In this auspicious lunar month we try to inculcate some noble qualities to march in the path of Bhakti and shed negative attributes of our body-mind.
The dominant narrative that runs to demean India’s civilization is that it’s a culture imposed from above by Brahmin supremacists. These supremacists have created monolithic practices of misogyny and caste discrimination and sanctioned them through Hindu scriptures. Such misinformation is the result of using an alien lens to view the diverse cultures co-existing in this land. There is also predatory selfishness that creates such false narratives.
On this auspicious day of Sharada Purnima, let’s try to bust some of these myths through the festivals celebrated locally in Odisha. Sharada Purnima is also known as Kumar Purnima in Odisha and in some places, falls tomorrow. Kumar Purnima is the end of Ashwina month.
Feminism in festivals
Sharada Purnima celebrates womanhood in Odisha apart from the Rajo festival, in the month of June, that celebrates the menstruation cycle in women. The focal point is unmarried girls- Kumaris who pray to Sun and Moon God and Bhagwan Kartika, the first son of Shiva and Parvati, for getting an able and handsome life partner- Kumar. The key point of choice and consent lies in their hands. Here, Bhagwan Kartika symbolizes the desired qualities of a responsible and caring husband by nature and an able man by his physique. Further, it is to be understood that the choice of a life partner by a woman need not be in conflict with her family or community as in an atomized society.
People may argue that social practices do not reflect the above view and that is true to an extent. Social practices are shaped and evolve through generations under the influence of many forces. It would not be fair and adequate to analyze those numerous forces here. But blaming the core ideas of Hindu customs and scriptures of patriarchy without even studying and understanding is outright wrong. The reality is far from the narrative, rather the opposite. The radical feminists will still argue that this sort of role assignment to women to wish for a male partner speaks of gender submissiveness and a dependency constructed socially. The institution of marriage is an exploitative one for them. But aren’t they creating an ideology that disregards the fundamental biological and emotional needs of humans? How different is it from a religion that controls the sexuality of a woman, when they create a cult that takes away their individual autonomy by idealizing a fixed code of conduct? Kumar Purnima on the other hand is a voluntary decentralized expression of a woman’s desires and giving space to her pleasures in a cultural setting.
But it would be myopic to see the function of this local festival as only giving space to sexuality. Just as a tropical forest, Indian festivals have many varieties within them. It is a manifestation of community spirit. The girls keep a fast the whole day. They don new attires. In the early morning, the rituals start near the Tulsi plant. They offer grains, coconut, sugarcane and other fruits and flowers to the Sun God. In the evening they offer mashed banana and cottage cheese with sugar or jaggery near the sacred Tulsi plant. The mashed dish is placed in the shape of a crescent moon. The Chandra Dev or Moon God is a symbol of masculine beauty. The place comes alive with the perfume of incense sticks, and flowers, lamp and blowing of the conch. It is forbidden for males to be present during these times. The ladies make sure that they see the rising moon in the evening and break their fast with the “prasad”. Funnily, it is said any girl who misses the view of the rising moon will get an old and senile husband. There are folk songs sung especially for this occasion with dance performances as well. A sport named “Puchi” which is also identified with this occasion is played by girls. It’s a type of squatting game where the person has to continuously keep moving her alternate legs. The one who does it for the longest time is the winner. Sports competitions and dance performances are held. These festivities are more prominent in villages but even they are losing these traditions with time.
Though Hinduism is associated with Brahmanism, which itself is a misnomer, this festival is mainly celebrated not by Brahmins but among other jatis, though some Brahmin families do celebrate it. Another ritual is done on this day which is the worship of Gaja-Lakshmi (Devi Lakshmi with four white elephants). It is more prominent among Lakshmi-Narayana-Gola jatis and other farming and trading communities. Their Ishta Devi is Gaja-Lakshmi. The earthen deities of Lakshmi in awe-inspiring pandals are also created and worshipped.
What is Raasleela between Krishna and Gopis?
The sacred month of Kartika starts from tomorrow i.e. one day after Sharada Purnima. Many people forbid non-vegetarian food during this month. Instead, local vegetarian delicacies are specially done during the month. It is said that the Gopis started worshipping Devi Katyayani from the date of Sharada Purnima for one month. On the next Purnima (full moon) named Raasa Purnima or Kartika Purnima, Prabhu Krishna did “MahaRaasa” with the Gopis.
This MahaRaasa between Krishna and numerous Gopis is distorted and denigrated to unimaginable levels in the modern-day discourse. This is simply due to the incomprehensible lowness of the human mind. The profoundness of this concept is hardly present in today’s times. Gopis represent all spiritual practitioners. Every creation of Prakriti is feminine. We in our senses even with our noble qualities (Sattva Gunas) are feminine. Only the true self is masculine. And that true self-consciousness is Krishna. He is the Purusha. He is Infinity.
The goal of a spiritual practitioner is to get immersed in the Infinite Purusha. Then she loses all her attributes of mind and body. This is possible through mastery over one’s mind, one’s emotions and one’s desires. One need not suppress it. One has to be unperturbed by it. This is possible through Yoga. And the Yoga is Prana-kriya. The sun symbolizes the Prana or the life force. The Prana has to ascend from the Muladhara Chakra to Agnya Chakra and then descend from Agnya Chakra to Muladhara chakra. The ascending of Prana from Muladhara chakra to Ajna chakra happens during the bright fortnight and the descending Prana in the dark fortnight.
A minimum of one lunar month of yogic practice is essential to be submersed in the Purusha, bereft of the mind-body continuum. This was for the Gopis who were great Rishis and Rishikas in their previous birth. They practice this during this auspicious month of Kartika, which starts from tomorrow. The MahaRaasa is the union of the feminine with the masculine, the union of Prakriti with Purusha, the union of Aatma with ParamAatma, the union of Gopis with Krishna.
So we mere mortals in this auspicious month try to inculcate some noble qualities to march in the path of Bhakti. We try to shed some negative attributes of our body-mind. We follow the path of Gopis – the great Rishis and Rishikas- to gain Sat-Chit-Ananda. We try to elevate our Prana shakti through various spiritual practices. Our festivals and stories embedded these universalistic principles in very easy and simple ways for the masses. It is sad that the dominant narrative is nowhere near it.
Kriya Yoga: The science of Life Force by Swami Nityananda Giri