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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Rajput Celebration of Navratri, Ashwa Poojan & Dussehra in Rajasthan | With Old Rajasthani Paintings & Modern Pictures

Hi Everyone,

Wishing all the blog readers a very happy Dussehra / Vijayadashami / Durga Puja / Bijoya :) 
May this day be the harbinger of success, prosperity and good times in your life.

Navratri is one of the most auspicious times in the Hindu calendar. It marks the beginning of the festive season and is one of the favorite times of the year for me, and i am sure for many others too. 

Lasting for nine days and nights and hence known as Navratri, this festival is dedicated to the worship of the goddess Durga, the consort of Lord Shiva. According to Hinduism, it is 'The Woman', the 'Mother', who is the source of power, energy, vigour in the universe and the force that is responsible for the propagation of creation. Maa Durga (the Divine Mother) representing Shakti (Power) is depicted in nine popular avatars (forms) during the nine days of the festival during the month of Ashvin (September / October). The mother goddess is worshipped to seek Her blessings for imparting strength, power, courage and spirituality to Her devotees. 

Note: You can learn more about these 9 forms of Durga at the following link: 
Nine Forms of Durga

Much like the rest of India, Navratri and Dussehra are celebrated in full vigour in Rajasthan, the land of Rajputs. This article is especially focused on how these festivals have been traditionally celebrated by Rajputs.

Record of Navratri Celebrations by Rajputs

The festivities started from the sthapana day. On this occasion, animals were sacrificed at the shrine of Durga, and various manifestations of the goddess in the forms of Rudrani, Maha Kali and Chandika were worshipped.1 

For all nine days, reciting the Durga Saptasati - a religious book of seven hundred verses - was an important part of the festival. 2

The Hakikat Bahi (3) of Jodhpur preserves a copy of the letter from Maharaja Vijaya Singh to the District Officer of Nagor of 1778 A.D., in which full instructions  for the celebrations of the festival were given by him. The letter throws sufficient light on the rituals and formalities observed on the occasion. 

According to it, on the first day, the goddess Durga's image was installed and jawara or barley seeds were sown and worshipped. On the 8th day, nine virgin girls, representative of Durga, were worshipped by each warrior. On the 9th day, offerings were made to fire, and feasting and merry-making concluded the Navratri festival. The sprouted jawara and the image of the goddess was taken to a pond or a tank in procession amid great rejoicing and night vigil manifested with singing and dancing.

The ninth day of Navratri, called Navami, is the culminating day of the nine-day festival. On Navami, Rajputs everywhere recognize and worship the various aspects of their life on which they depend for their livelihood. It is a known fact that one cannot separate a Rajput warrior from his horse and the reliance and dependence of the Rajput warrior on his horse can, in no way, be undermined. It is not just in India but the world over that many a household has survived because of the unflinching and faithful services rendered by the horse to man. 

Rana Ari Singh of Mewar (1761) displays his skill in horsemanship, which was learned by every Rajput warrior at an early age.

It is, therefore, appropriate that one day in the year be especially dedicated in recognition of the usefulness of the horse and its contribution to the survival of the Rajput community. This is an important festival specific to Rajputs. It is called the Ashwa Pujan, or the Worship of Horse. This practice is followed to this day by the Rajputs of Udaipur. 

Ashwa Pujan

It is an important festival for the Rajput warrior as he celebrates his devoted and valiant steed, his most powerful symbol,  and all his weapons on Dussehra. The Ashwa Poojan Ceremony or Worship of the Horse commemorates the bond of interdependence between the Rajput and the horse and the partnership of centuries. Ashwa Poojan is really the grand finale to the Navratri festivities, invoking both the power of Durga and the Ashwa.

Complete Regalia - The 'Marwari' is ready !! The pink ornament which is present between the horse's ears is called 'Kalingi' . These are the pictures of 2010. This stallion is called "Raj Tilak" , pie-bald, then aged 14 years. Complete decoration is done in silver.

The horses participating in the poojan belong to an internationally recognized breed known as ‘Marwari’. This name is reflective of their area of origin, which is now a part of the present state of Rajasthan - Marwar. The salient characteristics of the breed are that they are extremely sure-footed on hard rocky terrain and are at equal ease in the sands of the desert. Besides these versatile features, they are good battle companions, as they possess the extraordinary ability to rejuvenate themselves by overnight rest and a simple sand bath.  Chetak, the horse of Maharana Pratap was also a 'Marwari'. Read more here : Chetak & Maharana Pratap | Eternal Legend

The art of selection or choosing the horse is exceedingly complex and is described in books known as the 'Salotar'. A Salotar is an ancient encyclopaedia about horses, and includes complete information related to them, such as breeding, training, grooming, shoeing, veterinary cover, good and bad whorls etc. These documents, updated from time to time, are based on the experiences of eminent Rajput horsemen.

