Top 20 Bizarre India Rituals And Festivals That will Leave Your Jaw Open
India is like a storybook, full of stories that are weird and wonderful. You may not believe what you are reading, you may not agree with what is written, but for sure, one thing is. You can't just quit reading. And the more you read, the more it becomes interesting.
India is no stranger to unusual practices. Numerous groups, tribes, and religions have become the home of the world. These cultures and their customs and practices have combined over the years to form all manner of strange mixtures. Some have produced new rituals and festivals out of nowhere, and despite the decades, some customs remain unchanged. Because of this, there are a variety of very bizarre traditions in the country now that you would otherwise not find anywhere else. But their oddness represents India's unbelievable diversity and sheds some light on the kind of lives people live here. Here, then, are 20 of India's most strange rituals that you need to see to believe.
1. The Bani Festival, Andhra Pradesh, Kill or Get Killed
Celebrations are a way of life for humans. But others are so odd, it challenges the concept's very meaning. The Bani Festival celebrated at the Devaragattu Temple in Andhra Pradesh's Kurnool district illustrates the point. Each Dusshera, hundreds of Andhra and Karnataka lathi-wielding devotees gather in this temple at midnight to strike each other on the heads! Drenched in blood, these men continue to rejoice until the beak of dawn, to remember Mala-Malleshwara (Shiva)'s killing of a demon. This festival has been celebrated for over 100 years, according to the temple priest, and earlier axes and spears were used in place of lathis! This year, during Bani, 56 people have been injured. During this festival, medical attendants and police officers are mobilized, but they mostly remain spectators in the face of the intense frenzy.
2. Matrimony Arranged
In the 18th century, the world dropped the practice of arranged marriages, with India still going strong with the tradition. It's simple: everyone else does it for them instead of people choosing their own life partners-parents, distant relatives, relatives' friends, etc. It's not difficult to grasp, only difficult to acknowledge. While individuals are gradually changing their marriage ideas, choosing one's own partner is one of the surprising things that can be done for some families, particularly if it's a kid. Class, religion, tribe, horoscope, etc.: The third party is sure to find you the perfect match based on these. Who cares if you don't fit your attitude and you don't talk for the rest of your life?
3. The Snake Festival-Nag Panchami
India shares with snakes a very old bond. Throughout Indian myths and folklore, these scary creatures have played a prominent role. India, as The Land Of Snake Charmers, is still known to many. To date, in India and Nepal, the fifth day of the lunar month of Shravan is celebrated as Nag Panchami. Live Cobras are worshipped without their venomous fangs removed! On their raised hoods, priests sprinkle Haldi-kumkum and flower petals. Devotees feed milk and even rats to them. It is widely believed that on Nag Panchami, snakes do not bite.
4. Honor Killing
Honor killing is one of India's most disturbing rituals. In India, marriage is more than putting two individuals together. The marriage of two families is at risk. To ensure that a person does not marry outside of his caste, community, religion, social status, etc., special attention is paid. Although rigidity has increasingly decreased, these items are extremely strict for many cultures or families. There are several other things they are strict about, apart from marriage, including what to wear, whom to talk to, etc. If a member of their family goes against the laws and regulations, the family will disown them or, worse, kill them for dishonoring the family or the society.
5. Fire-Walking - Theemithi, Tamil Nadu
The reality, they say, is weirder than fiction. It is proven by the ritual of walking on fire. The art of Theemithi was originally from Tamil Nadu and has also spread to Sri Lanka, Singapore, and South Africa. Theemithi is part of a broader ritual that lasts over a span of two and a half months where parts of the Mahabharata are re-enacted, adding up to 18 distinct rituals. The Theemithi festival is a celebration of the wife of the Pandavas, Draupadi. Draupadi marched through a bed of fire after the Battle of Kurukshetra and emerged as new as a flower. Theemithi is a re-enactment of the same event, which is thought to give the goddess a wish or blessing.
Traditionally, a family said goodbye to their girl with gifts at the time of marriage, primarily in the form of gold jewelry. This was known as Stree-Dhan: the woman's property. The practice changed, however, with time. Families, as a sign of appreciation for taking responsibility for their daughter, began paying dowry to the groom in cash, land, and even schooling. Not only is this illegal, shocking custom performed by people regardless of their religion in India demeaning for the woman getting married as her worth is calculated in terms of income, but it puts a lot of financial pressure on the family. Many brides are killed for dowry or tortured, while suicide is committed by their helpless families.
