The Idea of Hindu Gods
The Sanskrit word Utsav encapsulates more than just a festivity, it functions to make an individual transcend into the realm of spiritual ecstasy. Each of the thousand Hindu God represents an abstract idea such as that of protection, love or knowledge or wealth and these ideas assume a form which could be human or an Animal or a combination of both. The form allows the common worshipper to access spirituality through a network of rituals and festivities woven in a mytho- spiritual calendar of events for both individuals and communities.
Krishna – Finding the Self
Of the many Indian Gods, Krishna (from the pastoral community) and his overarching lineage from within Vaishnavism postulates the most vibrant form of celebrations through which the devotee finds himself. The cult of Krishna although present all over India has a pilgrimage marked area a theme park – Braj Bhoomi (pastoral land). It is located in the present day Uttar Pradesh and has several places correlating to the mythological life of the God which through rituals and celebration becomes vibrant, lived spiritual reality. As with other Gods, Krishna is for many a personal (ishta) or a family (kula) devta or deity. He is the anchoring energy for several schools of thought and philosophy such as that of Pushti Marg.
Seva or service to Krishna is an important element for the believers to connect with the divine. “We experience Krishna with our eyes, we feel Him through all of our senses. Hari is the desire, the festival of our hearts. To imbibe Krishna’s form is the ultimate reward. “(Venu Gita, Subodhini). A large number of services rendered corresponds to his daily and festival activity calendar throughout the year. His daily schedule is divided into 8 units of Hindu time of the day called – aath prahar and each unit comprises of services the Lord. Each event has specific prayers, dress code, rituals, and foods. He is awakened, bathed and so on and so forth. The services involve three rituals – Shringar – adornment, Raag- entertainment which includes music, dance, festive rituals, arts such as, painting among others and finally the ritual of offering Bhog or variety of sacred foods. The bhog is offered, blessed and then shared among the believers.
The Hindola Festival
The Hindola or swing festival is a prominent event in the ritual calendar of Krishna worship. In the rainy Hindu month of Shraavana, the monsoon clouds provide relief from the intense summer heat giving way to an exuberant spirit. It is time for lovers to unite, the environment is colored by lush greenery, sweet-smelling flowers, and fruiting trees. Krishna is believed to be in service of his female principal Radha who he woos on the swing. Recreating the spirit, songs are sung beckoning Radha on the swing, Radhe,jhoolan padharo, jhuki aae badra hindola…Come on the swing O Radha, see how the cloud also bends…
The arrival of the festival of Haryali teej third day of the month heralds the time when lila or divine play of Krishna with his consort Radha, and Gopis (cowherd girls) symbolizing the unity of contrasting energy in the environment of love is recreated and each day of the month, believers gather to celebrate the festival.
And while the gods are placed on swings, women in communities, especially in North India, hang swings on trees, the Mango tree is the most preferred one. Women dressed in the attire of green, women who have fasted for having conjugal bless, and unmarried girls who wish for getting good husbands, engage in the celebratory activity of swinging which together with their green attire becomes a symbol of fertility.
The Festival of Swings in Krishna Worship
Swings are hung in all temples and every day for an hour in the afternoon, the idols of Krishna-Radha are taken out from the altar and placed on a swing. The swings made of silver, gold, mirrors, fruits, vegetables, jasmine, Indian roses, and greenery represent fertility and love in union. A string pulls the swing to and fro and the bhaktas or devotees in the courtyard bind themselves through the string to the divine couple. On the opposite side, Haveli Sangeet (a genre of music associated with Krishna worship) is sung. While flowers are showered on the divine couple, the worshippers are sprinkled with red dry powder gulal representing love. “Soon after, a pool of perfumed water decorated with lotus blooms is prepared in front of the swing, and a small boat is launched on which Krishna-Radha are placed and given a joyous boat ride,” says Pandit Anil Joshi a Pushti Marg priest in a Hindu temple in Chicago where he celebrates the festival.
The boat ride ends, the divine couple is placed back on the swing, after which bhog is offered to the divine couple. The specific food called the Raj Bhog comprises milk products, dry fruits among other things is offered by reciting a special prayer. The festivities of the day ends with an arti, a ceremony where amidst singing a metal plate lit with oil lamps decorated with sacred food, water, and flowers representing the four elements of fire, water, earth, air is moved in a circulatory path drawing the devotees to swing in spiritual ecstasy. The divine couple retreats, the curtain closes leaving the followers with a glimpse of the divine consciousness reminding one of the lines by William Butler Yeats –
O body swayed to music, O Brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
Heritage Interpretations and Swing: Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PujpO4xpaSk
All Heritage landscapes are multilayered and invite heritage interpreters and curators to display innovations in the presentations of heritage landscape. The symbol of the swing, for instance, is recreated in the intriguing palace Hindol Mahal or Swing Palace appropriately built in Mandu in Madhya Pradesh known as a Monsoon retreat and called the City of Joy. The presenter expands on the idiom of the Monsoon and the swing and dances in the Palace.
About Navina Jafa: NAVINA JAFA- Kathak Dancer who performs Heritage: She has been called the Gatekeeper of the Spectacular by Financial Times, Study Leader by the Smithsonian Museum Journeys, Experiential Architect by Times of India is engaged in curating (Academic Immersive Tourism) #AcademicImmersiveTourism in India and Asia. She teaches Culture/Art and Sustainable Development at the TERI UNIVERSITY is engaged with sustainable development at the Centre for New Perspectives and is a writer with several leading Newspapers and journals on Indian and Asian Cultural History, Management and Diplomacy. http://www.navinajafa.com