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A Lush Lunar Affair

Hariyali Amavasya

The rivulets are beaming with water. The wind, too, has a pleasant charm. Mother Nature has left no leaf unturned; from crackling dry to lush green, it appears to be nothing short of a celebration!
The words ‘Hariyali Amavasya’ are to be read in conjunction with each other; Hariyali denotes the lush green tone taken on by the vegetation, with the onset of the monsoons. This festival occurs in July or August, or in the month of Shravan, as per the Hindu calendar; a time when several parts of the Indian subcontinent receive abundant rain. Astronomically, the moon would be in its new moon phase; Amavasya here indicates a ‘No Moon’ day.

The festival essentially celebrates all that the monsoons bring along; new life, vegetation, fresh air and a whole range of associated concepts. It showcases a human understanding of the importance of the basic elements of water and food for the existence of life, as a society at large; of nature as a provider, and a need to celebrate and cherish it, if not appease it. The idea of nature worship stems all the way back to the Stone Age, and the Indus-Saraswati Civilization. The belief system and the arts since time immemorial have gone hand in hand. We thus find such themes pertaining to nature, and abundant flora often depicted in works of art.
This exhibition attempts to trace this visual representation, and introduce the context of Hariyali Amavasya; a rare festival celebrated across India, particularly in the region of Mewar, Rajasthan.

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Mythical Beginnings

As per popular tradition, Hariyali Amavasya is celebrated on the very day that Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of destruction, consumed Halahala. The episode is called the Samudra Manthan; a long and tedious churning of the ocean, by the gods and demons, in the quest for the nectar of immortality. The churning reaped wonders from the ocean, as also Halahala, a poison with the potency of causing massive destruction. Who other than Shiva could save the world from its end? Without a second thought, He gulped down the poison that within no time turned His throat blue; giving Him the name Neelkantha. In celebration of this act, Lord Shiva is worshipped particularly on this day.

The humble Peepal tree (Ficus Religiosa) is universally found in association with Lord Shiva and in temples dedicated to Him. The tree is often used, as a medium in ancestral worship wherein the womenfolk, in memory of their ancestors, make offerings of milk.

The Ancestral Connect

Hariyali Amavasya is also marked by worship of the ancestors; with an appreciation for life, seeking their blessings for the future and in gratitude for all that has been provided by them.

The tradition of commissioning Hero stones and memorial stones is an old one. This four faced memorial or hero stone is typical of the royal funerary architecture of the region of Mewar. Similar examples of this type of a memorial are found at the Royal Cenotaphs at Ahar; thus in all likelihood, it would have been made in honour of one of the Maharanas of Mewar. One of the faces depicts a human figure, presumably a Maharana, engaged in an act of worship before the Shiva Linga. It showcases the religious affiliation and devotion of the concerned person. Towering above, in the same scene, are two flying celestial beings, called Maladharas, bearing garlands. The existence of these beings in the same realm as the human figure is suggestive of him being in the celestial realm; beyond this world.

The Oasis in the Desert: Mewar

The Erstwhile State of Mewar, comprising the regions such as Chittorgarh, Kumbalgarh, Udaipur etc., is known to be an oasis in the otherwise arid desert of Rajasthan. It boasts of several hilly ranges including the Aravallis, a significant number of lakes and other water bodies, and a plethora of flora and fauna. It is considered to be one of the most fertile lands of India. The abundance of resources, and the existing conditions surrounding the people was but naturally reflected in works of art.

This beautiful rendition of the Surasundari is one amongst the numerous early depictions of vegetation in the region of Mewar. She is seen in a typical Tribhanga posture, her body delicately bent at three points. This 11th century CE sculpture is very akin to the Shalabhanjika of the Mauryan-Shunga Phase; wherein the woman depicted would be seen under a Shala tree, holding onto or breaking a branch off of the tree. In this instance, it is the mango tree that towers over the Surasundari. The mango, the king of fruits, is associated with fertility and abundance. The depiction of the mango is also indicative of the monsoon season, a time during which surplus produce of mangoes fill the markets of every street-side store.

