‘Bolo Bharat Mata ki Jai‘ echoed the premises of the Venkataramana temple in Mangaluru last night. Adorned in all her fineries, the life size clay idol of Goddess Saraswati was brought in with all fanfare and took her seat on the dais outside the Acharya mutt within the temple.
Carried lovingly atop shoulders by young men whose walk is dictated almost by a poetic metre so her gait looks like that of a graceful woman, her arrival this year marks 100 years of Mangaluru Saravajanika Shri Sharada Mahotsava.
And the entire city centre, that is called the temple square, is lit to mark a century of worshipping the Goddess in this avatar - as Sharada.
It was the first Sharada Mahotsav in the region which then inspired and has led to hundreds of such similar celebrations across the undivided district of Dakshina Kannada - including the now famous Mangaluru Dasara celebrations.
The Acharya mutt until the 1920’s did worship the Goddess like all gurukuls and centres of learning do in the season of Sharad Navaratri - by worshipping the manuscripts and ancient texts.
As the head of the mutt Narasimha Acharya, explains, the tradition of Saraswati among the various forms of the Goddess comes from the fact that the community - Gowda saraswat brahmins - trace their lineage to her namesake the Saraswati river.
“So it was natural that the primary form of the Goddess we worship too would be Saraswati. Add to it, as goes the legend, our roots belong to the land of Sharada, Kashmir,” he adds.
But this form of a community worship was necessitated by the pre-independence times where gathering was prohibited by the colonial rulers.
In a bid to bring people together, on the lines of and the intention behind Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Ganeshotsav, the Sharada Mahotsav commenced in around 1922.
And thus the chant of 'Bharat mata ki Jai' heralded the beginning of what was to be a whole different and extremely beautiful celebration of the ten days of the Mother Goddess’s descent on earth.
To this day, it is the portrait of Bharat Mata that adorns the top of the pandal where she sits. And her final farewell chant too has the temple tank that she is immersed in resounding with it. Until the 80s, it remained confined to the temple and the community.
But it eventually turned into one of the most awaited celebration of devotion each year with people travelling from across the country and beyond to get a glimpse of her.
No one goes collecting funds as donors, mostly common people whose bond with her over the century and for generations now has turned into a sacred one, fund various aspects of the celebrations voluntarily.
Like the unprecedented amount of offerings in grain and groceries that came pouring in to be part of the maiden ’hore kanike’ (offering) procession on Sunday.
A curtain raiser to the grand ten days of worship, over 60 vehicles carried the various offerings led by the lead vehicle carrying the special offerings to the Goddess this year - a gold veena (with 416 gm of gold), a gold peacock, gold aarti, silver backdrop, all articles of worship in silver anew and large silver lamps.
“We have had offerings with which we can hold a feast for over a month. This is unprecedented” say the committee members, as they gear up for the sleepless eleven nights to follow.
For she sits pretty until ekadashi, while most ‘visarjans’ are held on Vijayadashami, and has a host of traditional rituals until then. The same idol transforms into various avatars in contrast to other celebrations that see different idols for different goddesses.
Certain years that the Indian calendar and rituals permit, she is transformed into Kali, in a way that makes it hard to believe.
The very next day, she gears up to turn into the ever beautiful and majestic ‘veenadhari Sharada’ with her peacock by her side and the vedas and japmala in her hands.
A special saree is woven for her each year but the one she will sport on her final procession day has made great news this year. For it is weavers from Kashi who were brought in to render special gold embroidery on the dark green and red Banarasi saree.
Costing a whopping eight lakh, the saree has a total of 2600 flowers in gold made with 88 grams of gold and 700 grams of silver. A sahasra chandika havana is being held to mark 100 years of this celebration.
Over 4000 meritorious students from the city were felicitated with a ’vidya saraswati’ recognition, along with achievers in various fields. Cultural festivals including plays and classical music concerts were held during a week long cultural festival few weeks ago. And through the ten days, various competitions around art, craft, and creativity are being conducted alongside the ritualistic celebration.
Various classical musicians will also perform this year during the next ten days. Earlier this week, 108 vaidiks from different parts of the country, took part in a special reading of the Saptashati to launch the official celebrations.
Her hairdo is a special presentation of the jasmine flowers that is special to the region that transforms her from Saraswati to Sharada. Called the ‘son-phool’ the special arrangement is what is else worn by a bride-to-be or a mother-to-be.
No mould is used to cast her form, yet each year, she has to her kitty, the undisputed title of being the prettiest Sharada idol. Even among the 40 odd ones created by her maker Naveen Acharya, a third generation artist sculpting her out of clay.
Committee member Ganesh Baliga says the ‘artist himself says so that ’there’s no other like her’. “A lot of people also pressurise him to make their idols like ours, but he has told us all many times that it is she who decides her form and not him,“ he adds.
And as she transforms into Sharada on the final day, she has volunteers who carry her on the entire route by foot on their shoulders.
Once lifted off her dais, around 8 pm, she is out on an all night tour of the area as people wait enroute with aartis and offerings, and sits back only at day break, where she then has all those artists, tiger dance troupes, bands perform for her one last time and receive prasad.
The mood begins to get somber by then. The feeling of having to bid her farewell begins to weigh heavy, even though it is now a century of doing so.
As she heads to the temple tank down the street, even those who didn't accompany her through the night make a beeline for the visarjan.
Seated on the makeshift coracle, she then is taken on an entire round in the tank. And once back in the center, the entire gathering rises to sing Vande Mataram with most eyes moist.
And as the sun joins the devotees in saying 'Bharat mata ki Jai', 'Sharadamma' leaves for the year with a promise to see all her children next sharannavaratri.
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