Sunday, 16 March 2014


'Ancient kavya-s, nATaka-s, AkhyAyikA-s and stories indicate that bhAratvarSha duly celebrated seasonal utsava-s. Among these, two are very famous – vasantotsava and kaumudImahotsava. First is the utsava of vasanta and the other of sharada. There is no noted kavi in samskrita which doesn’t mention these two utsava-s under one or the other pretext. This can be said with greater surety in case of vasantotsava. A kavi like kAlidAsa has not let go any opportunity to mention vasanta and it’s utsava in any of his grantha-s. 


There are many utsava-s of vasanta. suvasantaka and madanotsava are described more often. Some panDita-s have wrongly assumed both to be the same. In vAtsyAyana’s kAmasutra yaksharAtri, kaumudijAgara and suvasantaka – these three are mentioned in the context of samasyAkriDA, meaning citizens gathered and collectively celebrated these utsava-s. A late AchArya yashodhara mentions suvasantaka as madanotsava. This has created confusion among scholars. We will see later that suvasantaka was actually a different utsava and the festivities associated with it were different as well. kAmasutra describes another utsava called holikA which is alive even today as modern holI.

We infer from ancient grantha-s that madanotsava was celebrated from fAguna to chaitra mAsa. This had two forms, one of public participation and the other of indoor banter and worship of kAmadeva. The first form is described so vividly and rivetingly in the ratnAvalI of the famous king harShadeva, that there is no better description to gauge the value of this utsava. Apart from the public enjoyment, there was a quieter form too. Readers will be provided with a glimpse of the same via the powerful writings of a kavi like bhavabhUti.

madanotsava : From the citations of samrATa harShadeva, we understand that past afternoon, on the day of madanotsava, the entire nagara will erupt under the mellifluous dhvani, melodious music and beats of mR^idangam. rAjA would sit on the highest chandrashAlA of his majestic prAsAda and watch the merrymaking of his subjects. The kAmini-s of nagara, under the influence of madhupAna would become so intoxicated that they sprinkled every man they lay their sight on with shR^ingaka. The crossroads of huge streets reverberated with the loud ghoSha of mardala. Immense amount of abIra would spread in all ten directions, immersing them in colors.

A fountain would run continuously in front of the rAjaprAsAda and other important buildings, which invited almost a sort of competition to fill up once’s dhArAyantra.  This place used to get bathed in red mud and floor full of vermillion, due to constant visits of nagara sundAri-s.
That day one sees most revelry in the area of veshyA-s. rasika citizens poured aromatic water on the tender bodies of veshyA-s which used to make them shrug and moan. The abIra would scatter so much that the entire area turned dark.
While singing dwipadI khanDa and holding Amra-manjari-s in their hands, the parichArikA-s of antaHpura-s used to dance. This day, pleasure used to cross all boundaries. parichArikA-s would become rapturous due to madyapAna. Their hair locks used to loosen up due to dance, the mAlAti necklace, which was used to tie the bun would disappear, the nupUra-s on their feet rattled with doubled intensity—inner and outer, both parts of city will sway under the wind of pleasure and excitement.
Another, but comparatively quieter and sober description of public celebration of madanotsava is found in bhavabhuti’s mAlati-mAdhava. On the day of utsava, in madanodyAna –which was specifically an udyAna for this utsava, and which had a temple of kAmadeva—the men and women of nagara would gather and worship kandarpa. There, as one’s wish, everyone would pick flowers, create garlands, play with abIra and kumkuma and indulge in song and dance. kanyA-s from affluent families also used to visit this temple and worship madan devatA in order to pray for obtaining their choice of vara. Large crowds of people used to visit from early morning and would continue to do so till the evening, unabated. In mAltI mAdhava, amAtya bhurivasu's daughter also visits the madanodyana for pUjana and celebrating the utsava. Secured by armed men, she arrived on a palanquin placed at the back of an elephant, and she returned on the same palanquin. mAlatI, accompanied by her sakhi-s also paid a visit to madanodyana. This tells us that not only was madanodyana visited by commoners, but kanya-s from affluent families frequented it as well.

The reader may suspect these two descriptions of madanotsava as mutually contradictory. In the first description, the citizens would become madmatta at the evening, but the second one gives an impression that one could visit the fair in madanodyana from morning till the evening. In reality, this is not a contradiction. Actually, madanotsava was celebrated for many days. The whole of vasanta was full of utsava-s. If we look into the purANa-s, we infer that madanotsava used to start on chaitra shukla dwAdashi. People observed fast on this day. An earthen kalasha was afixed under an ashoka tree. It was filled with white rice. Various fruits and sugarcane were especially used as pujophAra-s. The kalasha would then be covered with white cloth and white sandal would be sprinkled all over it. A tAmrapatra was placed above the kalasha, and on top of it banana leaves would be placed. On this, one would put the statues of kAmadeva and rati. Various gandha-dhUpa and nR^itya-vAdya were used to please kAmadeva (matsya purANa). madana was worshipped and paens were sung for him, on the second day i.e. chaitra shukla trayodashI also. On the night of chaitra shukla chaturdashI, not only was pUjA performed, various types of vulgar songs were song too and the utsava was celebrated with full fervor on pUrNimA. Possibly, the utsava on trayodashi is the utsava of madanodyana, and the one on pUrNima, mentioned in ratnAwalI, is madanotsava.

udyAnayAtra : Those days, udyAnayAtra-s and vana-yAtrA-s of vasanta, were full of fun and frolicking.'

-translated from prAchIna bhArata ke kalatmaka vinoda by sri hazAri prasAda dwivedI.

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