What is the Gangaur Festival?
Those of you who wear your heart on your sleeve, set aside your DDLJ DVDs and prepare yourself for a real-life celebration of true love and romance with Rajasthan’s Gangaur festival!
This quintessentially Rajasthani festival is rooted in Hindu culture. The “gaur” in Gangaur refers to Goddess Gauri, Lord Shiva’s wife, and “gan” to Lord Shiva. During this festival, women pray to Goddess Gauri to bless them with marital bliss.
It isn’t just limited to those with beaus already – unmarried women pray that they are blessed with a good husband, while married women pray for the health, good fortune, and longevity of their husbands and for a generally joyous married life. While this festival is primarily celebrated in Rajasthan, it has also migrated to states like Gujarat, West Bengal, Telangana, and Madhya Pradesh.
In many ways, the Gangaur Festival is a public celebration of what is often a rather private emotion in the Indian culture. The entire community is involved in the festivities and the rituals start with women going from door to door singing songs, while they carry earthen pots in which they accept offerings.
These earthen pots are usually illuminated by lamps called ghudlias. The women use these pots to collect money, sweets, jaggery, ghee, and oil. This is a ritual that is repeated every day of the festival. In 2019, this festival is taking place from the 21st of March to the 8th of April.
How did the Gangaur Festival come to be?
As with most deeply rooted Hindu traditions like the Gangaur festival, there are plenty of versions of how this celebration came to be. The most popular one, however, is a simple story. Legend has it that Lord Shiva and his consort Goddess Gauri (or Parvati, as she is more commonly known) decided to take a small trip along with Narad Muni.
As they explored, they stumbled across a small town by a forest, where news of their presence spread like wildfire. The womenfolk of the town rushed to prepare their choicest items to offer in a feast for their new dignitaries. As preparations were being made, some women went to pay a visit to the gods along with some offerings. So pleased was Goddess Gauri with this, that at the end of their meal, she sprinkled holy water, referred to as “suhagras” as a blessing. Later, another group of women paid them a visit with fresh offerings of their own, but no holy water remained to bless this new offering. So, Goddess Gauri decided to cut her finger and sprinkle her blood as a blessing instead.
Another legend is more in tune with modern times: It was during Gangaur that Goddess Gauri returned to her parental home, to spread the blessing of marital pleasure amongst her friends. On the very last day of her visit, as Lord Shiva arrived to escort her back, these friends and her family gathered to bid her farewell fit for a god.
What will I see at the Gangaur Festival?
Held in the weeks after Holi, the Gangaur festival lasts a total of eighteen days, with rituals and ceremonies taking place each day. In addition to the community interaction, where neighbours and friends of the women participating bless them with tokens, there are plenty of other rituals.
For instance, newly married women are expected to keep a fast for the duration of the festival to ensure a successful married life. Unmarried women also fast to a lesser degree – they are permitted one meal a day. Women paint mehendi on their hands and dress in their best star-spangled wedding finery when they leave their house to celebrate.
Other than individual rituals, the entire community also gets involved wholeheartedly. Folk songs are sung throughout the festival and fairs are set up that engage the community in fun activities. Processions dot cities across Rajasthan, turning local streets into a sea of colourful women adorned with their finest jewellery, festival clothing, and flowers that befits such a celebration.
As with any Indian celebration, food is of primary importance! During the Gangaur festival, ghewar – a deep-fried sugar syrup soaked sweet and arguably Rajasthan’s best export – is prepared on a large scale. Interestingly, many women prepare food with the tokens they get during their excursions. With items such as ghee, sugar, jaggery, that women receive during the festival, you can indulge in a variety of foods.
The Sterling Guide to Rajasthan’s Gangaur Festival
According to the Indian calendar, the Gangaur festival begins on the first day of Chaitra, the month that follows Holi. This year, this would take place between the 21st of March and the 8th of April. Gangaur celebrations take place across Rajasthan.
In Jaipur, Gangaur is celebrated lavishly, with the entire city getting involved in the festivities. Ghewar is shared amongst friends and family. In the city, a procession of Gauri is taken out through various areas of the town. People turn out in large numbers as the idol is carried from the Zanani-Deodhi of the City Palace all the way to Talkatora. Travellers will get a real taste of the Gangaur Festival if they witness this procession!
People in Udaipur take this festival a step further by having a dedicated ghat for the celebrations on the banks of Lake Pichola. Processions across the city feature heritage palanquins, bullock carts, chariots and performances by local folk artists that you should not miss. Follow the crowds all the way to the lake so you don’t miss the final immersion of the idols after they are carried through the city!
Rajasthan has plenty to offer every kind of traveller – from cities like Jaipur filled with colour and culture to the wildlife of Sariska to the cool climes of Mount Abu, enjoy different facets of the state with Sterling during this festive season.