The Gangaur Festival is the most important local festival of
Rajasthan and is observed throughout the state with great fervour and
devotion by womenfolk who worship Gauri, the consort of Lord Shiva.
Gan is a synonym for Shiva and Gaur, which stands for Gauri or Parvati who symbolises 'saubhagya' (marital bliss). Gauri is the embodiment of perfection and conjugal love, which is why the unmarried women worship her for being blessed with good husbands, while married women do so for the welfare, health and long life of their spouses and a happy married and long life of their life. Rites and Ritual
The festival commences on the first day of Chaitra, the day following Holi and continues for 18 days. For a newly-wedded girl, it is binding to observe the full course of 18 days of the festival that succeeds her marriage. Even unmarried girls fast for the full period of 18 days and eat only one meal a day.
Images and Paintings
Images of Isar and Gauri are made of clay for the festival. In some families, permanent wooden images are painted afresh every year by reputed painters called 'matherans' on the eve of the festival. A distinct difference between the idols of Teej and Gangaur is that the idol will have a canopy during the Teej Festival while the Gangaur idol would not have one.
The ladies decorate their hands and feet by drawing designs with 'mehandi' (myrtle paste). The figures drawn range from the Sun, Moon and the stars to simple flowers or geometrical designs.
Ghudlias are earthen pots with numerous holes all around and a lamp lit inside them. On the evening of the 7th day after Holi, unmarried girls go around singing songs of 'ghudlia' carrying the pots with a burning lamp inside, on their heads. On their way, they collect small presents of cash, sweets, jaggery, ghee, oil etc. This continues for 10 days i.e. upto the conclusion of the Gangaur Festival when the girls break their pots and throw the debris into a well or a tank and enjoy a feast with the collections made.
This ritual is performed on the occasion of Gangaur as a reminder of the triumph of Rao Santhal, ruler of Jodhpur, over Mir Ghudley Khan, who had carried away 140 maidens who were celebrating the festival of Gangaur, in 1548 AD. The burning lamp signifies the valour and chivalry of the Maharaja.
The festival reaches its climax during the last three days. The images of Gauri and Isar are dressed in new garments especially made for the occasion. Unmarried girls and married women decorate the images and make them look like living figures.
At an auspicious hour in the afternoon, a procession is taken out to a garden, tank or a well with the images of Isar and Gauri, placed on the heads of married women. Songs are sung about the departure of Gauri to her husband's house. The procession comes back after offering water to the image of Gauri, which faces backwards on the first two days. On the final day, she faces in the same direction as Isar and the procession concludes with the consignment of all the images in the waters of a tank or a well. The women bid farewell to Gauri and turn their steps homewards with tears in their eyes and the Gangaur Festival comes to an end.
GANGAUR FESTIVITIES AT VARIOUS PLACES
In Bikaner, married women and maidens fast during the festival. They prepare sweet dishes, carry them to a well, make an offering thereof to the goddess, and return home distributing these as 'prasad' on the way.
In Jaipur, a sweet dish called 'ghewar' is characteristic of the Gangaur Festival. People buy 'ghewar' to eat and distribute it among their friends and relatives. A procession, with the image of Gauri, forms at the Palace Gate known as Tripolia and moves on the city streets passing Chaugan and on to Talkatora. A vast gathering of the citizens of Jaipur and villagers from nearby areas witnesses the procession.
The fair of 'lotias' is a distinctive feature of the Gangaur celebrations in Jodhpur. Early in the morning, thousands of maidens, clad in their best attire, singing melodious songs, bring water and 'durva' grass in silver or brass pots to a place known as Girdikot. The fair is witnessed by a large number of citizens who throng to the locality to be a part of the celebration.
In Nathdwara, the procession of Gangaur lasts 7 days. Each day, a particular colour is chosen for the dress of the goddess. On the last day of the festival, the image of Gauri is dressed in black with golden lace work and women carrying the image too are dressed in a similar fashion. This indicates the final departure of Gauri.
The images of Isar and Gauri are taken in a procession to the Pichhola Lake, thereafter they go around the lake in a boat, for an hour and the ceremony comes to an end with a display of fireworks on the banks
In Banswara, the procession is taken out from the Zenana Deorhi to Singhvashi Chowk, both are areas within the palace compound. Traditional religious ceremonies are performed here.
Gangaur among the Girasias
The Girasia tribe, who live in Sirohi-Mount Abu region, celebrate Gangaur as a continuation of festivities from Holi to Akshaya Tritiya - lasting for more than a month. They go from village to village singing, dancing and extending invitations while carrying the images of Gangaur. The images are brought back to the village from where they started. During the festival, eligible boys and girls of the tribe select their life partners and elope with them. This form of marriage has the sanction of the community.