The family get-together:
Our extended family is very huge. I know even the aunts, uncles and cousins of my parents from both sides. So such occasions are a chance for me to get acquainted with them better as the opportunities where we interact are generally minimum. My cousins work all over India and abroad and we rarely meet face to face. Thanks to technology we have managed to stay close, but meeting in person has absolutely no replacement. So this occasion is a big chance for all of us to come together and catch upon long lost conversations.
In my native place, the goddess Mariamma is adorned with flowers and sacred puja items and is amazingly beautiful. Her holy chariot is decorated in an equally grand manner. The entire village voluntarily participates in the preparations. The positive energy is palpable as towards midnight, the Goddess arrives on her chariot to the village's main street. The entire village offers prayers and garlands and falls at her feet for her blessings of a happy and prosperous village. It is believed that throwing salt at the chariot is a good omen. Hymns are sung and traditional dances are performed in front of the chariot. Men with huge burning torches line on either side of the crowd at roughly equal distances to provide light for the gathered crowd and also to keep the crowd warm. The entire process takes place close to midnight and imagine in a place like Ooty where the climate is near freezing at midnight, people still celebrate this occasion with great pomp and splendor.
The next day morning, the sacred Karagam is brought to the individual house and people pay their respects to the same. The elderly who could not attend the ceremony the previous day make the best use of the next day. The Karagam goes to each house personally and by the time it reaches the temple again, it is close to evening. Women especially young girls go along with the Karagam for the finishing ceremony and pour water in the holy lake situated close to the temple. After special prayers and pujas, the Karagam is floated in the holy water thus concluding the function. All this time, the temple is crowded by devotees, hymns men and holy men.
The baduga dance:
This is an integral part of the festival. Youngsters and elders all shake a leg to the traditional drum beat of the badugas. The teenagers are the most excited lot willing to show off their traditional dance with a new twist. It is such a miracle that even a baduga baby can dance to the beat and tune without anybody teaching him or her.
The dress code:
All the women wear white mundu over their saris and all the men are expected to wear crisp white shirts and dhotis. It is a sight to behold as the entire village turns into a sea of white.
The food bonanza:
A variety of delicacies are prepared through out the two days, the main item being thuppathitu (something like puri but sweet and yummy). At the end of the second day a huge non-vegetarian feast is prepared and consumed by the entire village. This definitely includes chicken but may or may not include mutton and fish. The badugas are very fond of chicken. Relatives far and near visit the family. And the food is prepared with such gusto and savored with such relish.
This occasion is very important for badugas as this festival is meant especially for their beloved daughters. This is a chance for the parents to see and honor their daughters who are married and are located elsewhere. When the daughter enjoys the festivity and leaves for her in-laws home which is now hers too, the parents send her back with all the home made goodies, a new sari and some money. It is a tradition that has been handed down for many generations.
This habba is an unspoken testimony for the bonds that run deep within the badugas. Strangers and relatives are treated alike with respect and love. Nothing can beat the baduga hospitality.(Some years back even the UNESCO acknowledged that the badugas were the best people known for their hospitality.) Being a daughter born into a huge family, this festival is very close to my heart. As I see my parents that day every year awaiting my arrival along with my family, I know what it is to be special. May the great Mariamma bless all of us for a clear mind and a open heart and many more such happy occasions.