Monsoon with Man-Mohan
Monsoon is more than just a season at Shri-Nathji, it is the moment of rejuvenation. In the arid climate of Rajasthan, life-giving rain is more precious than any jewels. Every-one, from little children to old men, and from animals to the dust covered trees, look forward to the thunderous rain of monsoon. As the first gust of wind whips up sand and dust, people begin to prepare for the season's most welcome guest - Meghraj.
As rain drops splatter the hot scorching courtyards, steam escapes from the heated stones and everyone comes out to enjoy the first rain. Little children dance in the downpour as Krshna must have once danced in the company of his friends in Vraj. The first rain is a good excuse for celebrations, and in a town like Nathadwara, any excuse is good enough for a festival. The Lord of Nathadwara loves festivals and the monsoon season is packed with numerous celebrations. Most notable of these are the birthdays of Lord Krshna and His beloved Shri Radha. Apart from these, there is Naga-Panchami, celebrating the first glimpse of Shri-Nathji's raised hand on Mount Govardhan, initially worshipped as a Naga deity; Pavitra Ekadashi is an especially important date in the Pushti calender, as it venerates the day when the Lord first appeared to Shrimad Vallabhacharyaji and gave him the all important mantra for Brahma-Sumbandha and explained the main principles of Pushti Marga etc..
As the seasons progress from the hot dry summer to the pleasant, warm and wet monsoon, nature also changes its colours from the burnt oranges, yellows and dusty pale browns to brilliant vibrant greens, rich muddy browns, deep reds and bright yellows of flowers and pale bright greens of new shoots. These colours are reflected in the wardrobe of the Lord of Nathadwara, as he also switches from the paler shades of white to more vibrant colours of His clothes. Jewels also change from the pure and simple rows of pearls and diamonds to complex array of rubies, emeralds, turquoise, coral and garnets worked in gold, (all this in addition to pearls and diamonds of-course!).
The pastel pale, monochrome pichoies of the summer are replaced by bright, multi-coloured pichavies of the rainy season. As would befit the season of thunder and lightening, the pichoies of the Varsha-Ritu often depict dark rolling clouds, crowned by golden thunder and adored by dancing peacocks. Lush green vegetation abounds in these pichoies, and faint-hearted gopies always seem to run from the thunder and lightening, towards their beloved Madhav. Some pichoies depict the abundance of nature during the monsoon. Bright green fields and mountains are framed by swaying trees, occupied in-turn by colourful birds, spreading their iridescent feathers to attract the attention of the Lord. Some pichoies describe the well attended wedding of Nanda-Kumar and Vrashabhanu-Dulari, depicting colourfully dressed gopas leading their equally colourful bridge-groom to the wedding pavilion. Gopies, dressed in all their finery, come to welcome the handsome prince of Vraj.
Some paintings borrow from the rich poetry of the astachhap sakhas, depicting gopies coyly eyeing their beloved through their gold printed chunaries. To get closer to Gopal-Lal, they ask Him to shelter them from the rain under His shawl. Thus, they hope to get near Him and slowly turn on their feminine charm to win Him over. Beautifully depicted, such romantic scenes help to highlight the Madhurya Bhav of the Pushti-Marga. If a picture speaks a thousand words, poetry can breath life in to such a picture with just a few well chosen phrases. The singers of the divine court at Nathadwara sing the inspirational poetry of the astachhap sakhas to awaken the latent feelings in us all, and bring the whole scene of the inner sanctum to life. Music during the monsoon is vigourous, trying to keep up with the rhythm of the Lord's swing. Gone are the days of slow summer ragas, droning on the vina, as the fast beats of the pakhavage (a double sided drum) take over.
What really sets the monsoon apart from all other seasons is the month long festival of Hindola, starting on the second day of the month of Shravan. In celebration of the new season, youths of Vrindavan used to swing in the groves and gardens on the banks of the river Yamuna. Hindolas are formal versions of this traditional natural sport of the farming and herding folks, which later developed in to a highly refined form of seasonal festivity at royal courts across North-India. Shape of the hindolo mimics tress and ropes of its origin. The strong sturdy trunks are transplanted by broad columns of painted wood. Branches and green canopy of the trees is replaced by the long cross beam and sub-structure of smaller beams across the top of the swing. The long ropes have crystallised to form four slender sticks, connecting the cross beams at the top with the swing at the bottom.
