Bonalu

Front page picture from the Hyderabad Times

What is it? 

Bonalu is a folk festival celebrated in the Telangana region, Andhra Pradesh. This century-old tradition is observed with gaiety and devotional fervour. 

When is it?

It is during the month of Asadh. This is Sunday 25th June to Sunday 16th July in 2017. 

How is it celebrated?

This month long festival is marked by devotional singing and ritualistic worship of the village deities. The ‘Ghatams’ or decorated pots, filled with flowers, are the main attraction of the festival. The flower pots are carried on the heads of women in a procession. Similarly cooked rice is also carried by women on their heads to the local goddess accompanied by male drummers. Every Sunday from the end of June throughout July there are colourful celebrations ongoing.

Bonalu is celebrated chiefly in the cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad ( where we happen to be on holiday at the moment). Saree Jagadambika Temple located on the top of the Golconda Fort attracts the most devotees from the region. The state government also performs puja officially on behalf of the people. Temples are decorated. 

In Hyderabad the newspapers reported low attendance at work from female employees who were celebrating Bonalu. Some employers are allowing female staff to leave early to visit temples for puja. Office are reported to be in a festive atmosphere as ladies distribute sweets to colleagues dressed for the occasion. 

Rath Yatra

When is it?

In the month of Ashada, Sunday 25th June,2017

What is it?

It is an unusual festival in the memory of an eighty plus year old event and takes place in the month of Ashada (rainy season in Odisha usually falling in June or July) this celebration takes place in the state of Orissa.

The three dieties of Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra can be seen for the first time after a gap of a fortnight over which they remain secluded in the ‘anasara ghaa’ or retiring room of the 12th century temple.

The Festival

Rath Yatra means ‘chariot ride’ which is preserved as the gateway to the heavens by devotees.The ritual is observed in the Jagannath temple in the city of Puri in Orissa. The Jagannath temple is a trinity abode or dham dedicated to lord Krishna, his elder brother Balarama and their sister Subhadra. The images are made of new wood and adorned in splendour.

Ratha -Yatra (Puri) in the state of Odisha, India is still the oldest, biggest and most visited Rath Yatra in the world. It attracts a “large crowd” (thousands of people!).

How is it celebrated?

On the full mooon day of ashada, the images are taken out with the accompaniment of huge chariots to the streets. They are brought out onto the Bada Danda (Main Street of Puri) and travel 3km to the Shri Gundicha Temple. This allows the public to have darsana – a Holy view. Once the chariots come on the road, the continuous movement of the participants do not allow the procession to come to a halt. This ride is usually covered uphill and downhill track. The procession takes almost ten hours to reach its destination.

The English word juggernaut was originated from Jagannath that is replayed to the massive and unstoppable “Ratha” carrying Jaggannath.

Decorations

The chariots, which are built new every year, are pulled by devotees. The chariots are 45 feet high, 35 feet square and take about 2 months to construct. The artists and painters of Puri decorate cars and paint flower petals and other designs on the wheels, the wood carved charioteer and horses and the inverted lotuses on the wall behind the throne.

The three chariots are being draped in multi coloured cloth for two days before Rath Yatra this year.

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If you’re celebrating Rath Yatra, enjoy your day.

Mahashrivarati

When is it?

It is an Hindu festival celebrated during the Hindu month of Phalgun which marks the end of the winter season on the first full moon day of the lunar month, which usually falls in the later part of February or March. It is on Friday 24th February in 2017.

What is it?



It is an Hindu festival celebrating the Hindu god, lord Shiva, known as the great destroyer of the universe. On this day he and his wife Parvati are worshipped by young girls and some men in the hope of getting a perfect mate for themselves; because this is the day Shiva and Parvati were married.The Maha Shrivarti festival marks the convergence of Shiva and Shakti (which means ‘power’ or ’empowerment’ and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe).

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How is it celebrated?

The festival is mainly celebrated by offering Bael leaves to Shiva together will all day fasting and an all night vigil called jagaran. All through the day devotees will change “Om Namah Shiva” being the mantra of Shiva. Penances are performed in order to gain ‘boons’ in the practice of yoga or meditation in order to reach life’s highest good steadily and swiftly. The positioning of the planets is also supposed to raise ones spiritual energy more easily and the ‘powerful’ ancient Sanskrit mantras are supposed to increase greatly on this night. The ideal time to observe Shiva Pooja (prayers) is at Nishita Kala which a complicated calculation of time but is usually within an hour each side of midnight. Nishita kala is the time Shiva appeared on earth in the form of a linga. On this day all Shiva temples the most auspicious lingodbhava puja is performed.


Mahashrivaratri in Southern India.