7. Tossing babies out of the roof for good luck-Maharashtra and Karnataka
At times, our thinking is taken over by faith and makes us do things without ever challenging them. The bizarre ritual of baby tossing has been performed by both Hindus and Muslims for years in India. Babies are dropped from a height of 50 feet at Baba Umer Dargah, near Sholapur, Maharashtra, and caught on a sheet kept by waiting men. At Sri Santeswar temple near Indi, in the state of Karnataka, a similar tradition is observed. For over 700 years, this ritual has been practiced and is believed to bring family wealth. These cases are being reviewed by the National Commission for Child Rights Safety. No injuries have so far been confirmed, according to organizers.
8. Infanticide/ Female Foeticide
With many families under dowry pressure, is it unusual that women are treated as a burden? Besides, by not being attractive or fair enough to be married, or by getting raped by some perverted beasts who are looming about, she could be a threat to the honor of the family. Boys, on the contrary, are the family's torch-bearers, as they carry the name forward and offer a dowry. Therefore, instead of feeding the lady with pregnancy-terminating herbs, they prefer female foeticide, as is seen in cities and trained communities, who choose surgical abortion. By soaking the baby in milk, feeding her salt or oversized candy, or burying her alive, they also opt for infanticide.
9. Flesh hooking and body piercing: Thaipoosam, Tamil Nadu
Faith is a precious ray of light that draws us out of the darkness within. At times, the same confidence takes on alarming dimensions. Celebrated during the Tamil month of Thai in Tamil Nadu and parts of southern India, Thaipoosam is a festival honoring Lord Murugan (or Kartikeya, the son of Shiva and Parvati) receiving a lance to destroy Tarakasura 's evil army. Many devotees pierce their bodies with hooks, skewers and lances called vel, after a 48 day fast. Some also attempt to pull tractors with the hooks in their skin or other heavy objects; others pierce their tongue and cheek to obstruct speech and thereby attain complete focus on the Lord. During such piercing, they enter into a trance due to the incessant drumming and chanting. For the faint of heart, the horrifying sight is certainly not.
10. Kid Matrimony
In India, a woman's legal age for marriage is 18, and that of a male is 21. This shocking ritual, however, is something that is still practiced in India, especially in rural communities across the country. In 1929, child marriage was banned, and preventive laws and their amendments have been promulgated since then. But these have often met with protests, particularly from Muslim communities, who prefer that their personal laws should best be left to the decision. In the region, it is an active political issue. While much of the emphasis is on marrying underage girls, far too early, we also fail to remember those underage boys who are responsible for marriage.
11. Cannibalism and Necromancy-The way of life of Aghori, Banaras
With their long matted hair and bodies smeared in ash, the formidable Aghori Sadhus of Banaras are easily identifiable. Their way of dealing with God is, in very subtle words, off-beat. Through seeking 'purity in the filthiest,' these monistic saints believe in renouncing the earth. This causes them to eat human remains after the cremation and have sex with corpses. They are considered to be possessed by Tantrik healing powers.
12. Human-Animal Weddings Exorcism by Marriage
Indians, and plenty of them, believe in spirits. They, with many biases, are a superstitious lot. In India, Horoscope is pretty elaborate, with many aspects taken into account, down to possibly the very nanosecond of birth, line day, date, time, etc. Some women are therefore said to have "mangal dosh": it is said that such a woman endangers her husband's life. The surprising custom in India, to exorcise her, is to get the woman married to a tree. Another way to exorcise a Manglik woman is to marry her instead of a tree to an animal. If she is born with a deformity, cleft lip, tooth, etc., this mindless practice is often used to rid the woman of the ghosts she feels she has.
13. Animal Weddings-The Rain God appeasers
Just as they had shown in Lagaan, in India, rain is a big deal. A lot of lives are dependent upon it. No wonder that no stone is left unturned to honor the rain god by sending his blessing showers. In villages across Assam and Maharashtra, frog weddings have been registered, while in Karnataka, donkeys are married. Some places have even had dog weddings registered. These weddings are a major celebration where all the rites of a Hindu marriage are practiced and a priest conducts the marriage.
