As crowds and colourful elephants, camels and horses traverse the streets, Lakshmi Sharath understands the scale of the Teej Festival

The auto driver refuses to take us to the Hawa Mahal. “Udhar, Tripolia Gate Ke Paas bahut beed hogi, aaj Teej festival hai na (since it’s Teej festival today, it’s very crowded near Tripolia Gate),” he says , while another nods in agreement. They say the roads will be closed and the crowds will throng the gates. More autos pass me by and they all refuse to take me to the Pink City. Finally, a young auto driver agrees and as I sit inside, I realise he has no clue where Hawa Mahal is. Several posters advertise the Teej and the procession as we get stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Finally, after seeking directions from several passers-by, we arrive at the main entrance of the Hawa Mahal only to realise this is not the usual façade that stares at me from photographs and magazines.

Packed with people

Hawa Mahal is teeming with foreigners who seem to be waiting for the procession to begin. I look out of the many arches and see the dark clouds surrounding the city, announcing the impending rain. After all, Teej is celebrated in the monsoons. As we step outside to photograph the façade, the rain tumbles down, drenching us to the bone. A local shopkeeper shows us a small pathway that leads to a flight of steps that takes us to his shop. He senses my lack of interest, but offers to let me photograph the entire façade of the Hawa Mahal from the balcony. I ask him about the Teej festival and he warns me about the crowds. I learn that it celebrates the reunion of goddess Parvati and lord Shiva. Goddess Parvati is called the Teej Mata, and the festival starts with a huge convoy of elephants, camels and horses while the deity herself is taken out on a procession in an ornate palanquin.

I head to the Tripolia Gate and find a group of foreigners with cameras in hand. I soon join them to find a group of folk dancers posing for them. The crowd gathers as the dancers take turns to enthral them. They swirl and twirl, and the whole road comes alive in vivid colours. An elephant stands at the gate and is soon followed by a herd as the mahouts sit atop them and the crowd waves out. The bands follow and the drum beats echo. More elephants join in and the band reaches a frenzy. Camels and horses are in tow as they arrive from the Tripolia Gate and gently take a turn, posing for the crowds.

Deity in procession

Even the skies seem to have cleared, although the sun has set. The evening has just started for the people of Jaipur who are celebrating. More women and children throng the roads as several locals look out from the balcony of their homes and shops. Finally, the deity arrives and the locals bow their heads in reverence and throw coins. I am told that the festival lasts a couple of days. Celebrated largely by women who pray to the goddess for a happy married life, Teej is often referred to as a festival of swings. Although it is celebrated all across Rajasthan and parts of North India, in Jaipur, the pomp and splendour leaves you spellbound. As I walk along the old town, I can hear the drum beats as the spectacle continues through the streets of old Jaipur.