While today in different parts of Maharashtra most of us so enthusiastically participate in the Navratri festival – the color combinations of all the nine days are circulated and followed on most whatsapp groups; little do we know that we ourselves have a similar celebration in Maharashtra too! Bhondla festival celebrated predominantly in southern Maharashtra and Konkan. Similar to Bhondla is also another festival called Hadga which is also celebrated during the same time in various regions. However, the difference lies in the participants. Bhondla is celebrated only by ladies, in Hadga gents also participate.
So what exactly is this festival, how do we celebrate it? Believe me, I had a hard time figuring out the answers to these question on our multi-talented all-inclusive Google. But thankfully got more information from most elders who seemed to have lost themselves at the very mention of its name. It seemed they had time-travelled to their good old days recollecting the beautiful memories of their times – the smile on their faces said it all!
So guys, coming back to our topic – Bhondla begins in the ‘Ashwin’ month (as per the Hindu calendar) on the first day of Navratri and according to some it continues until Dassehra while according to others it lasts till Kojagiri. Celebrated by young girls, this festival begins with the worship of Elephant drawn normally with a beautiful rangoli. The symbolism being the moving of the Sun into the thirteenth constellation of the zodiac sign called as ‘Hasta’. This constellation is generally symbolized as elephant shaped.
A circle is formed by the participants around the rangoli and songs are sung accompanied with dance. The celebration begins with the prayer song of Ganesha ‘Iloma Pailoma Ganesh Deva’. With the passing of each day, a new song like- Ek Limbu Jhelu Bai, Karlyachi Bee Per Ga Su and so on and so forth is added to the earlier one thus singing ten songs until Dassehra. The lyrics of which have praises/wording describing the in-laws. The dance steps are slow in the beginning but gradually the tempo is increased and the steps become faster. Sometimes the songs are sung on the beats of clapping and the dancing steps are arranged accordingly. In Vidarbha girls bring clay idols of Shiv-Parvati (They are called Bhuloji and Bhulabai) and sing songs with local accents.
As with every other festival this one too has its share of various delicacies. Each family that participates in the celebrations prepares the sweets one day at a time. In order to enjoy it, the participants have to pay the price by guessing the name of the dish prepared! So rare and unique dishes are made and kept covered so that the suspense keeps building - well keep guessing the names! On one hand it gives an opportunity to the cook to try her hand at a new dish and on the other side the participants have to work on the name of it! This whole process takes an interesting turn. The celebrations conclude with the Arti of the idol and Prasad is offered.
The origin of Bhondla lies in the old customs when girls used to get married in young age. They lead a life restricted with customs and religious restrictions. In such situations these types of festivals were a relief in their life where they could freely play, dance, sing and eat with other girls of the same age. Such festivals play a crucial role in binding our societies together. Though different traditional games, simple meaningful songs, haldi-kumkum and food delicacies they help us to unite together and forget the daily stress.
Followed by this less know festival Bhondla on the 10th day of month of Ashvin comes Dusshera, also popularly known as Vijayadashmi. It is a widely celebrated Indian festival. It observed for different reasons and celebrated differently in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. In Maharashtra, people wash and worship their vehicles as a symbol of the war between Shri Rama and Ravana. This is followed by the ritual of offering Apta leaves to friends, relatives and neighbors as sign of prosperity, good health, wealth and wish happy Dasara. These leaves are a symbol of gold, peace and prosperity. There is an interesting story on why Apati tree leaves are presented on Dussehra.
Legend has it that a young man named Kautsa in Ayodhya once after attaining education from Guru Varatantu asked his Guru to accept a Guru Daskhina – a present offered by students to Guru after completing their studies. The Guru at first said he did not want any Dakshina, but young Kautsa was insistant. In order to get rid of Kautsa the Guru asked him for 14 crore (140 million) gold coins. One hundred million for each subject taught.
The student then went to Lord Ram who was ruling Ayodhya and asked for the gold coins needed to pay his Guru Dakshina. Lord Ram promised to help Kautsa and asked him to wait near the Shanu and Apta Tree in his village. After three days, Lord Ram with the help of Lord Kuber, the God wealth, showered gold coins from the leaves of Shanu and Apati Tree. The leaves of the trees became gold coins.
Kautsa collected the coins and gave 140 million gold coins to Guru Varatantu. The rest of coins were distributed to the needy by Kautsa. This happened on a Dussehra day. To commemorate this event even today people collect leaves of Apta tree and present it as sona or gold.
The main highlight of Dussehra is marked by flaming Ravana, Meghanatha and Kumbhakarna’s puppets which are generally filled with fireworks. This is usually followed by a feast arranged for the public. A skit of Ramayana is performed and enjoyed as “Ramleela”. Then the performers are seated on a chariot and move through the audience.
Where on one hand we have some festivals like Bhondla which are celebrated on a comparatively on a smaller scale, there are also some more popular ones like Dusshera that remind us to keep our faith in the fact that evil is always defeated by good.
Author: Mohana Pethkar
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