Shri-Nathji's wonderful swings are a veritable catalogue of Indian artistic tradition. Borrowing heavily from ancient temple and courtly designs, they are highly innovative and refined forms of a universal past-time. Hindolas are often made from gold, silver, glass and various types of wood - including sandalwood. These can than be further enhanced by decorating them with leaves, flowers, fruits, vermilion, turmeric, sandalwood paste etc. Even the simple wooden hindolas can be transformed into something quiet exotic by encasing them in velvet, cotton applique, bead work, brocade and silk embroidery. When combined with rich carpets of silk, wall hangings of exquisite paint and applique, chandervoas (awnings) of brightly coloured cottons and painted cane screens, the overall effect can be absolutely stunning.
Following the universal proverb, "When in Rome, live like a Roman", the court of Shri-Nathji adopted a number of traditionally popular Rajasthani festivals after arriving in Mewar in the eighteenth century. One such festival is as ancient as time it-self, celebrating the abundance of monsoon in the most natural way possible - by dressing in green. On Hariyali-Amas, all of Rajasthan dons green. The earth, having sated it's initial thirst, bursts forth in all shades of green as grass, shrubs and trees suddenly come to life again. In a by-gone era, men and women used to wear green cloths and enjoy the simple delights of the country side. Fun-fairs are still held all over the state to celebrate the bounties of nature.
Shri-Nathji, ever conscious to preserve the best of all times, celebrates the festival in the manner of the Rajput kings by wearing emerald and pearl jewellery on green garments. The Lord of Nathadwara swings on a Hindola shaped like the tall, tapering asopalv trees. Simple wooden structure of the normal hindolo is transformed by cleverly arranging green foliage of graded lengths to achieve the desired effect. Poetry sung on the occasion plays on the pun of the word "Hari" which refers to the Lord as well as the colour green. For a single day, all the soft furnishings and food offerings in the great haveli are green, as are the flags flying above the roof of the inner-sanctum.
One of the chief high-lights of the hindola season is the regal festival of Thakurani Teej. Following hot on the heels of Hariyali-Amas, this particular festival celebrates the beauty and bravery of women through the ages. The entire haveli is beautifully cleaned and decorated. Mani-Kot, in front of the inner-sanctum, is completely encased in plush silk wall hangings, transforming it's solid marble walls in to lush green vegetation. Brightly embroided, they depict a Rajput garden in full bloom, once the exclusive preserves of beautiful rajput princesses. Deep green of silken plantains contrast with the brightness of red and yellow flowers. Mangoes grow in the background as variegated green foliage of various shrubberies jostles for space on the dark black background of the silk wall hangings. Various animals roam along the slender branches of the silken trees, turning their heads to catch a glimpse of Shri-Shyam-Sundir-Var.
Shringar-Rasik Shri-Nathji wears all manners of jewellery and is cover from head to toe in a glittering array of precious and semi-precious stones. Turban and pichod of the Thakorji are made from the bright red tie-dye bandhani of the rajput ladies. The husband of Shri wears two rings on each of His fingers and gem studded anklets sparkle at His feet. Having taken an extra hour to bathe and dress in all this finery, Kanderrapa-Mohan takes a long look at Himself in a special mirror, whose back panel consists of exquisite marquetry work! Unusually heavy, this festive mirror needs at-least two well built pandas to carry it!! The pichoie of the day depicts Radhikaji running towards Her Prana-Priya, asking for shelter from the impending down pour. The very picture of "khshatriya" (knightly) chivalry, Yadu-raj raises a shawl to welcome and protect a maid in distress!
In the afternoon, the main audience chamber, Dolti-bari, is also covered in wall hangings. Colourful applique work on pastel background describes the various lilas of the Pritam-Var. Under the Dhruv-Bari, facing Girdhar-Gopal, hangs a beautiful applique work depicting the joys of Janmasthami to come, as Nanda-Baba and Jashoda-ma adore their lovely child in a beautiful palana. A gilded hindola, with inlay of semi-precious stones and paste, is erected in middle of the Dolti-Bari. Madan-Mohanji officiates for Shri-Nathji, as He swings in this sumptuous setting. Kirtaniyas of Kanaiya-Lal are accompanied by numerous priests, as everyone praises the beauty of the Lord and His Beloved.
