DOLJATRA by SAMYA MUKHERJEE
It was the dawn of a beautiful morning that ends the full-moon night of the month of Falgun. In a room, the light in a small earthen cup flickered and the cool wind that came with the first light entered the chamber and fanned with its wings. It was then, in those first rapt moments of sunrise, that came there from far off by the side of the Ganges, the sound of the Indian flute, incredibly mysterious and remote, rising and falling in gentle cadences, pausing in sweetness, lingering in tenderness, dominated ever by its own pathos. The music was a hymn of worship and the night just ended was a birth-night of Sree Chaitanya – the great Vaishnavi saint of Nadia, a poet and emancipator of Bengal. Oh, what a wonderful birth of a lover of people in Bengal. On this full-moon day of Falgun, besides the birth of Sree Chaitanya, there is also ‘Doljatra’ according to the Hindu calendar.
Dol Jatra or Dol Purnima is a major holy festival in the states of West Bengal, Orissa and Assam in India. Dol Jatra or Dol Purnima is celebrated on a full moon day and is dedicated to Lord Krishna and His lover Radha because it is believed that Lord Krishna expressed His love to Radha, on this auspicious day. The word doljatra comes from the words ‘dol’ meaning swing and ‘yatra’ meaning procession. The day also marks the last festival of the year according to the Bengali calendar. The festival is mainly celebrated by the Gopi community. On this auspicious day of Doljatra, an idol of Krishna and His beloved Radha, richly adorned and besmeared with coloured powder (abir), is taken out in procession in a swinging palanquin (Vimana) or cradle (decorated with flowers, leaves, coloured clothes and painted with coloured powders). The procession proceeds forward with the accompaniment of music, blaring of conch shells, trumpets, shouts of ‘joy’(victory) and ‘Hari Bol’ in Orissa. Women of Orissa wash their angans with cowdung and decorate with rice powder and flowers. Milk items like home-made curd, cream, butter and ‘Panchamrita’ are offered to Lord Krishna. The people who accompany are offered sweets. This festival becomes more significant for Bengalis because this is also the birthday of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1485-1533), who popularized modern ‘sankirtana’. He elevated the passion of Radha and Krishna to a high spiritual plane. He underlined the emotion at the cost of a ceremonial side of devotion. Followers of Sree Chaitanya Mahaprabhu believe Chaitanya to be the manifestation of Lord Krishna. Sree Chaitanya Mahaprabhu believed that the essence of sadhana is always the loving remembrance of Hari.
Days of celebration of Dol Jatra : The first day of Dol is called ‘gondh’. In the evening time, the full incarnation of Lord Vishnu i.e. god Krishna become ready to visit Ghunucha’s (one of the wife of Krishna) house. His followers make a bonfire in front of the kirtan-ghar and with the beat of Vaishnavite drums, cymbals, idol of Lord Krishna carried round the firework and then to the doul. During the festival, all the regular religious functions of kirtan-ghar (prayer-house) are performed.
The second day of Dol is known as ‘Bhor-dol’, meaning the main dol. Bhor Dol is celebrated for just one day in the month of Chot and two or three days in the month of Falgun. The idols are coloured with faku on this day.
The third day of Dol is also spent in the same manner as that of the second day.
The last and the fourth day of Dol festival is called ‘Sueri’. On that day, Lord Krishna is supposed to go back to the house of His mother Lakshmi from the house of Ghunucha. Devotees bring down Lord Krishna to a palanquin (dola) and carried in a procession. Participation of people from various regions creates a sea of devotees there. In the rhythm of a Vaishnavite, the songs of Doljatra rend the sky. People throw coloured powders to one another. When the procession arrived at kirtan-ghar, the gate is blocked with bamboos by the followers of mother Lakshmi. It is believed that mother Lakshmi become angry with Lord Krishna, because Krishna stayed at Ghunucha’s house for all these days. The followers of mother Lakshmi therefore stop the opposite group from entering Her house. But at last the bamboos are broken and Lord Krishna entered the house and takes seven rounds around ‘kirtan-ghar’. Lord Krishna tires and takes rest for a while. Taking advantage of the peace, a devotee from Lakshmi’s side reproves Him and one of His devotees returns the reproof. An interesting verbal duel thus ensues. At the end, He admits defeat like a peace-loving husband, satisfies Her with money and other presents and earns His admittance into the shrine. There ends the great Dol festival. Thus, Dol Purnima marks the end of a six-day swing festival of Radha and Lord Krishna. This festival marks the onset of spring and is celebrated with a festive mood. Dol Purnima goes on for six days, beginning with famous Doljatra, which falls on the day of Falguna Dasami.
The date of Dojatra is determined by the Hindu Lunar calendar. The reason that the date of Dol festival changes every year, is that like many other Hindu holidays, the timing of this festival is based on the Hindu lunisolar calendar, which is a combination of moon phases and sun cycles into a single calendar-system. Doljatra celebrates the arrival of spring, the end of winter, the blossoming of love and for many it is a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive and repair broken relationships. The festival also celebrates the beginning of a good spring (harvest season). But how did colours become the part of Doljatra?: This dates back to the period of Lord Krishna (reincarnation of Lord Vishnu). It is believed that Lord Krishna used to celebrate ‘holi’ with colours and hence popularized the same. Lord Krishna used to play holi with his friends at Vrindavan and Gokul. Originally this festival is commemorated with good harvests and fertile lands. In addition to celebrate the coming of spring, this festival has even greater purposes – Hindus believe that it is the time of enjoying spring’s abundant colours and saying farewell to winter. So, this festival is also known as ‘Basanta Utsav’ (Spring festival).
Life-lessons that Doljatra teaches in a multicultural environment :
i) Goodness and faith are paramount, ii) Everyone is equal,
iii) Environmental awareness, iv) Be kind to animals,
v) Strangers aren’t all scary, vi) Getting messy is fun,
vii) Self-care is most important.
Symbolic representations of Dol Jatra :
i) Coloured water : According to the legends, the small monkey god Hanuman managed to swallow the sun one day, plunging everyone into darkness. The other gods suggested that people squirt each other with coloured water to make Hanuman laugh. The monkey god laughed so hard that the sun flew out of his mouth. As Holi falls just before the start of the wet season in India, water is an appropriate symbol of the upcoming rains. Hindus also regard water as the protection against evil. At this and other festivals, they take ritual baths in the Ganges river or the sacred waters.
ii) Swing : Doljatra is also known as ‘swing Festival’. Based on the legend of how the infant Krishna sucked the life out of Putana, an image of the god as a baby is placed in a small swing-cradle and decorated with flowers and coloured powder. In Bengal, dolas or swings are made for Krishna. In other places, fire is built infront of the swing. Women often celebrate by sitting on swings and swaying back and forth to the accompaniment of music.