Divali, the festival of Lights

as celebrated in the Pushti Marga.

Divali and New Year has a special meaning for followers of Pushti Marga, this article aims to explore this ancient relationship. It will also describe some of the festivities and rituals taking place at Nathadwara during the festival period. As Rag, Bhog and Shringar are so important to the Pushti sect, the article will also describe some of the fascinating shringars and "bechavats" - settings - of this grand festival. Though the festival lasts for many days, this article lists pageantry of five main days, Vagh Basras, Dhan Teras, Kali Chudash, Divali and Annakut - New Year.

Annakut is one of Pushti Marga's main festivals. It celebrates Krshna's worship of the Mount Govardhan during his Vraj Lila. Breaking with tradition, he recommended puja of Govardhan instead of Indra. Krshna argued that no one had seen Indra and benefits of his worship were rather dubious. Worshipping Govardhan-Nathji had positive and visible benefits. It was Govardhan-Nathji who protected them, gave them rain, grass, shelter etc. therefore it made sense to worship Him rather than some remote God on a golden throne in a transient heaven !

This represented one of the most significant moments in Krshna's Lilas. Besides overturning centuries of blind tradition, it showed Krshna's response to changing times. Kansa's cruel regime had left Vraj in poorer condition than in the past. Excessive taxes on all agricultural produces had meant the ordinary people and children of Vraj had to do without the basic, essential items in their diets. Except the very rich, most could not afford to give their children milk and butter or even good quality rice. Seeing this, Krshna decided it was unnecessary to pour huge quantities of butter, rice, cereals, and various other edibles in to the fire for the benefit of a God who never even bothered to show himself to the people of Vraj. Where was Indra when the people of Gokul were being bullied by the thugs of Kansa?

Krshna decided to celebrate a new festival where all the people of Vraj could benefit from their hard toil. All the food being gathered for Indra's yagna could be made in to delicious prasad (consecrated food) and after having offered it to Lord Govardhan it would be distributed to every one in Vraj, regardless of caste or creed. Krshna felt the entire community should be involved in the festivities and not just a privileged few.

As a result of such defiance of Heaven, Indra decided to drown the residents of Vraj in a tremendous flood. But, those protected by Krshna can not be destroyed so easily, the Lord decided to lift Mount Govardhan to shield the populace of Vraj from the wrath of Indra. Under the benevolent gaze of Krshna and Lord Govardhan, seven ceaseless days of torrential rain failed to make any impression on the people of Vraja. Realising his mistake, Indra came to apologise for his baseless pride. Indra than worshipped Krshna as Govinda - Universal King of cattle.

Divali also celebrates the gracious nature of the three goddesses, Lakshmi, Kali and Sarasvati. Dhan Teras is dedicated to Lakshmi, whose blessings are essential in making our lives prosperous, fruitful as well as peaceful. Goddess Lakshmi embodies the wealth of nature, health, intelligence, friends, family, long life, fame, fortune etc. The wealth of heaven is multifaceted and we all enjoy the blesing of mother Lakshmi in some measure. Kali-Chudash is dedicated to Maha Kali whose strength we seek to maintain the wealth we have. Strength, physical, mental and spiritual, is essential for an individual as well as the nation in order to flourish. Strength is essential for survival of any civilization. Used positively, it is benevolent; however, if misused, the same energy can be malevolent. Divali is dedicated to goddess Sarasvati. Knowledge is the ultimate wealth, for it can not be stolen from you, it is also the ultimate strength, for it often defeats brute force. Knowledge is the ultimate in spirituality, for it is "Jayna" that eventually leads to Enlightenment and Moksha.

Celebrating the various manifestations of the divine energy, Shrinathji enjoys the festivities in numerous ways at Nathadwara. His entire haveli is repainted for the New Year. Most of the walls are gleaming white with fresh coat of lime. Traditional paintings of Lord Ganesh and Surya, along with others, grace the lintels of the main gates. Door lintels and side panels are painted with auspicious signs, flowering creepers, lotuses, bowels of fruit, lamps, cows, maidens bearing artis, milk, butter and various gifts for the lord. Door wardens in rajput clothes are painted along with well caparisoned/ adorned elephants and horses led by handsome grooms. Tigers stand guard at Navnit Priyaji's haveli as gods descend in heavenly vehicles to catch a glimpse of the Nanda Kishor.

 

VATSA / VAGH BARAS :-

Vatsa baras is dedicated to calves.  ShriNathji invites them to the haveli and worships them in preparation for the festive season.
On this day, Brahmaji sought forgivness for having hidden the calves and friends of Shri Krushna for a year.

