Named after the archetypal union between Lord Shiva (Gan) and his wife Parvati (Gauri), the Gangaur festival is broadly a celebration of a perfect marriage. Simran Oberoi delves deeper.
“Gor Ey Gangaur mata khol kiwadi, Bai re uji Gora Bai poojan wali, Isar ji toh Biti pehne Gora button sawariyo raj, Main Isar thari Saali cha”
These melodious strains of a marwari folksong filter through a home where the festivities of Gangaur are about to begin. But each family has its unique version of the song (the words Gora Bai are replaced with names of all the daughters and daughters-in-law of the family) just as different cultures and regions have their own names, interpretations, and customs for a festival that is in essence the same.
So while we traditionally associate Gangaur with Rajasthan, it is celebrated across Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, albeit in different ways. In some of these states, it is known as Gauri Tritiya or Soubhagya Gauri Vratam. Some believe that this festival marks the return of Parvati to her parents’ home while another legend has it that Shiv and Parvati got married on this day.
Despite multiple names, Gangaur is a celebration of a perfect marriage, that between Shiv and Parvati. The name itself is a symbolic union – Gan is another name for Shiv and Gauri for Parvati. However, the special emphasis is on the goddess and the women who largely participate in this, which might seem a bit paradoxical since the state which celebrates this with the most enthusiasm faces serious accusations of having high female infanticide rate and skewed sex ratio.
The rite way
On the surface it seems like a festival of mesmerising finery, jeweled idols and myriad rituals. But in order to discover the inherent meaning of Gangaur, we must zoom into how a family celebrates it within the sanctity of its walls rather than looking at how a city, state or a community does it.
The festival begins from the day after Holi and continues for 18 days. Typically, handcrafted idols of Shiv and Parvati are made from cow dung and ashes from the Holika dahan bonfire for the first eight days. Alongside this, 16 balls, each made from roli (holy red thread), kajal and heena, are made and kept for a puja. Wheat also plays an important role in the ceremonies; some grains are sowed in an earthen pot called ‘kunda’ and worshipped, while exactly seven grains of wheat are given to the women who preserve it carefully for the puja.
Day of the puja
Ingredients required for the puja: some water in a vessel, a stick of turmeric, a silver ring (the latter two signifying Lakshmi), and the seven grains of wheat. During the puja, women sing songs in praise of Shiv and Parvati and unmarried girls and newly-wed brides (in the first year of marriage) observe the Suraj-Rota ka vrat (fast) for the Sun God.
There is an interesting ritual that the women observe during this time –a small hole is made in a fried puri, which is used to look at the sun as an offering to the Sun God. This ritual is carried out with utmost care without exposing the puri to direct sunlight. This is done only on a Sunday (the day of the Sun God). During Gangaur, women eat food without salt once a day before sunset.