Neveri - The Silver Ornament on the Knee

Ashwa Poojan originated in ancient times, but is still practised in  Mewar. Every year, the magic of this custom unfolds on the ninth day of Navratri, as Mewar offers thanksgiving to its Marwari battle horses bedecked in complete Rajput regalia. 

'Halra' - Bands of Silver Necklaces Around the Neck

Celebrating Dussehra in Rajasthan

Since time immemorial, Dussehra was an important festival for all Rajputs in general and the warrior class in particular. It was observed on the 10th day (dashmi) of the bright-half of the month of Asoja (Ashvin / September-October) in commemoration of Lord Rama's victory over Ravana. 

The Mewar Ramayana manuscript, which narrates the story of Lord Rama, was commissioned by Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar in 1649 and produced in his court studio at Udaipur. 

Lord Rama has divided his forces, sending the chief monkeys with their separate armies to the four gates of the city of Lanka. The allies have launched a general attack on Lanka, in which many marvellous feats of skill and daring are performed. From Mewar Ramayana.
After a tremendous fight, in which Lord Rama  shoots off Ravana's heads with his arrows only to see them grow again, Lord Rama is reminded to use his Brahma-astra (weapon). This weapon pierces Ravana's chest and he falls lifeless from his chariot. From Mewar Ramayana.
'The Great battle between Rama and Ravana' , Raghogarh folk style, Central India, 19th Century. 

'Rama grieves seeing Lakshmana unconscious', Bikaner-Deccan mixed style,18th century

'Indrajit worships Devi before battle; Lakshmana kill him on the battlefield' , Malwa style, 17th cent.
Dussehra was the culmination of the Navratri festival - nine nights of worship of Maa Durga, the warrior goddess.

This beautiful Rajasthani Painting "Dassehra Durbar",of Marwar style, depicts the king seated against a bolster in court. He is wearing a white dress. Dancers are performing to the accompaniment of music. Courtiers on either side of the king are enjoying the dance and music. They are all wearing white dresses and red turbans. The occasion is the celebration of the Dussehra festival. 

Rajput princes used to celebrate Dussehra in a magnificent style by holding darbars, receiving nazars, and conferring ranks and honour on deserving officers. Vassals used to pay homage to the Rana on this day. Horses and elephants were brought out for display after being duly washed, groomed and bedecked. 

A 1764 miniature painting depicts Maharana Ari Singh II (1761-1773) riding in procession with the traditional emblems of royalty: a chhatri (parasol) called Kirnia and two royal standards called Changi. One is in black felt and the other is in white ostrich feathers, both with a golden sun in the centre. The sun indicates that the Rajputs were Suryavanshi, i.e., belonging to the dynasty of the Sun.

Jahangir Celebrates Dussehra

Mughal Emperor Akbar is credited for celebrating Dussehra with his Rajput wife. Though, Jahangir is also known to have shown reverence to the customs. While staying at Ajmer, Jahangir celebrated the Dussehra festival in the usual Rajput manner. Decorated elephants and horses were brought before him for review. A procession was taken to the place where a sami tree was being worshipped. Illumination and fireworks followed the celebration. 

Dussehra - A Time for War

According to an old tradition, the rulers of Rajasthan used to move out from their places, on Dussehra, to organise a campaign on the pretext of Aheria hunt. War was a "sport" for the Rajputs. It was a part of their custom. For instance, Rana Raj Singh used this festival as an excuse to lead an expedition to Badnor. 4

An 1802 miniature depicts the army of Rana Bhim Singh (1778-1828) in procession to the temple of Ekling Ji. Traditionally, a triangular crimson flag (pataka) with a golden sun represented the Ranas of Mewar, but flags were also issued to the leading Rajput nobles. These flags had a Rajput dagger (kataar) on a crimson flag, as shown here. The rectangular flag with the sun, the crescent moon, the talwar (curved sword) and two stars, was called dhvaja and was carried by the royal band. The double triangle white flag depicts Hanuman, the traditional symbol of fearlessness and strength for Hindus.

Historian R.C. Dutta illustrates how medieval custom still lingers and the Dussehra festival is still celebrated with spirit and enthusiasm in Rajasthan. He writes, "The Rajputs worship the sword on this occasion ...... I witnessed the Maharaja (of Jaipur) performing the worship, assisted by his priests and ministers; I saw the Maharaja going out in a procession among joyous and enthusiastic crowds of people; and I also witnessed the grand closing review and festivities in an open plain adjoining the town. Fire-works and illuminations closed the scene, and as I came back to the city among tens of thousands of joyous, enthusiastic and loyal citizens crowding round their chief......I could to some extent realise their loyalty, their pride, their joyousness."