Shrinathji wears a gold brocade "Kachani" ( courtly skirt like dress worn by Rajput and Mughal aristocrates ) with numerous necklaces of pearls and emeralds. The beautiful yellow turban is topped with a gold ornament. The stele is covered with dark green silk, contrasting nicely with a red and gold pichavi. Celebrating the bounties of nature, pichavi depicts golden flowers growing on a delicate moughal trellis. Mani Kota ( chamber of gems ), directly in front of the inner sanctum, is decorated with four plantains ( banana plant ) and leaves of the asopalav tree ( cypress ). Chandeliers and chequered red and green brocade canopy lend a regal feel to the inner sanctum.

Navnit-Priyaji is similarly dressed in golden apparel and swathed in pearls and emeralds. The pichvi here is of beautiful purple and yellow stripes - pichvi is a colourful backdrop (usually on cloth) and is used to create a desired mood or commemorate a specific event. Veranda outside the inner sanctum of Ladela-Lal is covered in white wall hangings studded with silver moons. Miniature cows and herdsmen (made out of painted wood) wait near the door for the Lord to come out and play with them.

In the evening Navnit-Lal sits in the garden courtyard amid regal splendour. A spacious glass and mirror bungalow is set up near the wall of Shrinathji's inner sanctum. Steps leading up to the marble veranda are covered with a chequered carpet of green grass and (red) rose petals. Small lamps are set afloat in the four ponds of the garden. Yellow wall hangings, various chequered canopies, awnings and mirror studded pichvis complete the regal setting. Silver gopies serve the lord with various fans, chamars and the like. Madan Mohanji joins the lord in the evening's revelries as musicians play various instruments to entertain the divine Lords. Set amid lotuses, glittering jewels and myriad of twinkling lights, Lords of Nathadwara bring to life joys of Rajput and Moughal courts.

Today in Shrinathji's and Navnit-Lal's haveli, the whole scene is reminiscent of royal hunts when Imperial tents were set amid beautiful groves. Refinements of courtly life were enjoyed in a rustic/ rural setting. Richly decorated awnings stirred in clear mountain air as delicate glass chandeliers spilled pools of coloured light amid silk carpets, cushions and bolsters. At Nathadwara, such scenes are regularly brought back to life to entertain the Divine Lords.

 

DHAN TARAS :-

In honour of goddess Lakshmi, Shrinathji - Lord/ husband of Lakshmi, wears a regal Charvagha ( Moughal and Rajput formal court dress with four pointed corners ) of green and gold brocade. Several jewels of pearls, diamonds, rubies and emeralds are topped with a plume of peacock feathers set in the gleaming turban. The stele is covered in contrasting red, while the pichavi sets the mood of a royal garden pavilion. Parrots and peacocks perch amid flowering creepers as elephants dance near the base of the pichoi.

Lalan also exuberates royal splendour in his green and gold brocade. Today, all his toys, caskets and utensils are of pure gold. His pichavi depicts three royal pavilions set amidst a beautiful garden, complete with fountains and a fish pond! Radha and Krshna sit in the central pavilion, greeting their numerous guests and friends on this auspicious day. In the foreground, Krshna, Balram and their friends play with the cows specially decorated for the Divali festival.

In late afternoon, Navnit-Priyaji sits in a magnificent glass pavilion set in his own courtyard. Colourful flowers, mosaics of the coloured glass pavilion and silk curtains compete for attention. Colourful gem encrusted chess set along with numerous other games and toys tempt the lord to play to his heart's desire. Gold caskets around him contain such delicacies as sweets, paan, and sweet scented garlands of fresh flowers. Large enamel "surahi" contains sweet sherbets while the delicate "jharis" contain cool waters of the river Yamuna.

In the evening, vegetables arrive by the cart loads in advance preparation for the Divali and Annakut festival. The Lord's kitchen gets very busy and temple servants work around the clock to serve the most delicious food to the Gods.

 

KALI CHUDASH :-

On this day, Shri Krushna as Dwarikadhish defeated Narkasur and freed 16100 women he had imprisoned in his palace. Out of infinate compassion and grace, the Lord married them and made them his queens.

Maha Kali is the patron goddess for those who fight for truth and justice. Respecting the martyrs who have died for the cause of Dharma ( duty and righteousness ), Shrinathji wears an orangy red gold brocade ghagarjama. Orange to represent martyrdom, red for auspiciousness aswell as blood spilt in battle for a noble cause. Gold represents the wealth of life given to us all, used positively, it holds many rewards. Innumerable jewels compete with each other to adorn the lord. Colourfully worked flowers, imitating bright jewels, jostle for space on the Lord's graceful body. Anklets on his feet sparkle just as brightly as his heavily bejewelled hands. The stele is covered in a deep indigo blue while the pichavi has gold dots on a white background, a simple and graceful setting befitting a truly refined warrior.

