A land of mysticism, India fascinates people from all walks of life. Is it just the great monuments, the diverse communities and the flavorsome curries that have created this magical spell everywhere? Or is there more to the country; something so bizarre yet interesting that it overwhelms all your senses? Read on to know more on 5 of the most bizarre rituals and festivals in India!
1. Festival Of Snakes : Naag Panchami
On Naag Panchami, live cobras with their venomous fangs in place, are worshiped by devotees. The rituals include the devotees sprinkling some turmeric-vermillion powder and flower petals over the raised heads of the snakes. Afterward, they are fed with milk, rice, and even rats. The significance of this festival lies in a story in the Hindu mythology where Lord Krishna fights-off a deadly snake called Kalia. The God being victorious in the end blesses the snake to be worshiped on this day and be fed with milk.
- When: The festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the Hindu month of Shravan (from the first day of the full moon in late July and ending in the third week of August, the day of the next full moon).
- Where: Across India and Nepal
2. Self-Flagellation : Muharram
The act of self-flagellation involves hitting oneself with a whip as part of a religious ritual. This is carried out all over India during Muharram, the Islamic holy month of remembrance and mourning. Shia Muslims carry out a procession on the streets wherein their mass indulge in mercilessly whipping their bodies with blades attached to chains. This continues to the point their bodies are soaked in their own blood. This is carried out to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, grandson of Prophet Muhammad.
- When: The mourning begins on the first day of the first month of the Islamic Calendar with a 10 day fast. It culminates with The Day of Ashura on the tenth day.
- Where: The festival is celebrated in regions wherever the Muslim community resides. The areas include the likes of Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, and Kerala.
3. Worshipping Cows : Govardhan Puja
Hinduism reveres many animals, one of them being cows. These animals are considered holy and are also a part of many stories in the Hindu legends. On the festival of Govardhan Puja, a special treatment is given to them wherein they are worshiped and are fed with reverence. The rituals include smearing of turmeric and vermillion powder on the cows’ foreheads and honoring them with garlands of flowers. The rituals of the festival may vary from region to region.
- When: The festival takes place on the fourth day of the Diwali festival in the Hindu month of Kartik (begins with the new moon in November).
- Where: All over India among the Hindu community
4. Burning Effigies of a Demon King : Dussehra
The festival of burning the effigies of the ten-headed king Ravana takes place all over India. According to the epic Hindu mythology ‘Ramayana’, Lord Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Laxmana went into exile for 14 years. During this time, Sita got abducted by the Demon King Ravana. The story of how the Lord fought the king with his army of monkeys and killing him subsequently is depicted through an enactment on this festival. After this, the effigies of the ten-headed king, his brother, and son are burnt to depict the victory of good over evil.
- When: The festival takes place 20 days after Diwali on a full-moon day in the Hindu month of Ashvin (mostly September and October according to the Gregorian calendar; the actual date for every year varies from the previous ones).
- Where: Across India. Although the Hindu community is the one celebrating it, people from other cultures and religions across India join for the festivities.
5. Exorcism By Marriage : Human-Animal/Plant Weddings
India’s version of exorcism is mostly through marriage with a plant or an animal. When a person has facial deformities, he/she is said to be possessed by evil spirits, which can be cured by marrying them off to animals like a dog and plants like the banana tree before an actual marriage with a human being. Sometimes, this is also done to appease the rain gods. Such ceremonies take place all over India from time to time, mostly amongst the lesser educated sections who hold such beliefs.
- When: There is no specific time as to when such marriages take place. It happens mostly when the people belonging to such rituals want to get rid of the evil spirits or desire the rain showers for good agricultural prospects.
- Where: Mostly among the uneducated and poor communities in India who have given to the superstitious beliefs and practices.
Get on your exploring shoes and unveil the mysticism this beautiful country has to offer!