Sunday, July 7, 2013

Shukrati – the festival of lights

The evolution, devolution and oblivion of cultures, rites, and rituals depend upon their popularity, the followers and their willingness to follow. I wonder how within a span of a decade the “Shukrati” has transformed into “Tihar” and “Deepawali”.

As globalisation is making roads to even the remotest villages through the ubiquitous television sets, radios and newly introduced mobile phones, many festivals are being transformed into a homogenous set of rites and rituals being practised alike in different parts of the globe. In a way it is creating a similarity in the thinking, but in the meantime some of the interesting facets of the festivals are losing face to the new found amazement in celebrations.

When I was a kid, almost 25 years ago, we had a kind of excitement to celebrate “Shukrati” and not the “Tihar” or “Deepawali”.
Santhi is used to make hunka pati.
Days before the start of the festival we were busy collecting jute stalks (santhi), sabai (Eulaliopsis binata) and bamboo barks. Meanwhile our mothers were busy cleaning small bottles (to use as lamps), making clay lamps, grinding rice flour for the cakes (bagiya), and collecting and crushing castor oil beans to extract oil for lighting lamps.

The herders were busy locating dulfi (Leucas indica) in the fields so that they can feed its juice to their cattle. They in advance bought the red and green colours from the market to adorn their cattle with.

On the day of Shukrati or Diya Bati that’s what the Tharus in the Eastern Nepal call it, they make staffs (hunka pati) out of santhi, sabai and barhni (broom). The houses and surroundings are cleaned and tamped with cow dung and white clay.

As the dusk nears, the house and its surrounding are illuminated with oil lamps. These days the oil lamps have been replaced by candles in the cities. In some rural places still castor oil is used to light the lamps but mustard oil is used most commonly. The darkness of the new moon day is tore apart by the little lamps brightening the environs.

The male members of the house collect their individual staffs at the sacred corner of the devta ghar (the house of Gods), put a paste of rice flour and vermillion on them in order to purify them and pay obeisance to their Gods.

The staffs are then lit with the fire from the oil lamps offered to the Gods and the male members chant “Dhan Laxmi bhitar yaa, bhoot dalidar bahar jo (May the wealth come to us and the evil spirits leave the place)”.

After lighting the staff, they run to a nearby open field. Generally, in this season the farmers ready the fields to sow mustard and wheat. Gathering at a place, the men and children start playing with the staffs in flames. The sight is a delight to watch. As they play with the fire, they chant “Aai hunke hunkar bihan bagiya (Today is the festival lights and tomorrow the day to eat rice dumplings)”.      

As the staffs burn, they collect them at a place and take their turns to jump over the burning fire. While returning home, they bring back the leftovers (jute sticks and broom grass untouched by fire) and put them at the roots of vegetables and on the thatched roofs of the houses. It is believed that the vegetables bear more fruit after that. 

The next day female members are busy preparing bagiya (the rice flour dumplings) from early morning. The bagiya are of various shapes and sizes, with and without lentils and potatoes inside. The morning is spent eating bagiya and cleaning the tools and equipment. (Read about bagiya by clicking the link

Har, kodair, tarju (the plough, spade and scales) and other agriculture tools are washed in a nearby pond or well and displayed in the yard. Even the doors are detached and washed thoroughly. Then mustard oil is applied on them and rice flour paste and vermillion are applied to purify them. This is done to pay respect and homage to the tools and equipment which help them till the land and grow food to eat throughout the year.

Then as the day advances, the herders go from house to house with a bale of grass called hurra collecting rice and money. The herders and the cattle owners wash their cattle, decorate them by painting with red, green and other colours, putting oil and vermillion on their horns and adorning them with bells. They prepare juice of dulfi and make the cattle drink the sweet smelling drink. It is believed to intoxicate the cattle and provide strength to fight.

The cows, buffaloes and goats – all are taken to the grazing plot (generally a river bank) and then starts the real competition between the strongest ones. The herders organise fights between the bulls and the strongest one takes the hurra home. In earlier days, the men too used to wrestle and declare the strongest man in the whole village.  

Then in the evening, they make godaha/godahaini (of human form) from the cow dung and leave it for the night in the gahli, the cowshed. The next day, the godaha/godahaini is made into a chipri (dung cake), dried and stored in a safe place.

The same chipri is used to light fire and cook the first grain harvested from the field and offered to the home deity. The ritual is called Neman. It is celebrated in honour of the new harvest and is celebrated in the month of November. Only after celebrating Neman, the Tharus consume the newly harvested grain. (Read about the significance of dung cakes in Tharu culture by clicking the link )

These days I long to see and play hunke hukar and hurra. The modernisation and amalgamation of cultures has brought with it some good practices. However, some exciting and entertaining rites and rituals are vanishing. It is the need of the moment to conserve the unique traditions and the young generation must take the responsibility.   

No comments:

Post a Comment