It is celebrated widely in the temples all over Karnataka. Shiva is considered to be the Adi ( first) Guru from which the yogic tradition originates. According to tradition, the planetary positions on this night create a powerful natural upsurge in energy in the body. It is believed to be beneficial for spiritual and physical well being to stay awake throughout the night. 

The Dwadasha Jyothirlinga Temple will be kept open from 6am on Friday 24th February till 6am on Saturday 25th February. During that time several rituals related to the festival will be performed on the temple premises.

The Impu Sangeetha Samsthe, a non profit organisation which promotes music, has organised a musical marathon in Bugle Rock Park in Basavanagudi. Professional singers will will perform Kannada film devotional songs continuously from 9am on Friday 24th to 1am on Saturday 25th (16 hours) without any breaks. They are hoping to raise funds for Aparna Seva Samsthe which provides free dialysis for the poor.

In Bangalore hundreds of extra buses are being laid on for the festival… ensuring more traffic jams here. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (‘BBMP’) issued a notice on 21st February banning the sale of any kind of meat in the city on 24th February. The civic body has also banned the slaughtering of any animals on the day of the festival in the city.


The mythology 

A hunter having failed to find any prey in the forest climbed a bel tree towards the evening to spend the night there. Whilst drinking some water he dropped some on the shiva lingam hidden beneath some bushes at the bottom of the tree. A doe came to the spring to drink water and the hunter too his aim but seeing the mutual love for each other in the doe’s family he let them all go unharmed. In the morning lord Shiva appeared before the hunter and blessed him, saying that when he had sprinkled water on the shiva linga and thrown bel leaves on it he had unwittingly worshipped lord Shiva. As a consequence lord Shiva bestowed wealth and prosperity on him. From that day the shiva lingam is worshipped on the day which has become known as Maha Shrivrati.


Legends

This is the favourite day of lord Shiva as he married Shakti, and his greatness and supremacy over all other Hindu gods is highlighted. It also celebrates the night when he performed the cosmic dance named ‘Tandava’. The Tandava is a vigorous dance believed to be the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution. 
On this day Shiva also saved the world from the disasterous effects of poison from the tumultuous sea by consuming it all. Shiva stopped the poison in his throat using his yogic powers but his neck turned blue due to the effects and is known as the ‘blue throated’ as a consequence.


Interesting fact

The Tripundra refers to the three horizontal stripes of ash , and sometimes a dot, applied to the forehead of Shiva worshippers. These stripes symbolise spiritual knowledge, purity (or will) and penance (spiritual practice of Yoga) (or action). They also represent the three eyes of Shiva. It is a reminder of the spiritual aims of life, the truth that the body and material things shall become ash at some point and that self realisation and knowledge is a worthy goal.

Temples and Tippu Sultan

It’s a holiday weekend in Bangalore and lots of folks have left Bangalore for the long weekend. As Rez had to work Saturday morning we decided to do a tour of Bangalore – seeing the sights we hadn’t yet seen.

Tippu Sultan’s Palace

teak carvings inside Tippu’s palace
teak carvings at the rear of the palace

This palace structure is built of teak wood, stone, mortar and plaster in the 18th century. It was started by Nawab Hyder Ali Khan in 1781 and completed by Tipu Sultan in 1791. It is situated within the fort walls of Bangalore next to the Sri Venkataramana temple. It is a double storied building of symmetrical pattern. It is built on a stone plinth and the facade has huge  fluted pillars in typical Indo Islamic style. There are two balconies which were the seats of state where the sultan conducted affairs of state. It also served as a guest house for Tippu Sultan during the summer.

The entrance fee was INR 15 for locals (or those with an FRRO form with them) and INR 200 for foreigners. It is a fair entrance fee as it doesn’t take long to view it all (maybe 15-30 mins). Interestingly the palace has accessible toilets – the only ones I have seen in Bangalore.

Bull Temple

The bull temple or Dodda Basavana Gudi (the Nandhi Temple) houses one of the largest monolithic sculptures of the sacred bull Nandi. It was built in the 16th century (1537) by Kempe Gowda and is believed to be the biggest temple to Nandi in the world. The bull is carved from one piece of granite and is more than 4 metres tall and 6 metres long. It is continually covered with new layers of butter.

Like most temples, shoes have to be left outside and are looked after for a tiny charge of INR 2 per pair. There are also local stall holders selling a variety of tourist items but also some pretty handmade jewellery. Along the long flight of steps to the temple are the unfortunate people who are begging; a few rupees to each helps their hardship. 

the bull temple
the nandi bull

The Iskcon Temple

Built by the Hare Krishnas (the International Society of Krishna Consciousness) the Sri Radha Krishna Mandir has a golden shrine to Krishna and Radha. It is one of the largest ISKCON temples in the world and was inaugurated in 1997 by Shankal Dayal Sharma. It is has 6 shrines – the main shrine is of Radha-Krishna, Krishna Balrama, Nitai Gauranga, Srinivasa Govinda, Prahlada Narasimha and Srila Prabhupada. 