 The Mewar army in the 19th century, a mix of the old and new. The old-style armoured horses and elephants are seen in the foreground, the organized infantry and English-style cavalry at the back. Artillery guns fire a salute as the Rana (not seen in the picture) takes a muster of his army on the Muhalla day after Dussehra. Some of the traditional cavalry wear elephant-masks.

1 - Rajaratanakara, C 15, f. 85, C 17, f. 96; Gunarupaka, f. 75.
2 - Bhandara No.1, Basta No. 11, 1693
3 - Hakikat Bahi, No.2, 14th of the dark-half of Asoja, (19th October, 1778 A.D.)

4 -
Karmachandra-Vanshot-Kirtankam-Kavyam, vv. 526-30;
Rajaprakasha, v. 92 ;
Rajavilasa, C 6, v. 1 ;
Rajaratnakarn, C 15, v. 38, f.85 ;
Gunarupaka,  f. 104b;
Muntakhab-ul-Lubab, I, Pg. 172-173;
Bhandara No.1, Basta No. 11, records the variety of fire-works as havai, champa, charkhi, hatphula and chhachhundari in 1693 ; Hakikat Bahi, No. 20, 1778.
5 - R. C. Dutta : Rambles of India, pp. 48-49.

'Sad and perturbed Ravana seated on a golden throne, worried about his fate', Kangra style, 19th century

I now leave you to enjoy this festive season with these pictures from the archives:

Celebrating Dussehra in Kota, Rajasthan

In Rajasthan, Dussehra is celebrated with great vigour in Kota, which also reigns supreme among tourists for holding gala celebrations for the Dussehra festival. The Dussehra Festival of Kota can be touted among the major attractions of the town. During this festival, a very vibrant and colourful mela or fair is organized. This festival is usually held every year in the Hindu month of Ashvin (September-October). Dussehra is joyfully celebrated almost all over India but is a class apart in Kota! 75-feet tall effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarana and Meghnath are burnt here on Dussehra day.

Diwali Celebrations in Udaipur

This view of a celebration in a Rajput palace is an early example of the genre of Rajput paintings, panoramas describing scenes of court life, that blossomed in the early 18th century at the Mewar court. The palace is most probably located in Udaipur. 

The festivities represent Diwali, the Festival of Lights devoted to Lakshmi the Goddess of Wealth and Good Fortune. To secure luck in the coming year,  the Goddess is worshipped at Her shrine, and the light from the fireworks and the oil lamps on the dark New Moon night symbolises the victory of the forces of light over darkness. The palace is depicted from a bird’s eye view, the perspective of different sections skewed to present the architectural details and spaces within the building to best effect. 

The painting richly rewards close examination, with numerous entertaining vignettes and details, including the woman seen in profile through the window set into the bright orange main gate. Beyond the walls of the palace, a lively gathering includes a group of musicians, men sprinkling the dust with water from a goat skin bag, a pair of sadhus (ascetics) and even a man leading a leopard on a leash. 

Within the palace, the Diwali festivities take place in the presence of the Rana who is accompanied by the women of the raniwaas. Here he is being entertained by a diminutive performer. The open placement of the women in the painting depicts the freedom enjoyed by the ladies in the palace. To the left, a priest bows before the Diwali lights. The combination of intricate, lively details contained within a framework of palace architecture and landscape, and executed in dense, bold colours, characterise the Rajput painting. 

Date Created : 1690
Type: Opaque Watercolours and gold paint on paper

Celebrating Ashwa Poojan in Udaipur

Rana Bhupal Singh at the Ashwa Poojan festivities in 1950.
Silver gelatin print,
Accession Number - 2008.04.0004
 All rights reserved - City Palace, Udaipur

Unknown and undated portrait of the Ashwa Poojan festivities in Udaipur 
All rights reserved - City Palace, Udaipur 

Ashwa Poojan celebration in Udaipur, wide view of festivities. You can compare this picture with the above portrait. The location is same.

Here are the pictures of the Ashwa Poojan ceremony at Udaipur performed this evening on 21st October, 2015.

Ashwa Poojan Ceremony Being Presided by Rana Sriji Arvind Singh Mewar, the present Rana of Udaipur

Rana Sriji Arvind Singh Mewar offers arati to a Marwari Horse

Rana Sriji Arvind Singh Mewar worships a Marwari horse in the traditional manner even today.

A wide view of the festivities in the Udaipur palace on the occasion of Ashwa Poojan, 21st October 2015

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Thanks to Radhika for her inputs in the compilation of this article.
The article has been posted under the Rajputs section of this history BLOG.

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