve” to do something. In this case, it is a vow to pray to the Goddess Lakshmi so she can bestow the boons of prosperity (in every way) on her devotees. Read about the festival here.
As my mom and mother-in-law let me know in advance the date of the puja and remind me conveniently the night before the puja as well, I start my preparations by getting all the puja items out of the box it has been for the past few months, the Lakshmi mukham, and all other items needed for the puja. With this puja, as I have been doing always, I end up calling a couple of friends and family at the very last minute for vethalai-paaku (just shows that this is the first event of the festival season! and I am just getting warmed up). Here is my Varalakshmi, all decked up (from eleven years ago):
This year, I was in India when the festival came around, and celebrated with more of my family members.
And then These
Note: Crossed out sections are from the 2011 post!
Next up, this year,
on the very next day, the following week, was Avani Avittam, or Upakarma. This important Vedic festival is, thankfully, performed by the males in the family. and I just had to prepare some prasadam and keep the puja items ready for them). This annual event helps to reaffirm the (Vedic and other) studies that the Hindus initiate after their sacred thread ceremony (Upanayanam). A little like the
It is followed by Raksha Bandhan, which is the celebration of the bond between siblings, specifically between brothers and sisters. Today, it is celebrated between siblings regardless. Even though this is not a South Indian tradition, I grew up celebrating it. When I am not in India for the celebration (like I was this year), I send my brother a Rakhi through one of the various online stores that offer to do so. This year, both my niece and my daughter tied a Rakhi to my son; as did my mom to her brother, who visited us during my trip to India.
The sister ties an amulet or bracelet, called the Rakhi, around their brother’s wrist, thus symbolically protecting him. The brother, in turn, gives his sister a gift (the best part of this celebration for all sisters!!), while vowing to protect his sister always.
Raksha means protection while bandhan means bond, so this literally translates to the bond of protection.
Followed by Celebrating the Player of the Flute
[Note: as is from 2011 as my little ones are no longer little but older teens at 19 and 16]
Krishna tiptoes (literally) to follow with Janmashtami that comes soon after. This means, drawing dainty footsteps with rice-flour paste to signify baby Krishna making his entrance into our home. I wanted to use plain old chalk to draw the footsteps while my little ones wanted me to dip their feet in riceflour paste as I had done in years past when they were really little.
When I explained that it is “Baby” Krishna coming to visit, they told me I always tell them, “you will forever be my babies”. They then proceeded to tell me that since both wanted their imprints(!) on the ground, I could start off with my 5 year old’s footprints at the door and end with my 8 year old’s prints near the puja area – wow, this meant that Krishna would grow up in leaps and bounds in our home.
In the end, I gave them the pieces of chalk and asked them to draw the footprints as they wished. No photos of the wonderful footprints here, but believe me when I say, Lord Krishna is in here within the flowers somewhere in the photo below:
And Remover of Obstacles
The elephant-faced Lord Ganesh is close behind Krishna as Vinayaka Chaturthi arrives pretty soon. I decided to use ingredients at home to make my Ganesha and be green in the process. This year, I made the idol with turmeric. A tiny turmeric Ganesha – pictured below:
(the 2011 Ganesha story: made from flour.) Well, I did not think of one thing beforehand, maida gets ‘pulichified’ (ferments) and as part of that process, expands and settles as well. So my lord Ganesha who was not too chubby on ‘day one’ when I made him, turned way more chubbier on ‘day two’ (Friday) when my friends whom i had invited for dinner came over. I joked that Lord Ganesha loved my experimental kozhakattais so much that he ate all of them (and I had none left over for them! – actually a culinary disaster) and as a result of overeating, he grew chubbier. Don’t you think so – here are the pictures – the before, the kozhakattais, and the after!
Next, Up Next, or Back to the Future of Fabulous Festivals
Next up is one of the biggest and the one festival that takes up a lot of my time as I prepare for it – Navratri.
This is celebrated in various ways across India. In the southern states of India, Navratri (literally meaning nine nights) is celebrated with the Bommai Golu (bommai meaning dolls). You can read more about it in the posts in my related reads section below.
The Memories of the Past
I love this festival and the wonderful memories it evokes for me:
- my parents removing the wicker baskets of clay dolls from the attic
- arranging the golu padi with stacks of books, tin dabbas, planks of wood
- my mom assigning the duty of inviting all the aunties in our colony which I loved. Dad would write down all the aunties names in the order of the houses they lived in our colony. I would take the mailman’s route along with my best friend for RSVPs the old fashioned way. This meant collecting signatures and a Yes/No from the aunties for when they could attend at our home. At the same time, we would enjoy the goodies offered to us. (after all, they would say, all the walking up and down must make us hungry/thirsty, right). Anyway, we could never refuse the refreshing beverages and the yummy sweets and snacks offered to us. Being festival time, everyone had wonderful goodies always!
- making the rounds to visit all the golus
- hosting the golu in our house and handing out the sundal, vethalai paaku to all our guests
- and last, but not the least, the garba at our colony gardens. All of us friends would sit down and chat away until, inevitably, one of the aunties would spot us and make sure we took part in the dances!
And Making Memories for the Future
Now, as I work to create new memories for us while carrying on age-old traditions,:
- I make up guest lists each year (it increases like Draupadi’s saree)
- and try to come up with new(sometimes cute, sometimes silly, sometimes simple) poems to send out as my evite
- I scour the internet to look for favors for the ladies, for the kids (because they love goody bags and is not fair when only their moms get them) and order them well in advance to ensure they arrive before Navratri.
- I look at how I can setup the golu padis each year and see if I can do a theme. This year, am still contemplating on this and hope I can make up my mind before the next weekend comes around.
Here is my what one of my previous evites said along with a wonderful photo courtesy of another blogger (can’t find her original blog today unfortunately) (which completely fit the wordings I had made up for my evite):
Oh, When the dolls come marching in (2)
Oh, How we wish that we could join them
When the dolls come marching in..
The dolls will be marching in and taking their places on the golu padi,
And when they do, please join us to celebrate Navratri with your family .
More photos of this year’s Navratri golu will follow soon (starting on Monday, September 26th, but will be arranging everything Saturday, Sept 24th). But here is a collage of the golu from previous years:
Later in this Year and at the Start of the Next
And of course, let us not forget the most brightest festival of all – Deepavali which will come later this year followed by Karthigai Deepam and so on until it is next September again and the whole cycle repeats! Then comes the harvest festival of Pongal in January. I can go on and on, but will stop here.. 🙂
The Fabulous Festivals I Have Adopted Now
Of course, Halloween is coming up in a month’s time (but if we head to the stores, it sure is confusing with Christmas decor and items already on sale!). Thanksgiving follows before we end the year with Christmas.
So much for stating the obvious, huh?
- 9 Great Books for the Indian festival of Navratri
- And the Homefront: The Navratri Golu
- Sunday Scribblings #79: The Wonderful Navratri Golu and a Doha For It
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, do feel free to drop your comments and queries about any of these festivals and I will be glad to answer them here as replies or in a new post with more details. Which of the festivals you celebrate holds special significance for you personally?