The Khejari tree is popularly found across India and neighbouring regions, particularly in arid desert regions such as Rajasthan. It is considered to be very sacred in the region of Mewar. Culturally, it has been worshipped since time immemorial, as an embodiment of divinity.
From an economical standpoint, too, it is considered to be very important. It is known to have several purposes; each part of the tree finds some use or the other, from food to fodder and beyond, meeting a variety of requirements of the people.

The Khejari depicted in this early 18th century miniature painting is merely in a sapling stage. The painting draws our attention to the immense significance of this tree in the lives of the people of Mewar and of the Maharanas. Maharana Sangram Singh II (r. 1710-1734 CE) is seen attending the pooja or worship of the Khejari on the occasion of Dussehra. The tree can be seen taking a prime spot, located right besides the canopy of the Maharana, with a huge amount of masses gathered to pay respects.

The Mewar School of Art was known to be very distinct in the manner of its execution, colour palette and depiction of its natural riches. There was an immense amount of attention given to detailing; the trees were beautifully ornate and flowers could be grouped together in bunches, with fine strokes of the brush. Such was the level of precession that one could even count the number of leaves on a tree, or for that matter, identify the tree or plant in question! This miniature painting of the late 1880s is the best example of the artistic skill in depicting the flora and the landscape.

The conversation on nature is incomplete without the mention of music. The two are always found in a homogenous blend with each other. This string instrument is 200 years old, and is one of the oldest in the collection. The instrument, along with its resonator (Tumba), is made of pumpkin. The external surface is embellished with a beautiful painting of the Hindu God Krishna, with flute, and Radha, with a lotus in hand. The lotus symbolises fertility and abundance.
Within the same frame, as the cowherd Krishna, is the cow and its little one; they being other forms of wealth. A pair of peacocks finds depiction in the frame as well. Together with the floral scrolls, they indicate the arrival of the monsoons.

Nothing establishes one’s love for the monsoons and nature more than sporting it on your person. This beautiful traditional outfit, prepared in the 1930s, in a bright yellow hue; consisting of a Kurti, Kaanchali, Odhani and Ghaghara, was made entirely out of silk, and embroidered with gold and silver wires. The weight of the entire Poshak or outfit is around a whooping 12kgs.

This outfit celebrates the season of the monsoons; every inch of the fabric is embroidered with details of peacock, with its plumage fanned out; as if rejoicing at the arrival of the rains.

There was a clear appreciation and an understanding of the importance of maintaining the green lungs of the Aravalli protected Udaipur. Not only were extensive projects on afforestation taken up in the Aravallis surrounding The City Palace of Udaipur, the green patches was instated even within the premises of the Palace. One such example is the Baadi Mahal at The City Palace of Udaipur. It is quite unlike anything seen before; the open roof, pillared corridor courtyard of Baadi Mahal forms the topmost portion of the palace, and it boasts of a garden! The trees and shrubs in the space have been maintained, through the years.

Back then, the open aired courtyard acted as a backdrop to some very important festivals such as Holi or the festival of Colours, or Vedic recitals such as the one depicted here, with Maharana Jawan Singh (r. 1828-1838 CE) in attendance. The sacred plantain is seen incorporated as part of the ritual. The aerial view of the space, provided by the painting, gives an idea of the beauty of this terrace garden.

Hariyali Amavasya in Mewar

The festival takes on an interesting form in the region of Mewar. In addition to the practices previously mentioned, the people of Mewar had another reason to celebrate the day!
It goes back to the Fatehsagar Lake that is today a very popular hang-out point for locals and tourists. It was once merely a pond and went by the name ‘Devali ka Taalab’. Attempts were made at expanding this water body. In 1680 CE, an expansion in the existing structure was executed under the direction of Maharana Jai Singh (r. 1680-1698 CE). Subsequent flooding in the area resulted in its destruction. In 1889 CE, the structure was reconstructed and converted into a Lake by Maharana Fateh Singh (r. 1884-1930 CE).

