My country, India is nourished by a number of rivers. Indian mythology says every river is sacred and is like a mother who nurtures its banks and the people living around her as water is considered to be the life-sustaining force. Every river is revered in the form of Pushkar.
Respecting this belief and the fact that rivers do give us life, people started to worship rivers like gods. Hence Pushkaralu; as it is known in my state of Andhra Pradesh is a festival that celebrates and worships the Holy River Krishna which flows through four states and my city of birth, Vijayawada. With holy rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Kaveri, Godavari, etc flowing in India, every river has its own Pushkaram dedicated to it. Each river is associated with the Hindu zodiac sign, and the river for each year’s festival is based on which sign Jupiter is in at the time. Due to regional variations, some of the zodiac signs are associated with multiple rivers.
River Krishna is a vital part of Andhra and it majorly flows through the coastal parts, parts of Telangana and Karnataka. In Andhra, we celebrate Krishna Pushkaralu to worship the river god, Krishna. Krishna, is the dusky one, the dark one, the one who bears the name of the Lord, of mischief, of wisdom and romance. Krishna River is also known as Krishnaveni.
Krishna pushkaralu occur once in 12 years. During this period the festival is celebrated with full fervour for 12 days. Pushkara entered river Krishna at 6.26 am on 12th August and will end on 23rd August 2016. The Krishna Pushkaralu in Andhra was off to a start in the early hours of Friday morning with our Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu flagging off the celebrations in Vijayawada. The Arati took place over an anchored float on the river Krishna and it was a celestial sight. The rest of the city is decked up like a bride in all her finery.
CM Chandrababu Naidu invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Governors of all states, Central ministers, Chief Justice and chief ministers of all states to take part in the event. And he has asked one and all to take a holy dip in the Krishna, enjoy sumptuous Andhra food and more. Andhra delicacies and gourmet food from across the 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh are tickling the taste buds of people visiting the Pushkaralu. Vijayawada has been beautified and decked up to bring festival atmosphere during Krishna Pushkaram. Students have volunteered to paint the walls around the arterial roads. For the first time, water sports and river cruises are also being introduced on the river Krishna.
Millions of pilgrims from all over India have come to worship the Krishna River during this time. The state Government has gone all out to make the celebrations grand and safe. The city has been spruced up and all the major thoroughfares are illuminated like a million stars twinkling on earth.
The major celebrations of Krishna pushkaralu are at the riverside bathing Ghats where everyone takes a holy dip. When I was in school I was a girl guide and we were assigned the thankless job of counting the pilgrims coming for a dip and we never ended up taking a dip. I always wanted to take a dip but my dad had always kept us away from bathing in water; sea or river as he lost a younger brother in a lake. According to religious tenets, the main ritual for the people flocking to be a part of Krishna Pushkaralu is to take a holy dip in the river Krishna. While taking a dip, and after, poojas or chanting are conducted to appease the almighty and to bring good luck. Many priests are present on the river bank to help the pilgrims in completing these rituals.
The worship happens in the form of Darshanam (viewing the river), Snanam (bathing in the river), Daanam (Charity on the occasion), Tarpanam (Water obeisance to the forefathers) and Samarpanam (puja to the river). No weddings take place during Krishna pushkaram as Jupiter enters Kanya Raasi, and these stars are not in favour of a happy married life. Apart from ancestor worship, spiritual discourses, devotional music and cultural programs are being conducted all over the city.
Pindadaanam is a mandatory rite that is believed to bring salvation to departed souls. It is also believed in India that no work can be successfully performed without blessings of ancestors and with this pindapradaanam, we invoke the blessings of the dead ancestors.
Taking a Holy dip in a Pushkara river is said to cleanse the inner self, wash out evil tendencies and open up a path for a righteous living. The ideal time to take it is in the morning before sunrise. It is also said that taking a dip in the river would wash off all your sins and then I decided to go right ahead and take the plunge! Maybe I would wash away my sins and emerge a cleansed being!
Bathing at the Ghats seemed an onerous task as I am scared of crowds. One of my friends has a riverside farmhouse and she had invited us to take a dip there. On the 15th morning, I set out with a friend, Sasi and decided to take a dip. The farmhouse is 36kms away and getting there was a mini adventure. I had to stop to ask for directions a couple of times. I steered into the wrong way but thankfully it was just a few yards wrong.
Once we reached we were awestruck by the view. The river was full and the palm trees were a perfect backdrop to it. We straight away went to the pier and lowered ourselves into the swirling waters. There were families already finished with the dip and kids who were splashing merrily in the water. A group of singers who were singing bhajans under the tree and the whole atmosphere was devotional.
The waves were strong and we had to hold on tight to the steel railing. We had a priest who was chanting and asking us to repeat after him. He put us through the paces and asked us to dip into the waters first once and later three times. He carried a straw broom which he dunked into the water and showered us with it. The river seemed like an expanse of sea and the view was breathtaking. I entered the waters with trepidation but once in I was reluctant to get out.
It was a very refreshing and rejuvenating experience if I may say so. We were just ambling around after changing into dry clothes and we were invited to a wholesome lunch. The lunch area too resonated with Hare Krishna chants it felt as if we were riding the holy waves of the Krishna River. Post lunch we set out on our way back which was sans any adventure. There was an enclosure where people were napping and I was very tempted to just crash there but then my friend was getting restless and we headed home.
I never thought I could go through the ritual of a dip in the river but now that I did, I am glad that I did it and if I am alive for the next Pushkaralu, I would be taking the dip again. As I drove home I was involuntarily humming Krishna Krishna Hare Hare under my breath.
Note: Few of the pictures are from online contributions.Thank you, Mohith Krishna and Venugopal Maganti.