Navnit-Lal's clothes are of also of orangy red brocade but have green flowers on them, worked in finest silk. Pearl and diamond necklaces are occasionally punctuated with rubies and emeralds to add colour to the overall grandeur. Early in the evening, He comes out of his haveli to grace a pretty pavilion of bevel edged mirror panels and wooden arches. The eight arched pavilion is profusely decorated with gods, dancing nymphs and gopies bearing gifts. Richly decorated Kashmirey vases, water ewers, paan boxes, Moughal surahies of red and green enamel, silk cushions and canopies are lit up by two, four tiered candelabras. Set on a high platform just outside his haveli, the glittering pavilion forms a beautiful silhouette against the night sky.

At night, Shrinathji abandons his glass pavilion, used since the Rajbhog darshan, and instead uses a glowing arch/ doorway of lamps to make the "shayan" darshan memorable. Mani kota sparkles with the light of innumerable lamps as the benign beauty of the Lord charms all those who come to visit him.

The Lord is so busy giving darshan during the festival season that though he awakens around 5.30am, he has hardly any time to himself! A number of public darshans have to be skipped in order to give Him sufficient time to eat and rest!

 

DIVALI :-

Sarasvati is the goddess of the day. In her honour, Shrinathji wears a silver brocade charvagha. Like silver, intellect too has to be constantly polished, otherwise it too turns dark. White also represents unblemished, pure character, essential for a Jayani/ intellectual/ philosopher. Countless jewels adorn the Lord and a jewel studded turban is topped by a large plume of peacock feathers. His plaited hair swings merrily to his left-hand side while He holds aloft red roses in his left hand. Framed by a jewelled 'gate', the stele is covered with yellow silk and the pichavi offered today is one of the costliest of all. In early 19th Century, Tilkayat Shri Dauji had this pichoi made from jewellery gifted to him by other Goswami balaks after a chappan-bhog festival. Real pearls, gem stones and gold are woven in to this pichavi to depict the "Tree of Life" motif. In Pushti art, the 'tree of life' is sometimes worshipped as representation of the Lord Himself.

Navnit-Priyaji is also richly dressed and today all the wall hangings in his haveli are white. Being the representative of Shrinathji, He is the central figure in today's main ritual, worshipping of the cows. Shrinathji has over 12,000 cows under his care. Of these, around a hundred come to represent his huge herd. Painted and decorated with peacock feathers, tassels and anklets, they are brought to the haveli in a mass of organised confusion. Clouds of dust flies everywhere, as herdsmen mock the cows by using rattles and taking away their calves. Cows charge around at speed, sometimes knocking the herdsmen to the ground. ( No one gets seriously hurt, as cows are usually not as aggressive as bulls. )

While the cows are sporting in the narrow streets of Nathadwara, Navnit-Lal gets ready to perform the momentous rituals of the last day of the year. Surrounded by servants, priests, musicians and attendant Goswamis, He makes a grand exit from his haveli, seated in a golden palaquin. Every few paces the divine retinue comes to a halt as the Goswami offers paan to the Lord. Navnit-Lalji arrives in Shrinathji's haveli at a gentle pace. When everything is ready, the Ladele-Lal comes out on to the steps of the Suraj-Pole to greet his beloved cows. After worshipping "Nandini", descended from a cow in the original heard of Nandababa in Krshna's time, the Lord requests her to return next day with all her friends for the worship of mount Govardhan. As night descends, countless lamps are lit to dispel the darkness of despair and fear. A new year is eagerly awaited and, just like the people of Ayodhaya awaiting return of Rama from his exile, devotees await to see their Lord. Navnit-Lal sets up a small "hatadi", a kiosk, for selling various goods in the Ratan Chowk - courtyard of gems. Twelve arches of the glass/ mirror kiosk represent the twelve signs of the zodiac. The hatadi recalls a time when Bal-Krshna set up a small stall to attract the gopies. Silk cushions, bolsters and various golden objects are strewn around the colourful hatadi. A gold incense burner keeps the night bugs away as the Lord of the Universe gives the last darshan of the year.

In the inner sanctum, chopat is laid out for the Lord to have an all night party of games with his friends.  Lamps are kept lit all night for gopa, gopies and Gopijan Vallabh to enjoy the party.  Lord has so much fun playing with his friends, he does not sleep tonight.

 

ANNAKUT/ NEW YEAR :-

On this day, Shri Krushna worshiped mount Govardhan as Indra-maan-bhang lila.  The Lord wanted to remind Indra of his part in the universal lila.

First day of the year, and Shrinathji appears in all his finery. Shringar and clothes are the same as that of Divali, suggesting continuous, cyclic, nature of time. As a special shringar of the day, He wears a red brocade "Gokarna Mukut" is a turban with its ends flared out to resemble the large ears of the cows. Cowherds wear such turbans on special occasions. Being an especially busy day, Shrinathji gives only two public darshans, Mangala in the morning and Annakut darshan late at night.  Ritual routine continues as the haveli hums noisomely with numerous activities.  Everyone rushes around putting final touches to their various sevas.

