While in India it is a splendid idea to check with our assistant managers; Kavitha and Senthil, for upcoming Indian festivals. Whether they are religious festivals or purely tourist attractions – most are intriguingly enjoyable and India has many to offer. During this semester’s long weekend, one could experience two big festivals – Holi and the Jaipur Elephant festival.

Holi is celebrated throughout India and is the festival of colours.

The mythology behind it, briefly, Is as following – actually now that I do a bit of research it seems like there are many legends and myths behind Holi. You can check them out here:

http://www.thecolorsofindia.com/holi-legends/

One thing is for certain – it’s a vivid and colourful spectacle! Most Hindu restaurants, shops, services etc. are closed, leaving cities (at least Jaipur) resembling evacuated ghost towns, but with a twist; as they are full of people scattered about in purple, red, green and blue hazes. However  “purple haze all in my brain”, as Jimi puts it, will most likely be what the average festival participator will be thinking to themselves, as a lot of the individuals are dreadfully drunk or high on Bhang lassie – or a combination. This leaves very few women out on the streets except if in a controlled environment. So be aware ladies! Below to the left is a quick snapshot of some kids on my street, gazing at me and making my lovely white shirt look like the contemporary art of a two year old toddler.


Elephant Festival in Jaipur

Then I was at the annual Elephant Festival in Jaipur, which I used as a case study for my report. Below is an extract from my field report:

“I arrived ca. one and a half hours before the festival, hoping to be able to get some “behind the scenes” footage (such as interviews, pictures, initiation ceremonies etc.) however, at least 50 other tourists and photographers had the same idea. It was held at Jaipur’s main polo stadium and had seats for the audience (separated with a “foreigner” and “Indian” section,) a stage and to the left, long four meter tall canvas, where, behind them, the elephants were slowly beautified (not that elephants aren’t beautiful naturally, but beautified to the standards of the festival.) It was quite chaotic with the thirty or so elephants (with more arriving) shuffling around – some eating from the sugar cane, others receiving colourful make-up.

The sun was giving us her fullest, while there were dust particles in the atmosphere. At times you could hear individual elephants trumpet their trunks while there was a constant yelling of the mahouts, commanding the elephants from left and right. Photographers were starting to fight in frenzy for the best pictures, pushing and shouting egoistically while many of the mahouts were already demanding money for pictures. As I finished patting many of the elephants, I retired to my seat and waited for what seemed to be tourist-procession to commence. An initiation ceremony took place on the stage where the minister of tourism and other important local figures played some drums for a full thirty seconds (marking the grounds sacred?) and the parade started. The elephants marched as the flashes flashed. The parade didn’t only consist of elephants but also dancers and musicians from different parts or Rajasthan and camels – for example traditional dancers from Shikwa province. Throughout the whole event there were two commentators, describing and reporting the festival as if it was a football game. Some of the phrases which they kept repeated were “sacred drumming” and “traditional elephant procession.” They did mention some historical information regarding the kings, but nothing clear. Soon after the parade, the eager tourists flocked into the main grounds to take closer looks at the elephants, more pictures and then certain performances were performed on the stage. Games were played, such as tug of war (foreigners vs Indians; seemed to be a lot of segregation at this festival,) and the winning elephant was announced (there was a secret jury, however, I did get a glimpse of a scoring sheet which was out of 50 points, where three of the categories were “creativity,” “beauty of elephant” and “elegance of mahout”.) About now it was around six in the evening and it was getting dark. The last main event was the “start of Holi,” where dozens of ‘lucky’ tourists could mount some of the less decorated elephants and play Holi – throwing dyes at each other and the public. After they (the luck tourists) had played in their own little world for thirty minutes or so, it was time to say farewell with fireworks and a parking lot full of autos and anarchy. “

