Pushkaram History & Culture

The Brahmaputra promenade comes alive with a festival

Brahmaputra Aarati

Brahmaputra Aarati  

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Guwahati is the destination as the Brahmaputra Pushkaram beckons the tourist and the devout alike

The clayey soil gives way under your feet dragging you deeper as you try harder to stand firm. “Come for Pushkar? Be careful when you enter the water,” the words of the friendly cab driver on way from the airport ring in the ears. Taking a dip in the Brahmaputra is a different ball game, surely. Slippery as an oiled ceramic floor underneath, the river on its surface looks deceptively calm. Its shore is the venue for the Brahmaputra Pushkaram, a festival now in progress to mark the transit of the planet Jupiter. The Assam Government has made extensive arrangements for the pilgrims visiting Guwahati and has a lot to offer for the tourist.

The statue of Brahma on the river front

The statue of Brahma on the river front  

Apart from its spiritual significance, the Pushkaram stands out for national unity and integration — an aspect the Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and others stressed during the inauguration of the 12-day festival. “The Brahamaputra has been the life line of this region for centuries but today we thank the river for turning the nation’s attention towards the North-East,” said Mr. Sonowal. “This event should go to Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and so on. It will open a window to this part of the country, which has remained isolated for long,” he said, a loud applause from the audience expressing solidarity. It was indeed a unique congregation as people from different States had gathered on the river front to bathe and perform rituals. Some of the pilgrims were staying for a few days to watch the programmes and pujas.

The Pushkaram has given an opportunity for many to travel North-East for the first time. Two groups — Mahalakshmi Charitable Trust of Chennai and Purva Tirupathi Sri Balaji Seva Samithi, Guwahati — have organised the affair with the cooperation of the Assam Government. On November 5, water from 121 rivers, collected in small brass urns, were carried to the river and amidst the chanting of Veda mantras poured into the Brahmaputra at the appointed hour of 5.17 a.m. Hundreds stepped into the water, picking their way carefully on the wet bamboo poles and sand bags laid on the walkway to the barricaded river front.

 

The annual Pushkaram has been gaining ground, thanks to the efforts of the 70th pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Pitam Sri Sankara Vijayendra Saraswati. The idea is to revive in people reverence for Nature and environment, especially water bodies. With the various Adheenams dotting Tamil Nadu participating wholeheartedly, the Cauvery and the Tamiraparani festivals happened with great fanfare in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Sind is the designated river for this year’s transition of Jupiter. But because of the difficult terrain, Brahmaputra, also connected to Dhanur Rasi (Sagittarius), was chosen.

“My initial reaction was disbelief,” says Mahalakshmi Subramaniam of the Trust, who spearheaded the earlier two festivals. “Assam was unknown to me and the language was an issue. But the Acharya encouraged me to proceed. With his blessings, we are conducting the festival and it has given me great fulfilment,” she adds. She had to organise the travel of over 100 people. Along with a team of priests, vaidikas and cooks, she landed in Guwahati on November 4 to coordinate the arrangements. “The festival is a huge success. The people here are warm,” she says. Many spiritual leaders, including the heads of Adheenams visited Guwahati. During the inauguration, the Tamil Nadu Minister for Textiles, O.S. Manian, was on the stage.

Activity on the river front

Activity on the river front  

On the home front, Purva Tirupathi Sri Balaji Seva Samithi and the Kanchi Math took charge of the event. K. Muthuswamy of the Math’s Guwahati unit and working president of the Working Committee, acted as the vital link by coordinating with the Government machinery. “We, in Assam, have rediscovered the Brahmaputra,” he says. According to him, the people have not seen anything like this. In a land not much used to idol worship, educating the local population on the Pushkaram concept was the primary task. The State Government was positive in its approach, with the Chief Minister evincing keen interest. Creating a bathing ghat was a challenge, the water playing catch-me-if-you-can. “One day it retreated and the next was back to the brim. The day before the inauguration it retreated at least 30 feet. As many as 10,000 sand bags were placed for pilgrims to make it safely to the water. The Government departments aligned themselves with us. A bridge is going to be built right where the ghat is situated. Machinery had arrived and work was about to start. Hearing of the Pushkaram, the contractor said, ‘We’ll start work after the festival. Let this be a puja to the river.’ But for the blessings of the Kanchi Acharyas this would be impossible,” he says.

The Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal at the puja, on the inaugural day

The Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal at the puja, on the inaugural day  

With the help of donors, the organising committee has arranged food daily for 4,000 people, ISKCON’s Akshayapatra pitching in. Every evening, river Aarati takes place, a song composed for the occasion sung a la the Ganga Aarati. Pilgrims are treated to cultural programmes. The morning sessions are devoted to homams and other pujas, conducted by a group of pandits, including Tyagappa Dikshitar and Sivarama Diskhitar of the Chidambaram Sabanayakar temple. The Tourism department’s hop-on-hop-off battery bus services take people to places of interest. Also stalls have been put up to showcase Assam’s enchanting craft and textiles. To sum up, Guwahati, which is playing host in style, is witnessing a historic confluence in the Brahmaputra Pushkaram festival, which ends on November 16.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 6:52:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/a-festival-on-the-brahmaputra-promenade/article29971989.ece

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