India is a land of a plethora of cultures, bringing with it a vibrance of colours and customs unknown to other parts of the world. Celebrations and festivals are common in our country and if you pull out a calendar to mark these, it will be quite full, even if your work place doesn’t give you leaves for it! Haha, but beyond the known festivals there are a wide number of strange festivals held in this delightfully diverse country of ours. Sharing with you 5 super strange festivals that are Made in India!
- Rural Olympics – Kila Raipur, Punjab
This is the biggest rural sporting event held in our country. And when I say biggest, I mean it sees over 4,000 men and women sports persons hailing from all over the country to compete, in addition to the nearly million that attend this event as an audience.
Okay, okay, I hear you, sheer numbers don’t make this festival strange. Does lifting bricks with one’s teeth make it strange? Or does having a tractor ride over you sound stranger? What are your thoughts on riding a bicycle in which the tire is lit with fire? Or how about pulling a vehicle with just one’s hair? I mean, “surakshit kaale mere baal but Vasmol ne toh kiya kuch aur hi kamaal!”
While the bullock cart race is its biggest attraction, the festival sees a range of these off-beat sports. There’s also motorcycle acrobatics, horse dance, dog races, camel race, tractor race, kabbadi, wrestling and a bunch of daredevil style stunts. While some activities certainly do sound bizarre, they don’t take away from the fact that these sports test another level of strength and skill that the participants display on an exemplary level.
- Theyyam, Kerala
It is a ritual art form believed to have been predating 500 BCE. It includes tribal animism, i.e., worship of animals and trees, in addition to idols. Some rituals even involve blood sacrifices. The festival allows one to witness traditional instruments such as Veekkuchenda, Elathalam, Kurumkuzal and Chenda. Elaborate ritual ceremonies and performances take place.
So, where is the quirk? Adorned devotees dance and worship both celestial bodies and their lords. The true danger is when performers wear 10-12 meters long crowns of hair and coconut fronds to perform with burning wicks tied around their waist. They even walk on embers of fire in their devotion to the higher power. The performers are dressed in detailed attires, painted faces and exquisite handiwork. Its uniqueness is the tryst with danger that the display of devotion ends up taking.
Click here to read about Hornbill Festival in Nagaland!
- Bhagoria, Madhya Pradesh
The word “Bhag” means to run and that gives you a slight insight into what this festival is about. It is celebrated by the tribal Bhils in the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. In this festival “haat” or market is organized. It is in this market where young men and women of the tribe are seen. If a man wishes to marry a woman, he puts red gulaal on her face, if she accepts, she responds by doing the same. The men can even take time to woo the girl they like. After their mutual acceptance, the two lovers elope. Thereafter, their families negotiate to get them married formally and accept them as husband and wife in the eyes of the society. Yes, that’s right, tere is a whole festival dedicated to eloping. I wonder if anyone had told Geet from Jab We Met about this, because “use toh bachpan se hi bhaagne ka bohot mann tha!”
There are many myths into how this festival came into being. Some believe that Bhav and Gauri, i.e., Shiva and Parvati are to be credited for this and that is how the festival derived its name. Others say that the king Bhagore took over the region and told the menfolk in his army that they could marry the women of their choice which led to the occurrence of this festival. It is till date practised and celebrated in full swing and sees throngs of crowds. Let there be love!
- Karni Mata Festival, Rajasthan
Located at Deshnoke, about 30 kms from Bikaner, is the Karni Mata temple. It is a nearly 600 years old temple where over 25,000 rats live and are deeply revered. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Karni, an incarnation of Goddess Durga, who established the town of Deshnoke. When she disappeared mysteriously, the temple was made in her memory and reverence. The rats I this temple can be seen in huge numbers and in fact they make this temple a tourist attraction.
Amongst the rats, the white ones are considered especially holy and believed to be a reincarnation of the goddess and her four sons. Devotees believe that once they die, they too will be re-born as a rat in the temple.
In the bi-annual festival, the idol of the goddess is elaborately decorated with expensive jewellery and attire. The temple gates are opened at 4 am for the visitors to pay their respects. They not only feed milk to the rats but it is also considered auspicious to have the same milk that they offer those rats. Myth has it that this practice gets them blessings from the rats who are themselves blessed by the goddess. Um, who’s thirsty for milk??
- Kondugallur Bharani, Kerala
They say, save the best for the last, so, here I have saved the most bizarre for the last. This festival sees millions of devotees along with curious travellers who come to see it. The Kodungalloor Bhagavathy Temple was not always open to members of the lower castes the festival thus marks their furiousness of being kept away from their goddess. An upper caste member opens a red umbrella symbolising the commencement of the festival and the permission for those from the lower rungs to enter the temple.
All devotes dress in red and throw their prasad at the idol. The Velichappads or the prophets of the temple even have their faces covered with blood. In fact, they even strike a sword against their forehead to offer their blood to the goddess. Furthering the devotees, prophets and attendees all sing the Bharani Pattu. The Bharani Pattu is an esoteric song that is believed to calm the goddess and prevent her from killing the world. Well, okay then!
So, who’s game for witnessing some stranger things? ?
Click here to read about other festivals in India!