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The Vaishnodevi Experience 2023

My first trip to Vaishnodevi was unimpressive. Climbing was hard, and it only served to highlight how badly out of shape I was, while my in-laws managed to cope so much better. Further, I hadn’t quite realized that the cave experience wouldn’t be the same as I had imagined, since the original cave was only opened at certain times a year, and that we only entered a newly created tunnel, one far easier to access, and hence more manageable with the crowds that thronged the mountain shrine. The resulting experience at the shrine, for barely a fraction of a second, hardly compared to what I had expected / imagined / heard about. So, for me, Vaishnodevi was like any other temple, nothing to write home about, something that was reflected (though not explicitly mentioned) in the blog post I wrote then.

A Festival I hadn't heard of!

Considering how much I enjoy festivals, and coming from a family obsessed with celebrating not just our own, but every festival we come across, I had thought myself to be fairly well up to the mark when it came to knowledge of festivals celebrated in India.... at least those celebrated in the parts I come from and where I live! It just goes to show you how much I know when I came across a completely new festival today... in the market of all places!

I had taken my camera along, hoping to photograph some Ganeshas ready to be sold for the forthcoming Ganesh Chaturthi festival, and also all the stalls selling decorative items for the festival. As it happened, the rain was a dampener for the roadside stalls which are the most colourful. Only one of them had braved the rain, and he was making the most of the monopoly the weather had brought him. It was so crowded and he was so busy that I didn't even have the heart to think of taking photos amidst the melee!

As I moved on, buying other things I had come to buy, I stopped to look at an old woman selling images of Gauri. Gauri is another name for Parvati, who is the mother of Ganesha. In some parts of the country, mainly Maharashtra and Karnataka, Ganesh Chaturthi is preceeded by Gauri Puja the day before when the goddess is welcomed into the house. It is believed that Gauri comes home to earth to visit her parents. Shiva however is unhappy, and sends their son, Ganesha to eaarth the next day, to bring her back. Ganesha comes to his grandparents house, where he is pampered for anywhere between one and a half to eleven days, before he finally goes back home, taking his mother with him. In houses where this puja is celebrated, people bring home a clay idol of Gauri the day before bringing in Ganesha, and both idols are immersed on the same day. I have seen Gauri images being sold before, and in fact have bought them too, since my mom celebrates Gauri Puja at home. This time, I was in for a surprise!

The old woman was selling not just clay images of Gauri, but also cows! I was surprised, since I had never seen them before. Wondering if they were to be used along with the Gauri image, I asked the woman what they were for. She replied in Marathi, "It is for Pola!" "Pola!" I wondered aloud. I had never heard the word before, and had absolutely no clue what she was talking about! Perhaps sensing that I was lost, she explained that Pola was a festival which would be celebrated on Sunday, when cows and bulls would be prayed to. Since there was no place in Mumbai to keep cattle, these clay images would be the ones used for the puja!

It sounded so similar to the 'Mattu Pongal' celebrated in Tamilnadu during the middle of January, that I was curious to learn more about the festival, and sure enough, Google gave me the answer I was looking for! Here is what Wikipedia says about Pola:

Pola is a bull-worshipping festival celebrated by farmers mainly in the Indian state of Maharashtra. On the day of Pola, the farmers decorate and worship their bulls. Pola falls on the day of the Pithori Amavasya (the new moon day) in the month of Shravana (usually in August). 
Celebrations On the day of Pola, the bulls are first given a bath, and then decorated with ornaments and shawls. Their horns are painted, and their necks are adorned with garlands of flowers. Then, they are worshipped by their owners.The processions of decorated bulls, accompanied by the music and dancing, are carried out in the evenings. The first bullock to go out is an old bullock with a wooden frame (called makhar) tied on its horns. This bullock is made to break a rope of mango leaves stretched between two posts, and is followed by all the other cattle in the village. The order of the cattle is often indicative of the social standing of their owners in the village.[2] In some villages, fairs are organized, where competitions take place.Pola is the main festival of the farmers of the Maharashtra, especially the Kunbis. 
 Puran Polikaranji, and curry with five vegetables are the main dishes associated with the festival.

It does sound similar to Mattu Pongal, which is celebrated the day after Pongal, or Sankaranti as it is called here in Maharashtra.You can learn more about Mattu Pongal here. Then too, cows and bullocks are prayed to, but that is the only similarity. The festival is celebrated at a different time, and doesn't seem connected to the harvest festival, like it is down south. However, it just goes to show that people all over India celebrate the same events, just at different times and in different manners! 

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  1. Interesting and of course I heard it for the first time on this blog.

  2. Pola is interesting, so is the pic. Did you buy that clay cows. You can even use them for your Navarathri.

  3. Interesting festival....Reminds very much of the mattu pongal.

  4. Thats a good find. Interesting festival.

  5. No chitra.. didnt buy the cows since they werent all that good! details werent very clear either.... anyway, i already have a couple of them :)

  6. Yes, Jayasree... it seems to be very similar.. am looking out for someone whos actually performing the puja so i can see what they do!

  7. Hi Anu, can we feature this post on Aound the blog in dna? Please do let me know (shakti.dna @ gmail)

  8. You have described both festivals very nicely...just want to add something more...
    The pooja of devi Parwati (the small idol with lord shankar) is done on the day before Ganesh you said..and it is called as"Haritalika".
                     And the clay image of only is Gauri....actually Gouri pooja is done 4 days after Ganesh Chaturthi..
    It is done like..Gauri Aawahan(the day of arriving Gauri at home),Gouri Pooja(main day...lots of decoration and celebration is done on this day) and Gauri Visarjan....This year gouri pooja is on 4,5,6 sept.

    Pola or Bendur(name for pola in some regions of maharashtra)...actually it  celebrated on 14 th of maharashtra...this year... dont knw how that woman is selling it now...

                   Its a long since lots of people dont know about it i would like to post a photoraph of this festival celebrated in my home.......:-)

  9. Thanks Shakti! Please feel free to use it! sending u a mail too!

  10. Thanks so much, Sonal, for writing in.... I had written according to the festival which is celebrated at my mom's house... I did know of Hartalika, but have always been confused between which one is Hartalika and which is Gauri :) I would love to see pics of the puja at your home...

  11. Hi Anu. This is a very interesting post. I learned a lot, although it can be a bit confusing for me to keep up with so many festivals and deities.
    My dad collects statuettes of bulls, not for worship but because I likes bulls and he's a Taurus. He's got bulls from different countries but not from India (yet).

  12. Thanks Ana! I know how confusing it can be! there are just too many festivals for anyone to keep count! Nice to hear that ur dad collects bulls! We have some too.... usually collected for another festival... if i get an interesting one, will get one for ur dad too! and hey, he has a lot of company in our house.... its full of taureans... my son, mom, dad, sis in law, uncles aunts... so many of them!


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