The visit starts with being told to remove our shoes at the car and leave them there. Then we approached a kiosk selling what I think we’re special prayers for INR500 or 1000. We by passed this and walked through the theme park style barriers and lines to the airport style security. Bags and bodies checked we had to rent cloths for the men as their shorts were not suitable for the temple. Cameras were not allowed, but phones were. Once through we then joined a queue for the first shrine and then followed the designated route around the temple and shrines (theme park style). Once the visit was completed we were funnelled through various and numerous gift shops, stalls and eateries selling their wares. We then exited via a foot bridge where we were offered a small bowl of curry (which we all politely declined). More stalls selling wares followed until we were back were we started and could return the rented cloths.

It is very well set up for visitors and tourists and they certainly know how to sell to a captive audience!

the Iskcon temple
the Iskcon temple
the golden shrine

Janmashtami 

What is it?

Janmashtami is the celebration of the birth of lord Krishna. Krishna is the absolute representation of god to Hindus.

When is it?

It falls on the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha (the dark lunar fortnight or waning moon in the Hindu calendar) in the month of Bhadra (a month of the Hindu calendar that corresponds with August/September in the Gregorian calendar). In 2016 this is Thursday 25th of August.

History

When Devaki’s brother, Kansa, was taking Devaki to her husband’s (Vasudeva’s) place after her marriage, an oracle from the skies announced that Devaki’s eighth child would cause Kansa’s death.

According to legend, lord Krishna was the eighth avatar of lord Vishnu (one of the three main deities in Hinduism) and the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva. On the birth of the eighth child the prison doors opened themselves and the guards fell asleep. Vasudeva took the new born child to Gokul. Here he was brought up by Nanda (or Nanda Gopa or Nanda Baba) and Yashoda (or Yasoda). Nanda was the head of the Gopas, a tribe of cowherds referred as Holy Gwals

Later, Krishna became the killer of Kansa. Kansa was the tyrant ruler of the Vrishni kingdom with its capital at Mathura.

How is it celebrated?

It is celebrated with much devotion, fervour and gaiety in the northern states of India, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Temples are decorated with tableaus/ images depicting scenes of Krishna’s birth and the various events in his life. Images are also placed in cradles and swings in homes and temples. 

Hindus fast and stay up until midnight offering prayers at a special time – when Krishna is believed to have been born. At midnight devotees gather round for devotional songs, dance and exchange gifts.

Rath Yatra

What is it?

Rath Yatra is an unusual festival in the memory of an 80 year old event. in the month of Ashada (rainy season in Odisha usually falling in June or July) this celebration takes place in the state of Orissa. Rath Yatra means a ‘chariot ride’ which is preserved as the gateway to heavens by the devotees. The ritual ride is observed in the Jagannath temple city of Puri in Orissa.

How is it celebrated?

The Jagannath temple is a trinity abode or dham dedicated to lord Krishna, his elder brother Balarama and their sister Subhadra. The images of the trinity are made of new wood and adorned in splendour. On the full moon day day of Ashada the images are taken out with the accompaniment of huge chariots in the streets.  They are brought out onto theBada Danda (Main Street of Puri) and travel 3km to the Shri Gundicha Temple. This allows the public to have darsana – a Holy view.  Once the chariots come on the road , the continuos movement of the participants do not allow the procession to come to a halt. The English word juggernaut was originated from Jagannath that is replayed to the massive and unstoppable “Ratha” carrying Jaggannath. 

Decorations

The chariots, which are built new every year, are pulled by devotees. The chariots are 45 feet high, 35 feet square and take about 2 months to construct. The artists and painters of Puri decorate cars and paint flower petals and other designs on the wheels, the wood carved charioteer and horses and the inverted lotuses on the wall behind the throne.

The festival

This ride is usually covered uphill and downhill track. The procession takes almost ten hours to reach its destination. Ratha -Yatra (Puri) in the state of Odisha, India is still the oldest, biggest and most visited Rath Yatra in the world. It attracts a “large crowd”.

The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Day two of our stay in Bangkok and we ventured out in ‘appropriate’ clothing for a visit to the Grand Palace. That meant long trousers, tops with covered arms and nothing transparent. We were sweltering in the 33C heat but glad we made the effort when we discovered security rigorously, and sometimes forcibly, enforcing the rules.

The Grand Palace is indeed grand on a large and opulent scale. It is difficult to over emphasise how impressive, decorative and stunning the buildings and architecture are. It was established in 1782 by King Rama 1 and has Royal residences, throne halls and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha amongst the vast array of buildings. It attracts 30,000 visitors a day in high season and 18,000 a day in low season. The entrance fee was 500 Baht (£10) each; They rake it in but it was worth every penny and the upkeep must cost a fortune.