Visiting an Exorcist temple

On my last Saturday I was accompanied by two Norwegian girls and we took a spontaneous three hour drive to a so called Exorcist temple. None of us had ever been to anything like it, and having visited many Hindu temples already – it was surely something unique. Before we arrived I jokingly told the Norwegians that it would be the closest place to hell which we would be, and it turns out that so far, it has been. As most other temples – vendors, shops and restaurants had developed in its periphery to accommodate for the herds of people who desperately go there to give their prayers or to get rid of their evil spirits. It was extremely crowded and filthily foul. From at least twenty meters away we could hear chanting and yelling. We were amazed as we saw the lines of people – resembling sheep, trying to squeeze their way through a metallic maze leading towards the temples main chamber with the Hanaman deity. These thousands of people had been waiting in line all day, slowly advancing towards the deity. On the outside there was a sign stating the rules of conduct – including that women couldn’t enter alone and possessed individuals couldn’t enter alone either. There was also a big screen with a loud speaker, playing Hindu hymns and showing live exorcists (if any were taking place inside.)
There were individuals from all parts of the social sphere – rich business men, poor rural families offering their savings with no regret, yogis with dreads falling to their feet, security guards and literally no western foreigners or tourists. In all the crowded chaos, if one just stood still for a minute and observed, one would start to notice the “possessed” individuals. Many were almost seemingly unconscious, being dragged along by family members, while others were wandering about swaying from side to side with a stale abyss in their eyes.  Not wanting to stand in line amongst all the bodies and all the trash and sewage water, we went through a hidden back door and got into a room on top of the temple. This is where the elites get VIP passes to get into the temple. This was no pleasant sight either. It was similar to a cross between an abandoned hospital and an abandoned school; Empty naked rooms with decaying walls, hand marks all over the walls (not sure if it was from some mud, blood or feces) and an uncomfortable atmosphere. From this position we had a bird’s view of part of the lines below, where some waved while others didn’t care at all. We got our VIP passes, went downstairs and attempted to get in.

We were told to wait one and a half hours, so we had some sweet chai masala and some Indian toffee sweets. Once we returned we were guided to the Hanaman deity which, in my opinion, was illustrated extremely disturbingly. I don’t want to go into its descriptive details as it is highly ambiguous. After our quick deity visit, we found ourselves in the back where most offerings took place and where the possessed stayed to get rid of their unwanted antagonists. Before we entered our ‘guide’ asked us to not be afraid, that no one would do anything to harm us. During our presence there weren’t the most extreme cases – a woman chanting while rocking back and forward, dipping her fingers into a glass of water like a sewing machine, a family (who first greeted us all) singing and applauding while the last member was in the middle, vigorously thrusting her body down to the ground and singing loudly. Others were in absurd sleeping positions and some doing the detailed offering ritual. We were told that sometimes individuals would inflict head wounds on themselves, become violent and go into seizures. In a sense we wanted to witness the worst possible, however, simultaneously I am glad that no one had to go through that while we were there. According to our guide, mostly rural Hindus believe that if one is very unlucky, you can cross paths with a wandering lost spirit, which will then possess your body. The degree of extremity of ones possession varies according to the spirit. There are not many temples like this one and therefore thousands flock to them. The main offering station, adjacent to a cliff, was sprawling with monkeys fighting over the divine food. And I wonder, will there be full of elephants at Ganesh temples?

It is important to respect any rules within any temple at all times.

We are mere audiences, vicariously observing an alien customs. Every temple which I have been into have not permitted photography, so none were taken or even attempted at Balaji. And of course, some might say that this description of the temple is a hyperbole, while others an under-exaggeration. It is all up to how the individual perceives it. I have personally lived in African countries and been to black-magic markets, seen witch doctors and so on, and therefore am very cautious and would never question the authenticity of such things. Below is an exorcism video of Sundri Reshami:

The Pink city of Rajasthan is a lovely and charming destination. If you go there try to catch a wedding as they are majestic; with elephants, horses and thousands of guests. A days drive away takes you to deserts and other great destinations in Rajasthan (the blue city, Agra, more sand dunes, more unique temples and so on,) so it is highly recommended.

Karsten

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