Rajput ladies from all over Rajasthan come to witness this festival. Dressed like their titulary deity in bright red and yellow sequenced bandhanies, these veiled beauties surge through the haveli in their masses. Hindola darshan can last for more than two hours on such a popular festival day to accommodate the huge influx of crowds!! In the evening, after the sandhya arti, courtyards and halls surrounding the inner sanctum are cleared for laying out a magnificent bichavat - a grand royal party. Deep piled silk carpets are spread in the Dolti-Bari, depicting bright jewel like flowers set in a perfect lawn of silken grass. Small wooden pavilions are also set up, swathed in embroided materials of various colours and textures. Cushions and bolsters abound as musical instruments and various foods are laid out for a truly "divine" party. Heavily laden with rain, the evening air is sweetened with a final touch of attars, liberally sprinkled over the carpets and cushions of the Dolti-Bari.
Shri-Navnit-Priyaji enjoys the season of rain with a gusto common to all small children. In His excitement, He often comes out to swing on the marble terrace out-side His Haveli, or in the garden chawk adjoining the twin Havelies of Shri-Nathji and Navnit-Priyaji. Flamboyantly attired, the Ladle-Lal sometimes creates His own "controlled" storm to amuse Himself. If the weather hots up, and Yashoda-Nandan wishes to see rain again, hindolo of the Nanda-Lal can be set up in His garden courtyard. Sitting in the relative safety of His hindola, the Natakhata-Nanda-Kumar can see His devotees getting thoroughly drenched by the elaborate net-work of fountains set in the walls and floors of the courtyard.
Sometimes He swings on Hindolas of sandalwood, elaborately carved to resemble trees and animals. Gods in their heavenly vimans, shower garlands and flowers of sandalwood upon the Lord dressed in sandalwood coloured clothes. Some of the more simpler hindolas are made of glittering jari work on dark blue velvet background, reflecting on the bhava (mood) of a star studded night sky, adorned by the only singularly bright moon in all of Vraj - Gokul-Chandramaji.
One of most delightful manoraths of the season is a glittering evening darshan of seeing the Ananda-Ghan swinging in a glass/ mirror Hindola, surrounded by chandeliers of coloured glass! Bevel edged mirrors of the swing scatter the light of dancing candles/ lamps in all directions, as Shri-Ranga swings in a gentle rhythm with His beloved. Following the courtly tradition, antique candelabras and chandeliers surrond the divine couple. From their myriad tiers of glass candelabras on the floor spill coloured pools of light on marble floors. As the evening sun dips over the edge of the western horizon, colouring the roof tops with a final ting of vermilion, chandeliers, some made from Belgium crystal, light up the applique clouds on the chandervas above.
Vitthal-Nathji, and other Nidhi svarups, sometimes go to swing in their natural and "real" gardens. No-longer in the simulated gardens of paint or silk, these natural gardens remind one of the times when Madhav must have pushed the swing of Radha-Rani in the woods of Vrindavan. In addition to His twelve "permanent" gardens, Shri-Nathji has a "temporary" garden in the chawk next to the inner-sanctum. For the festival of Bagicha-Nom, plants and even mature trees, are transplanted into the marble chawk to re-create the atmosphere and feel of the paintings and padas of Pushti-Marga.
Poem :- Rain clouds, like their Ghan-Shyam, are dark and full of life giving rain. Like their beloved's smile, sudden lightening takes their breath away. Like His deep sonorous voice, thunder rolls distantly in the heavens. Like the sweet rain, His nectar like words revive the parched hearts of the gopies, long tortured by their separation from Shri-Hari. Serenaded by peacocks and parrots, fanned by moist cool air off the river Jamuna, canopied by the living canvas of the ever-changing sky above and their restless hearts lit by their ardent love for Braj-Raj, the gopies approach their Man-Mohan with sincere longing in this, the blessed season of monsoon.
© Bhagwat Shah