The women of Udaipur pay homage to idols of the divine couple: Gana & Gauri.
Judaism, Islam and Christianity are easy because you only have to account for three gods. If you want to be a stickler: one god, three names. Factor in the Holy Trinity and let us call it five. Hinduism too has its version of the Trinity--this is known as the Trimurti--but the tally of Hindu gods does not stop there. Whilst performing a Puja, or "blessing," for me in the holy city of Pushkar, an unscrupulous Brahmin priest explained the Trimurti as "God is G.O.D. We have a generator, an operator and a destroyer." The Generator is the omnipresent, omniscient, pervasive but intangible Bhrama; the operator primarily manifests himself in the form of Vishnu and the destroyer in the form of Shiva. Simple enough, right? Wrong! Each of the members of the Trimurti has several incarnations. Add to that Vishnu and Shiva's children, siblings, lovers and servants--in addition to all of the manifestations of these divine entities--and you have a total somewhere in the tens to hundreds of millions. Our cab driver in New Delhi said that most Hindus cannot even name anywhere near all of the deities as each Hindu has his own special patron god. Nevertheless, out of these millions of gods you may recognize: Shiva's son Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of new beginnings, the letters and sciences; Buddha, the ninth incarnation of Vishnu and Hanuman, the monkey headed servant of Vishnu. Have you got a headache yet? To understand the significance of Mewar you only have to remember two names, Gana and Gauri, the divine couple, two incarnations of Shiva and his lover Parvati. For women across India, but particularly in the western state of Rajasthan, paying homage to these two gods is crucial to maintaining the structure of the Hindu family and by association Hindu society as a whole.
I Am Woman Throughout much of Indian society, particularly in rural areas and to a diminishing extent in urban centers, women essentially dictate the structure and direction of Hindu society. For example, the matriarch of a family--typically the mother of the oldest groom-- mandates who gets married to whom, whether or not a marriage will last, how many children their daughter in-law should produce and amongst many other things, which child gets to go to school. A morbid example of a matriarch's power and somewhat of a conversational taboo is the "kitchen fire." Every year women all over India mysteriously die in kitchen fire "accidents." Who strikes the match? More often than not a discontented mother in law is to blame for the arson/murder. Despite their autocratic role within the family, the outward role of women in society is quite marginal. Women rule from the house and it is predominantly men who are the face of Hindu society. It is for this reason that on a typical Indian day it is quite difficult to find groups of women hanging around. Instead they can be found at market selling or buying goods. Make no mistake however, as matriarchs wield unrivaled power in day to day matters and keep the cornerstone of Hindu society, the family, firmly intact. Women are the most religiously pious in Indian society; they will even drag children out of school to observe one of an unquantified number of religious festivals and Mewar is one such festival
With idols on their heads, young girls lead the Gangaur procession toward the main ghat at Lake Pichola.
Once a year, in late March, matters of church and state combine and the women of Rajasthan province are let loose in a flurry of color and pomp upon the streets of this beautiful dessert province. Every Rajasthani city has its own way of celebrating the union between the divine couple of Gana and Gauri--a.k.a Shiva and Parvati--and I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing the city of Udaipur's festivities first hand. Over a three day period, from March 29th to the 31st, the women of every neighborhood in Udaipur gather together in their best and most colorful saris and take turns marching in "Gangaur processions" towards this fairytale town's local land mark, Lake Pichola. For many of these women it is the most social contact they may have all year, and they make the most of it by singing dancing and letting loose a little. Although, these women have not only come to let their proverbial hair down, their is business afoot, and as in most other cases it involves the maintenance of the Indian family unit. Married women pray to the divine couple to ensure a long and prosperous life for their husbands, while unmarried women pray to find a suitable husband. The mothers of unmarried daughters scan and chat up the male onlookers in pursuit of this suitable husband for their daughters--arranged marriages are the norm in much of India--while their daughters pray and make offerings to the idol gods.
Children dressed as Gana and Gauri are paraded through town on the way to the lake.
While watching the Mewar spectacle I had many thoughts running through my head. "Is this perhaps the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed?" "Is such a festival propagating the negatives of Indian society?" "Who am I to judge?" What can be said about Mewar is that it certainly achieves its intended goal; the Indian family can not be said to look any stronger than during these three days in late March.
The epitome of Mewar. Three generations of women dressed in their best saris.