Disclaimer: This blog is not for the faint-hearted!
PS: You know exciting things are coming up when something starts with a disclaimer.
You know exciting things are coming up when something starts with a disclaimer. India comprises of a confetti of emotions through diverse landscapes, traditions, customs and cultures. With every inch that you dig deeper in her heart, a kaleidoscope of colours flow through her veins, spreading love and happiness everywhere. While this gives a lot of culture and tradition to our country, it also gives birth to an awful amount of creepy rituals that are way beyond your comprehension. Some of these rituals are obsolete, while some of them are practised even now. Many of them have worn off its original crude character, and taken a subtle modernised approach.
1. Thimithi, Tamil Nadu - walking on fire
Thimithi, or firewalking, is stranger than it sounds. Devotees walk on a bed of hot wood to impress the goddess Draupadi, hoping that she will in return fulfil their hopes. This weird ritual is associated with an event in Mahabharata, where Draupadi had to walk a bed of fire, ultimately proving her innocence. As strange as it sounds, this festival is also celebrated by the South Indian community in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius et al.
2. Thaipusam, Tamil Nadu - bizarre body piercings
Celebrated on the full moon night of the Tamil month Thai, Thaipusam commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel or a spear, so he could kill the evil demon, Soorapadman. After almost a 48-day fast, many devotees pierce their bodies with hooks, skewers and spears. These devotees are sworn to celibacy and practice silence during this period. It is said that they reach a different level of high and don't feel the excruciating pain.
3. Garudan Thookkam, Kerala - hanging on hooks like an eagle
Literally translated as ‘eagle hanging’, Garudan Thookkam is a weird festival in Kerala that is celebrated for the goddess Kali. Firstly, a vibrant dance is performed by devotees clad in a garuda costume. Later, they hang themselves on a hook, making them positioned like eagles. They are then paraded through the city. This is done because Vishnu had sent an eagle to Kali to quench her thirst after killing the demon, Darika. Off late, the hanging of hooks is not carried out. People celebrate with dances and performances that narrate the story.
4. Lath Mar Holi, Barsana, Uttar Pradesh - beating up men with sticks
In the village of Barsana in Mathura, women beat up men with sticks, a few days before holi. Men try to shield themselves from this attack. As weird as it sounds, Lath Mar Holi recreates the famous love story of Radha-Krishna. Lord Krishna visited Radha's village, Barsana, teased her by applying gulaal on her cheeks and ran away. Radha and her gopis, in retaliation to this, ran behind Krishna with sticks to teach him a lesson. This fun-tease lead to a celebration called Lath Mar Holi.
5. Jallikattu, Tamil Nadu - the Indian Bull Fight
Held during Pongal, Jallikattu is a ceremony where specially fed and bred bulls are put out on the streets. Precious gifts like gold and silver are hung over its sharpened horns and participants have to snatch it as their prize. This is a very popular festival in Tamil cinema and was also shown in the Blockbuster movie, Baahubali. This festival has created a lot of controversy and PETA has also protested against it. In 2014, the Supreme Court of India banned the practice, citing animal welfare issues. On 8 January, 2016, the Government of India passed an order letting the continuation of the tradition under certain conditions. However, on 14 January, 2016, the Supreme Court of India upheld its previous ban on the event, leading to protests by Jallikattu supporters.
6. Nag Panchami, Maharashtra - the worship of real snakes
A religious festival among the Hindus, this festival entails worshipping of snakes on the fifth moonlit fortnight in the month of Shravan. Traditionally, a real hissing snake is worshipped and offered milk. Today, instead of real snakes, their idols, paintings and carvings are worshipped. India has always been popular as a city of snake-charmers and have always worshipped the snake-god. We know of Shiva adorning a snake around its neck, and the depiction of Vishnu resting on a six-hooded snake is very popular.
7. Puli Kali, Kerala - Kerala's version of Rio carnival
Literally meaning the ‘play of tigers’, Pulikkali is Kerala’s answer to the Rio Carnival. Pulikkali is celebrated on the 4th day of Onam, where a troupe of performers are painted to look like tigers and hunters. The parade involves street-dancing to traditional folk songs based on tiger hunting. In the present times, colour masks and cosmetic teeth, tongues, beards and moustaches are worn to add more fun and fervour to the event.
8. Astra Puja - the worship of weapons
Worshipping weapons sounds strange, right? The tradition goes back to the ancient times of monarchy when kings brought upon wars, much like Game of Thrones. These weapons were used to protect the realm and show a dynasty’s stronghold on the kingdom. So Ajudh Puja or Astra Puja used to be carried out, as the weapons were as important as the gods. Nowadays, the modern India worships anything that earns them livelihood, from books to cameras!
9. Pushkar Camel Festival, Rajasthan - Lakme Fashion Week for camels
Over the golden gleaming sand dunes in the desert of Thar, a festival comes to life. Pushkar Camel Festival is like the Lakme Fashion week for Camels, where the vast desert serves as the ramp. Camels are groomed - cleaned, shaved and dressed up. They are entered into beauty contests and races. A whole lot of crazy competitions like camel racing, turban tying and longest moustaches are hosted here. Bazaars overflow with the famous crafts and colours of Rajasthan, and spectacular sunset envelops the city with warm evening hues. This festival is creepy in a good way though.
10. Dhinga Gavar, Jodhpur, Rajasthan - fun by deception
Literally meaning ‘fun by deception’, Dhinga Gavar is probably the only festival on this list that is fun. Legend has it that Lord Shiva once teased Parvati by dressing up as a cobbler. So as a befitting reply to his behaviour, Parvati masqueraded herself as a tribal women to tease Shiva back. This lead to the tradition of Dhinga Gavar where newly-wed brides, unmarried girls and married women dress up as Hindu gods, goddess, police, saints, et al and carry a stick in their hand. It is believed that any unmarried man who comes near these women, getting stricken by the stick, gets married soon with a suitable girl.
If you are keen on attending any of these weird festivals, just get yourself a flight ticket, and experience the madness for yourself. We have some great flight offers for you to get you started.
Author: Winnie Karnik