14. Kesh Lochan-Hair plucked out by hand
In India, a very common practice is sacrificing one's hair and offering it to God. People somehow think that it's a good idea to have him wake up with shedloads of hair dumped for him to thank or please God. So, giving locks to God is a widespread tradition. Some people also take a step forward and go bald, to give God all their hair. But, even then, the Jains, who had such a painful and surprising ritual in India, beat them. By plucking the hair out, the Jain saints and monks exercise the ritual of becoming bald. They either do it on their own or make someone pluck it out for them, once or twice a year, as a sign of renouncing material pleasures and teaching excruciating stamina.
15. Hanging by Hooks- Garudan Thookam, Kerala
This type of ritual art performed in the Kali temples of Kerala is as fascinating as it is surprising. Dancers dress like Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu, who, after killing Darika the devil, quenched the thirst of the goddess Kali with blood. They hang like eagles (Garudan Thookam) from a shaft after the dance show, by hooking the flesh on the back! In a colorful procession, these hanging 'Garudas' are carried around the city. On Makara Bharani Day and Kumbha Bharani Day, this ritual is performed.
16. Smashing coconuts on the head – Aadi Festival, Tamil Nadu
Thousands of devotees flock to the Mahalakshmi Temple, Mettu Mahadhanapuram, in the Karur District of Tamil Nadu every year, on the 18th day of the Tamil month of Aadi, to willingly allow the priest to crush coconuts on their heads for good luck and health. As the tale goes, at the site of the temple, 187 coconut shaped stones were dugout. The British decided to construct a railway route across the temple during the Raj, and the villagers were against it. The British struck a bargain to test their devotion: if they could smash those stones on their feet, the railway line would change direction. The villagers succeeded and they saved the temple. Despite alerts by medical professionals, the tradition has been practiced to date.
17. Self-flagellation-Muharram's Mourning
It's going to make you very, very uneasy. It is the holy month of remembrance and mourning. Muharram translates into 'prohibited.' Mourning starts with a 10-day fast on the first day of the month and culminates in The Day of Ashura (tenth day), when Shia Muslims perform the rite of mass self-flogging to commemorate the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Hussein. Men mercilessly whip their bodies with blades attached to chains in a frightening show of dedication, until they are covered in their own blood. They say they do not sense the pain in their state of religious trance.
18. Wedding without a bridegroom-Ceremonies of puberty
In India, marriage is a huge deal. Especially if a girl happens to be you. And that's how, in many Indian nations, a girl reaching puberty becomes a social event celebrated with great pride and enthusiasm. The girl's family dresses her up like a bride in an effort to declare sexual maturity and preparation for marriage and performs a 'marriage' ceremony sans the groom and vidaai. To bless the 'bride' and shower her with presents, friends, and relatives are invited. This ceremony also involves several ceremonies lasting several days during which she is held in a separate room and is not permitted to meet any men, including her father or her brothers.
19. Dunked baby in boiling water-Bijalapur
In the Bijalapur district of Karnataka, where three-month-old babies are dunked in boiling hot water, the inhumane tradition is carried out. The baby is lifted instantly, however, significant burns are suffered. The rite is to give thanks to the gods and the priest for blessing a child at home.
20. Ritual of Cow Trampling-Govardhan Puja, Madhya Pradesh
To the Hindus, cows are sacred. In the village of Bhiwdawad, in Maharashtra, this devotion is brought to a whole new level. On the occasion of Enadakshi, one day after Diwali, the Govardhan festival is celebrated. Villagers decorate flowers, colors, and henna with their animals, and lie down on the ground for cows to trample over them! After a five-day fast, this ritual takes place. The fathers of the entire village will see this spectacle, which they believe will lead the gods to respond to their prayers.
In India, there are several other surprising rituals. Polygamy, for example, is an immoral activity that is exercised under Personal Law by Muslim Indians, while polyandry is practiced in Himachal Pradesh by a small sect called the Kinnauris. Timiti is practiced in Tamil Nadu by walking on fire as a sign of respect for Draupadi. A frightful practice of hanging the participants from a shaft, hooked by the skin on their backs, in Kerala's Kali Temples. Piercing, bull-fighting, coconut cracking on the head: there are several of them. Once upon a time, in her dead husband's funeral flames, young widows were burned alive. This activity has been discontinued for a long time. Hopefully, as the majority of Indians in India are already turning against these surprising customs and practices, not only will they be legally forbidden, but they will also be socially boycotted, replaced by reason and greater equality of rights and ideas.
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