Huge quantities of food is prepared and arranged in the "Doltibari", the main audience hall of ShriNathji's haveli. 2332.5Kg. of rice is used to make a representation of Govardhan-Nathji. A huge gunja, sweet cake, is placed on top to represent Lord Vishnu and four other cakes are placed at the corners to represent his four arms, thus offering protection to his devotees from all four sides. This also recalls the time when Krshna, as Govardhan-Nathji produced many hands to eat the various prasads offered to him by the people of Vraj. Nijmandir - inner sanctum -, mani kota and doltibari are submerged in various edibles. In the afternoon, Navnit-Lalji once again officiates for Shrinathji and comes to Suraj Pole with his retinue.

In the Govardhan Puja Chowk, a miniature Mount Govardhan is made of cowdung.  "Giri kandara", a specially constructed niche, is used as a seat for a stone from the original Mount Govardhan . Priests and temple servants in attendance hold branches of the karen tree, representing Lord Ganesh, so that the festival comes to a peaceful conclusion and without any hitches.

A Goswami worships Shri Govardhan-Nathji on behalf of Navnit-Lalji by first bathing the Lord, in his Mountain form, with various liquids poured from a gold covered conch. Offering the Lord dupa, arti, bhog and arti, the puja is concluded by ritually offering Him a paan. Nandini, along with the rest of the cows are worshipped and fed. Once the Lord retires to the inner sanctum, Nandini is brought in to the special enclosure and allowed to ritually dismantle the mountain of cow-dung.

Late at night, around 8pm., the devotees are allowed to witness the most important darshan in Pushti Marga, Annakut. Crowds swell as people from near by towns and villages also come for this momentous darshan. People waiting in the queue can take over 90 min to come out! The queue starts at the gate of Govardhan Chowk and winds itself through the Dholipatia, through Kamal Chowk, in to Anar Chowk before entering the long hall adjacent to the main audience hall - Dolti Bari. Annakut of innumerable foods can be seen from the hall. High gratings separate the people from the prasad. Metal railings, specially installed, become essential when at the end of the darshan, tribals come to loot the prasad and often find themselves crushed in the rush as they run around, trying to get as much prasad as possible. This tradition, allowing the tribal folk of India access to the first prasad of the year, goes back to Lord Krshna’s time.

Today the Lord seems much larger than ever before. The Divine presence fills the entire inner sanctum and spills over into the main audience chamber.  Jewelled 'gate' is placed behind Shri Nathji and a red pitamber is tied to it. Shri Vitthalnathji and his wife Rukshmaniji join Shrinathji and Navnit-Priyaji for this darshan. This being one of the rare occasions when different "Nidhies" come together for public darshans. Often Vittalnathji and his wife witness the Govardhan puja from Dholi Patia, whislt still in their covered palanquin. In keeping with Rajput tradition of "purdah", whenever the Lord travels with his beloved Swaminiji, he always does so in a covered palanquin. If on any occasion He has travelled alone, He invariably returns to his beloved's chamber before daybreak, even if it means travelling after midnight! Such is the love of the Lord for Shri Radha! Dwarkadhisji, of Kakroli, sometimes joins the party, and as he often comes alone, his servants have to make a dash for Kakroli so as to reach it before dawn.

Tribals from all over the state of Mewar come to loot the Annakut. This is a special privilege given to them since Krshna's time when the Lord himself desired to share the bounties of Annakut with all the people of Vraja. They carry away heavy pots of food and stuff their large scarfs with the rice. Many climb the ceiling high gratings to get a darshan of the Lord.

Festivities over, Navnit-Lal and Vittalnathji return to the familiar comforts of home. Covered in a thick cloth of red and gold embroidery, Vittalnathji's palanquin returns with its retinue to His haveli across the Priyatem Pole - Beloved's Gate. Divine Lords are greeted at the entrance of their respective havelies by "Swasti-Vachans" from the Vedas.

After a brief darshan, the Navneet Priyaji retires to his bed chamber. The night still resonates with the sounds of festivities. Servants clean up the various halls and courtyards. Priests put Thakorji to bed and temple singers coax them to sleep. As the lights dim in the great haveli of the Lord, last of the devotees leave and guards secure the innumerable doors and gates of the haveli. Having re-enacted the lilas of the past, Lord too sleeps in a deep slumber, tired after a particularly busy day.

Shringar on New Year's day at Alakapuri Haveli, Vadodara (Baroda), Gujarat.

Click here for a map of the Haveli and a guided tour of it's inner complex.

Bhagwat Shah

 

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bhagwat_s@yahoo.com

 

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