This is a mid 20th century photograph of the Lake, filled with water. In all likelihood, the photograph was taken either during, or just after the monsoon.
On the completion of the Fatehsagar Lake project, started by Maharana Fateh Singh and as suggested by his wife, Maharani Chavdiji, a local fair was organized. The fair took place all the way from the Fatehsagar Lake to the Saheliyon ki Bari, in Udaipur. The tradition continues till date, with two days being dedicated individually for women and men, to enjoy and partake of the fair, at Saheliyon ki Bari.

The fountains at Saheliyon ki Bari are a pleasant relief from the scorching heat of the sun, even despite it being the monsoons! In fact the fountains recreate the magic of the rains; it is no surprise that it is frequented by locals particularly on Hariyali Amavasya.

This photograph was taken at Saheliyon ki Bari during the visit of Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner, to Udaipur, in 1935-1945 CE. The Bari in the image was built during the reign of Maharana Sangram Singh II (r. 1710-1734 CE), as a space for leisure, for the Royal Ladies.

Hariyali Amavasya is a reminder of the simpler days; when one would not be apprehensive of stepping out on a rainy day, or in to puddles of water. This day is reserved for enjoyment; people are known to venture out for a picnic or an outing with family and friends.

This painting captures the essence of the festival; Maharana Shambhu Singh (r. 1861-1874 CE) depicted with a gold nimbus around his head, is seen traversing beyond the city, to the outskirts; the City Palace of Udaipur, seen in the background.
The lush green hills and the scrolls of lightning through the dark, rain filled clouds are indicative of the monsoons.

For farmers, this day is a very special one. On this day, they perform a symbolic plantation of grains, with sacrificial rituals and prayers for good crops. Neat demarcated fields with yields of corn can be seen to the bottom right of this detail.

The present day Mewar

The practice of heading out on the occasion continues till date. A royal procession is seen headed to the banks of Lake Pichola, in Udaipur, from the City Palace. Caparisoned horses, a group of priests, the palace band, followed by a group of women head down the hill. Rituals related to Shiva are performed, including the offering of milk to the Peepal tree.

It is very typical for a woman in Mewar to wear the Leheriya, on this day. Outfits with the Leheriya or the wave like pattern are traditionally associated with the region. Few of the women in the photograph are seen bearing silver utensils on their heads, while others carry platters full of offerings. A glimpse of The City Palace of Udaipur can be caught at the back.

The Fatehsagar Lake, the place where it all began, continues to be thronged by locals and enthusiasts, year after year, particularly on the occasion of Hariyali Amavasya. The pristine waters of the Lake, the lush green tone of the trees and the distant hill, or the colourful garments worn by the people that have gathered together to partake of the festivities, individually and cohesively, form a perfect visual representation of the festival, in the present day, captured in a modern medium of a digital photograph.

On Similar Lines...

One cannot miss the peacock detailing, with fanned out plumage, neatly perched on the four ends of the finial of this silver palanquin. Each of these celebrates the onset of the monsoons. The object in focus is associated with the Jal Jhulni Ekadashi. The festival, celebrated across India, is another one to occur during the monsoons; with prayers made for abundance. This festival is associated with the worship of Saligram, a manifestation of Vishnu and several of his regional forms.
The procession that heads out of The City Palace of Udaipur, towards the Lake Pichola that lies within its precincts, has a very special add on in the form of this silver palanquin. This palanquin is locally called the Ram Rewari and forms a significant part of the procession. Currently housed at The City Palace Museum, Udaipur; it transforms into a sacred object on that exclusive day. An image of the deity, Vishnu or his form is taken out in procession, in this portable shrine. On the banks of the Lake, a symbolic representation of the deity, a black stone called the Saligram, is ritually bathed with the fresh water brought in by the monsoon.