As we entered we picked up an official guide called Moonsong (recommended by security and the American tourists who had just finished their tour). Moonsong (apart from having a beautiful name) was a fabulous guide, explaining in detail about the monuments we saw and recommending best places to take pictures in the crowds. 

The Upper Terrace

As we entered the Palace complex a statue of Hor Phra Rajphongsanusorn greets you. He was King Rama 1’s physician and the stone on which he used to grind medicines was laid in front of him (about 234 years old).  We moved to the ‘Upper Terrace’ with its vast array of golden and opulent buildings. Here was the golden chedi (a mound like structure containing holy relics). It is decorated with glass tiles each covered in gold and each costing 1USD. It is stunning. Next to it is the Mondop – where Buddhist sacred scriptures are kept. Then there was the miniature model of Ankor Wat crafted and carved in stone upon the order of King Mongkut (Rama IV) and the Royal Pantheon in which former kings of the ruling Chakri dynasty are enshrined. On the ground level of the upper terrace are the scripture library (Hor Phra Monthian Dharma, a beautiful wiharn (Phra Wiharn Yod) containing numerous Bhuddha images and the mausoleum of the Royal Family (Hor Phra Naga) which contains the cremated ashes of the members of the Royal Family. Then there are two small chapels – one containing Buddha images and the other containing images of the current dynasty. In between these stunning examples of architecture are statues of mythical creatures keeping guard over all. 

the Upper Terrace
external of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha
model of Ankor Wat
Mythical creature: half womand, half lion
mythical demons for protection
Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha

This is one of the most venerated sites in Thailand where people converge to pay their respects to lord Buddha and his teachings. The Emerald Buddha is enshrined on a golden traditional Thai style throne made of gilded carved wood (a Busabok). It sits in the ordination hall of the Royal Monastery. The emerald Buddha is clothed in seasonal clothing (summer, monsoon or winter) and was still in summer ‘clothes’ when we visited. The King is the only person allowed to change the Emerald Buddha’s clothing. Access is via some very steep steps at the rear. As the current King is 90 years old he now commands the ceremony whilst the Prince changes the Emerald Buddha’s clothes.

The Emerald Buddha is carved from a single piece of jade discovered in a stupa in Chiang Rai in 1434. It was placed in the Royal Monastery in 1778 by King Rama 1. The monastery has no monks but serves as the private chapel of the ruling monarch. The walls of the ordination hall are painted with murals depicting several events in lord Buddha’s life.

Taking photos inside the Temple are strictly forbidden and rigorously enforced by the numerous security guards instructing visitors to sit, stand, move on and be quiet – all with signs and pictures in English and a stick to reinforce the message!

external wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha
mythical monkey creature instructs the mythical devils standing guard
external wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The Borom Phiman Mansion

The Borom Phiman Mansion was built  in 1903 in a western style by King Rama V (for the heir apparent). The residence was used on various occasions by Kings Rama VII and VIII (1925-46) and the current King Rama IX. It currently is used as a Royal Guest House for visiting heads of state and Royal families.

The Boram Phiman Mansion
The Chakri Maha Prasat

This was built by King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V, 20 September 1853 – 23 October 1910) and completed in 1882. King Chulalongkorn was the fifth monarch of Siam under the House of Chakri. He was known to the Siamese of his time as Phra Phuttha Chao Luang (The Royal Buddha) and to the west as the King in the ‘King and I’ or ‘Anna and the King’. His reign was characterized by the modernization of Siam, government and social reforms, and territorial cessions to the British Empire and French Indochina. As Siam was threatened by Western expansionism, King Chulalongkorn, through his policies and acts, managed to save Siam from being colonized. All his reforms were dedicated to ensuring Siam’s survival in the midst of Western colonialism. King Chulalongkorn earned the epithet Phra Piya Maharat (The Great Beloved King).

The Chakri group consists of the Central Throne Hall and the two wings. The Central Throne Hall is used for the reception of foreign ambassadors and for state banquets for visiting heads of state. The third floor contains the cremated remains of members of the Royal Family.

The Dusit Group

This group of buildings consists of the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall and the Amphorn Phimok Pavillion. The Dusit Maha Throne Hall was originally built in teak wood but burnt down in 1790 and replaced by King Rama I. It was intended for his own lying in state ceremony but has been used ever since for the lying in state of kings, queens and other members of the Royal family. It is also used for the annual coronation day ceremony.

The Dusit group of buildings

There were many other exhibitions and and museums to see within the Grand Palace that we simply did not have the energy or capacity to see. The Grand Palace is truly Grand in every sense of the word and I can highly recommend a visit. If you do, look out for the fabulous guide called Moonsong – he’s worth every Baht!