Rongali Assam 2017

It was around 6 in the evening when I arrived at the Khanapara Veterinary Grounds in Guwahati for the Rongali Festival. Considered to be the biggest such festival in the Northeast, Rongali 2017 was the third edition.

As I made my way towards the entrance, I heard garbled announcements, music, and excited chatter all around me and my steps quickened in anticipation. As is my habit, I kept my camera bag and purse in readiness for checking by the security personnel. But there was no security check and I entered freely. Just like that. I actually looked around to see if there was some mistake. But no, there was no security check.

It was with a sense of disbelief over the lack of a security check that I began my experience of Rongali. A disbelief that extended to other things as well over the three days, or rather evenings, I spent at the Festival venue, observing, interacting and sometimes participating in the events. It was a disbelief that led me to confront my perceptions and pre-conceived notions and also one that led me to a greater understanding.

More about that towards the end of the post. Let me first take you through the various events at Rongali the way I saw and experienced them. ๐Ÿ™‚

Rangali Assam 2017, Cultural Festival, Guwahati, Assam, India, NorthEast India

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Pathu thoon or the 10 pillars at Madurai

It is our last evening in Madurai and our group has just finished touring the Thirumalai Nayak Mahal. We have one more halt to make before dinner โ€” a shop selling the local Sungudi sarees โ€”ย  and then board the overnight train to Chennai.

Since I am not interested in buying sarees, I decide to wait outside the shop. A couple of others from the group join me as well and we get chatting about that and this. When Sriram, our group leader, comes up to us and asks if we would like to see something interesting a short walk away we are only too happy to say yes.

Sriram leads us down the street and then through a narrow alley or two before turning into another narrow lane. He stops, points at something (see photograph below) and says, “See this !”

Pathu Thoon, 10 Pillar, Rang Vilas, Thirumalai Nayak, Heritage, Travel, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

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The Meenakshi Amman Kovil at Madurai

The door to the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) is closed when our group files into the antarala or the outer chamber. We arrange ourselves around the barriers placed there and wait expectantly for the door to open and for the deity to give us darshan or audience.

One of the priests goes around the group asking for our names and other details for the archana or offerings to be made. As I wait for my turn, I look around the poorly lit chamber which is dark with years of accumulated soot and smoke. There are baskets of flowers, coconuts and bananas, and lamps and sundry puja items piled up against the walls. I can smell flowers and incense and some sandalwood as well.

The priest soon finishes with our group and disappears into the garbha griha. The initial murmurs and excited whispers give way to silence as we wait in anticipation for the door to open.

Madurai Amman, Meenakshi Amman Kovil, Madurai Meenakshi, Temple, Goddess, Travel, Temples of Tamil Nadu, Sacred Site Just when I feel that I can’t wait any longer for darshan, Bharat Sundar, the musician accompanying our group starts to sing softly [1]. It is a kriti by Muthiswami Dikshitar, Maamava Meenakshi, in praise of the deity we were all waiting to get a darshan.

Almost on cue, the doors open and the curtain inside parts and I see Her โ€” Meenakshi Amman of Madurai. With the illumination provided by numerous oil lamps, I can see that she is wearing a green saree, much like the one in the Tanjore painting I have at home (left). The jewellery she is adorned with sparkles and twinkled in the light.

Carved out of a dark green (rumoured to be jade), almost black-coloured stone, Meenakshi Amman’s graceful form is mesmerising. She is far more beautiful than I imagined and I can’t take my eyes off Her, so compelling is Her gaze.

The priest finishes the aarti and distributes the prasadam, marking the cue for us to leave. As we make our way out, my mind is filled with stories of Meenakshi Amman and the temple she is enshrined in โ€” stories that Sriram, our tour leader, had narrated.

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