India is a land of the ‘unusual’. Unusual amount of diversity, unusually high number of people, Unusual level of pollution, unusual number of festivals…. Despite the detrimental quirks, we cannot ignore the cool ones! Traditions, festivals, culture et al- fantastic, whimsical! Yet, the undertone it all carries is, well, ‘Unusual’! Here is a side to our motherland, that you may still be oblivious to. The quirky, bizarre tones of Indian festivals! Here are some of the quirkiest, most unusual Indian festivals that may make you wince and bump!
Onam Festival Pulikkal- Kerala
This is when the tigers are let loose!
Should we be thankful, it isn’t so literally? I think so! Pulikkali, is a traditional Kerala art form, originated in the late 18th century, that witnesses people dressed up as tigers. The name Pulikkali means “tiger play” or “tiger dance”, and that’s exactly what these man-tigers do. The best performer is selected out of the hundreds of participants.
The dressing up process is tedious and requires a great deal of creativity and of course, patience. There is a whole lot of hard work too… The people shave their bodies before the first coat of paint is applied. It’s left to dry for a couple of hours, and then the second coat of paint applied. (wow)! And dancing like a Tiger? That ain’t no easy task! Kudos to the enthusiasm.
Kila Raipur Rural Olympics
This one…. a sports bonanza, quite surprisingly, has caught the attention of domestic and international tourist from around the globe. Kila Raipur Sports festival, one of the most unusual festivals in India which has become a well known name on the streets of Punjab. Contrary to the belief that the festival is a regular in Raipur, it is held every year in Ludhiana in the month of February.
Apart from the typically rural sports as Kabaddi and Weight lifting, the festival also witnesses some very bizarre races as bike pulling, plough carrying, Bullock cart race, Mule cart race, dog race and Tractor race, which has hoards of spectators cheering their heart out! Quite a sight and lo behold… Before you underestimate it to be restricted to being a ‘rural’ event,the Kila Raipur festival receives sponsorship from multinational companies…. eat your heart out!
Still not unusual enough? Read on……
Karni Mata Festival ( Rajasthan)
If you cringe at the thought of mice, then skip this one! As cringe worthy as it is, the Karni Mata festival is witnessed twice a year, where pilgrims flock to the 600-year-old Karni Mata temple, near Bikaner in Rajasthan, to worship Goddess Durga and her incarnations. The temple is dedicated to an ancient mystic who’s believed to have been a reincarnation of the Goddess Durga. Interestingly, the souls of Karni Mata’s devotees are said to reside in the rats! Food is offered to the deity, and it’s considered most auspicious to eat what the rats have salivated over. Letting them scamper over your feet is believed to bring good luck, and if you spot a white rat, you’re in for some real treat coming your way!
If you can brave this one, I salute you!
It gets even more bizarre!
Kodungallur Bharani ( Kerala)
Picture Thousands of sword-wielding oracles, both male and female, clad in red, run in around a trance and flagellate themselves on their foreheads to draw blood! Are you wincing? It gets quirkier… Whilst the blood drawing ritual is underway, devotees strike the temple rafters with sticks, hurl offerings, yell and sing sexually explicit songs! I can’t fathom the sight, but I promise you, if you do get to witness it, this isn’t something you’re going to forget!
The temple, where the festival takes place, is dedicated to the goddess Bhadrakali, who is a form of Kali worshiped in Kerala.
Hold on to your seats, reigns and whatever else you got!
Thaipusam (Tamil Nadu)
During Thaipusam, devotees pray to Lord Murugan and show their endurance in order to receive his grace to overcome obstacles. Some bigoted devotees stretch to extreme limits to please the Lord, trying to get rid of their sins…. and this is how they do it… They pierce various parts of their bodies with hooks, skewers, and small lances. (That is too much for a sin free conscience!)
Apparently, the devotees enter into a trance state and don’t feel pain or bleed from their wounds… And that is awe striking, as much as it is appalling!
This Hindu festival is celebrated by the Tamil community and is dedicated to Lord Murugan, the son of Lord Shiva and Parvati. It commemorates the day that Goddess Parvati gave him a lance to slay an evil demon army.
That was a handful, no?
c (Barsana, Vrindavan)
All the feminists in the house say… yay!
Lath Mar Holi, played just before the Holi day, is a unique way of celebrating this colourful occasion. People from all walks of life paint each other’s faces with colours and gradually it turns into a merry making affair. All joy and gaiety in the air! Or so the men wish! This is where the fun begins…
The women chase the men with a stick and beat them! Well, the men of Barsana in Mathura do not mind these Lathis and play on as a celebrated festival.
Hindu mythology says that Lord Krishna visited the village of his beloved Radha on this very day and in this, he playfully teased Radha and her friends, and in anger, the women chased Krishna and his friends away!
Made Snana (Karnataka)
This one got me cringing, being a sufferer of mild OCD. Eat, Enjoy… and roll over!
It is for real… the obnoxious practice of rolling over left over food, is practiced in the state of Karnataka. Being practiced since 5 centuries, temples in South India are known to hold communal meals. In these meals, people from all sects are invited, but as soon as they are done, the devotees are asked to roll over the leaves, on which they just had their meal. Blench all you want!
Followers of this ritual believe that by doing so, their physical ailments will get cured, if they have any. However, looking at the irrationality of this ritual, the Supreme Court of India stayed the practice, which was earlier cleared by the Karnataka High Court.
Cow Trampling ( Kerala)
Gau mata is sacred. So sacred, that Hindus dedicate a full grown festival to the holy cow. Not just the animal, but now being trampled by the holy cow is also a bearer of good fortune! People literally lie flat in front of the pack of cows, waiting to feel their hoofs on their body!
Before being trampled, the cows are decorated with henna and flowers. The followers of this ritual believe that by doing so, they are compelling their Gods to fulfil their prayers…. unusually scary!
Devotion, superstition or mere blind faith… Call it what you want, but in many parts of India, the ritual is well believed.
Heave a sigh of relief, as this is all I have! But just think about it… There is enough food for the adventurous, hidden in the culture! Why go elsewhere?