Fast, Fairs and Festivals of India Fast, Fairs and Festivals of India
Location : Chandrabhaga, Near Konark, Orissa.
Time of the Year : Magha Poornima (January February)
Duration : Seven Days
Cycle : Yearly
The Chandrabhaga Fair is one of the most popular and colorful fairs of Orissa. It is held on the seventh day of Magha (January–February) at a beach close to Konark in Orissa for seven days. The fair is held in honor of the sun god, who is said to have cured Sri Krishna’s son Shambhu from leprosy. Pilgrims from various parts of India congregate here every year to take a dip in the holy waters and offer their prayers to the sun.
A majority of the believers are from Orissa. However, there are large contingents from West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and even Madhya Pradesh. Besides these, there are tourists who come to see the famed Sun Temple at Konark. Mendicants too are present in a big but orderly way. They sit in single files along the road and paths that lead to the sanctum and make sure that charity is not overlooked when on a pilgrimage. Some prefer to sing and play devotional songs while moving amongst the assembly.
There is a continuous train of people, which keep coming from the previous morning itself, throughout the day and night until the celebrated daybreak. They come from all directions in various modes of conveyance. Most take the three-kilometer walk from Konark and if the time permits, they see the Sun Temple before proceeding to Chandrabhaga. If not, they stop over on their way back. Along this route, groups halt to collect firewood and to buy black earthen pots. These will be used for cooking after the group has camped around the site for the night.
Hands reverently folded amidst chants of Hari Bol, thousands of devotees wait in the chill for the Sun God to arrive in a blazing chariot pulled by seven horses in divine splendor. The moment for which they had walked miles and spent cold sleepless hours on the beach was soon approaching. As the earth turned a fraction of a degree eastward, the sun’s benign rays, dispelling the darkness and the mist, consecrated the patient gathering.
Lending variety and color are numerous mobile vendors. There are toys to tempt children, eats for the hungry and travel-worn, as also amulets and other religious mementos. The kiosks around do brisk business. For tourists, coconut water with soft, delicious kernel is in abundance to quench a parched throat.
Though essentially a religious event, entertainment is provided by dance troupes performing jatra (folk theatre) close to the Sun Temple. These performances go on late into the night. Not wanting to be outdone, the restaurants around Konark blare songs from the latest Hindi films throughout the night to attract customers. As if this is not enough, persons are posted outside the restaurants to persuade passersby into taking a tea break or a midnight meal. An unwary pilgrim surrendering to compulsive hospitality is likely to find himself in one of them, which he no doubt will leave without regrets to continue the onward journey.
Magha Saptami (January–February) heralds the occasion for performance of the Chandrabhaga rituals at a beach three kilometers from Konark. The roots of this festival are traced to a mythical tale wherein Shambhu, the son of Lord Krishna, trespassed into the chamber of his parents when they were in a state of private bliss. Upon this, Krishna cursed his son with leprosy. Since the punishment was too acute for such an inadvertent act by Shambhu, Narad took pity on him and instructed him to seek a cure at the Chandrabhaga River. The place where Shambhu is said to have meditated and worshipped the sun God after ablutions in the river for twelve years has become a sacred spot possessing curative properties.
Today, the river is not to be seen. What is left could be described either as a large pond or a very small lake. Yet, the faith in the cleansing powers of its waters is unquestionable. For, on this day of Magha Saptami, hundreds of thousands of people go through the bathing rituals. Those who do not find space, do so in the sea, which is just 100 m away. The ritual bathing takes place from 3 am onwards, commencing with the thakurs (priests) and followed by the rest. After purification, by dawn, a sea of humanity expectantly faces the Bay of Bengal with their eyes focused on a brighter section of the horizon.
After darshan (worship), nearly 80 per cent of the people begin the journey back home, stopping on their way for offerings at the local shrines on the beach and the thakurbari (home of the local priest) where ceremonies still continue. The scenario along the beach gradually changes at this stage. Small groups, mostly family members, can be seen gathered around pandas (priests) who perform pujas. After etching the outline of the Jagannath temple in the sand, small mounds of wet sand representing each family member are placed within, along with earthen lamps and flowers. This, accompanied by the panda’s chanting, which is repeated by family members, is intended to usher prosperity. These rites last from fifteen to thirty minutes.
As the morning stretches, the sands and the fisher folk, with their catamarans, regain authority on Chandrabhaga. While the wind and the caves will erase, all traces of this mammoth congregation, the celestial drama, though repeated daily shall remain an ordinary event until the next Magha Saptami.