‘Vasantotsava’ had attained the place as a national festival throughout Samudragupta’s empire. People of all sects and languages used to come together and celebrate Vasantotsava.
The Vasantotsava festivities used to commence on the day of Māgha Shuddha Panchami, and continue till Phālguna Pournima. It was so because although the months of Chaitra and Vaishākh are considered to be the months of spring, in Bhārat, the signs of spring appear in the month of Māgha itself, starting with Makar Sankranti, which coincides with the beginning of Uttarayana. Another reason for the Vasantotsava festivities to start from Māgha Shuddha Panchami was the favourable weather conditions prevailing in the subcontinent of Bhārat during this period.
With the advent of spring, nature becomes increasingly beautiful and vibrant. These changes make man, who is Mother Nature’s son, happy and Vasantotsava is the celebration that takes this happiness to its pinnacle.
During Samudragupta’s period, on the first day of the festival, the pair of Rati and Madan were worshipped everywhere, as Kamadeva was born on this day. On the first morning of the festival, all the people from the cities, as well as villages, to the accompaniment of music, used to visit a water body (river, pond, beach, lake), on the outskirts, plant a sapling of the Kadamba tree on its banks and worship the pair of Rati and Madan in the sapling’s shade. On this occasion offering worship amid recitation of mantras, all the people present used to sing and begin to dance in a circle. There was no discrimination between men and women. After spending a good amount of time at singing and dancing together, they used to partake lunch and take some rest. By the end of the afternoon, they used to return to the city in decorated bullock carts, and a ‘Su-vasantaka’ pillar used to be erected in the main square, or in the courtyard of the main temple. The pillar was made from the trunk of a ‘Mango’ or ‘Palash’ (Forest Fire) tree, and the ‘Vasant-dhwaj’ used to be hoisted on it ritualistically. The ‘Vasant-dhwaj’ was arrow-shaped with a picture of a peacock on it. During the flag hoisting ceremony, the people present cheered like kids, forgetting their social status, clan, varna, etc. and danced wearing masks of animals or birds. In the big cities, this ceremony was enjoyed amid gatherings of about 200 to 500 people each. No one had the freedom to choose a dance mask. After wearing a mask, a participant was required to identify a person wearing the mask of the natural enemy of the animal whose mask was worn by the participant and bring down that other person in the mud that was specially prepared, or drop that person in a pool of coloured water. This was the main part of the activity and all this had to be done while dancing. Suppose a participant wearing a tiger mask decided to target a participant wearing a mask of a deer, other participants wearing the mask of a deer could come to the rescue of the deer. Also, participants wearing a mask of other predators, for whom the deer is food, could help the participant wearing the mask of the tiger.
Thereafter, people used to have dinner in the town hall and then return to their homes. From the following day, different events were held on each day. The programmes used to start daily in the late afternoon and continue till midnight. A variety of competitions were held as a part of this festival. Also, renowned artists used to showcase their performances. This was the period when Prākrit-mixed Sanskrit plays were made a part of Vasantotsava celebrations. Plays based on epics such as Shilappadhikaram, Manimekhala, Jivakachintamani, Valyapati, Kundalkeshi, Kalittorga, Maharamayanam, Radhavilaschampu, Parijatapaharan, etc. were performed. Folk artistes troupes representing the art forms from south of Bharat performed Yakshagana and Gandharvaganasamhita all over India. These artistes troupes from the south of Bhārat were the most sought after. The most famous of these was the play in the form of a poem, ‘Shilappadhikaram’, composed by a great writer Ilango-Adigal. Of these, many of the poetries and plays were also written by Sanskrit Pandits who were Jains and Buddhists.
A program of water sports used to be held in the evenings on the two full moon days falling during the Vasantotsava celebrations. In the evenings, all the men and women ventured into ponds, lakes and rivers to play water sports. Many different water sports were part of the programme.
Ashokotsav was celebrated on the day of Phalguna Shuddha Pratipada. It was the day to acknowledge indebtedness to the God of Nature (Nisarga Devatā). On this day, all the men and women used to get up early in the morning, wear only yellow clothes and ornaments made from real flowers. Not only waistbands, crowns, earrings, anklets, but also uparne used to be made from flowers. The newlyweds had a special honour on this day. All such couples were troubled in various funny ways. In one of the sports meant for such couples, a newlywed husband had to climb an Ashoka tree while his wife had to throw a garlanded floral rope until it touched the husband’s feet. The woman who emerged as the winner was honoured with the title ‘Vasantdevi’, and she was given the privilege of offering worship to the Ashoka tree.
On the other hand, the day of Phalguna Shuddha Panchami was meant for couples who had completed 50 years of marriage. ‘Ranga-Rasotsav’ used to be celebrated in their honour. The elderly couples were respectfully taken to a river and given a sacred bath as per the practice. They were also given gifts on behalf of all. Moreover, these couples were seated on a beautiful platform, and others danced around them in a circle. Then, with great respect, each couple was invited one by one to participate in the dance, and at the end, others used to take home the floral garlands worn by these elderly, which was considered as their blessing. What a beautiful and cultured way to honour the elderly!
During the last three days of the Vasantotsav celebrations, i.e. starting from Phalguna Shudha Dwadashi, Trayodashi and Chaturdashi, a fair used to be organized. At this fair, various traders used to put up their stalls. However, the main feature of this Vasantyatra was ‘Rathadola’ which comprised of different types of equipment used for entertainment purposes.
1) Vasantatilak Dola - This equipment had two floors, each 12 feet in height. On the lower first floor, there used to be six large wooden wheels mounted over each other. Depending on their size, elephants, horses, or oxen used to be harnessed to them. As these animals began to move, the bottom six wheels, too, started moving. The uppermost floor was attached to the topmost wheel. It had a barrier with an arrangement to seat about 10 to 50 people inside at a time. As the top floor began moving, the people on the ground and those on the equipment used to throw colours at each other.
2) Vasantnauka Dola - This equipment was shaped like a large ship. Its keel was made of copper and hard wood. In this area, five wheels were fitted side by side. The animals were harnessed to both sides of the equipment and they, too, moved in opposite directions. As a result, the people who were seated in the ship-like equipment used to constantly get tossed in different directions.
3) Vibhramak Dola - In this equipment, a metal pillar was deeply thrust through its centre into the ground with a large wheel at its end. Many small-sized swings used to be attached to the wheel. These swings used to move up and down and revolve along with the movement of the wheel. The game required participants to move from one swing to another while the wheel rotated.
Several such recreational equipment were designed during Samudragupta’s era, and every village used to get financial assistance from the state government for fairs.
The last and the concluding day was Phālguna Pournima, or Holikotsav. This day was similar to that of the culture of carnivals held in western countries. On this day, all the citizens had fun in the open, that is, on the grounds, roads and parks, for the entire day. They used to freely move around dancing, singing and playing. On this day, Emperor Samudragupta himself, along with his royal consorts, participated freely in the festivities held in the capital. They mingled freely with the common people and immersed themselves in the festivities. Why wouldn’t then the people feel a sense of belongingness for such an emperor? The festival used to conclude at night after dinner by lighting up the Holi in the main square or in the precincts of the temple. Each one used to bring wood, mulch and dung cakes. At this time, there used to be collective dancing and singing. At the end, a prayer used to be offered to Vishnu to ‘burn the mistakes of the past year in the fire’. People used to return homes only after performing circumambulation (pradakshina) thrice around the sacred fire.
This great festival, which showcases economic prosperity and cultural richness, is thus a magnificent monument of India’s glorious folk history.
(To be continued…..)
Courtesy: Dainik Pratyaksha
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