We were engaged in a conversation with ekanetra on variety of topics ranging from the preceptorial genealogies of the medieval advaita vedAntins to the mudgara-swinging bludgeon-men of parAkrama-bAhu in the “siMhala-damila mahAyuddha”. When, in the middle, ST chimed in that she was thinking of a paradox in traditional observances and wanted to know their textual bases in Hindu tradition. She alluded to events many solar cycles ago when we were still in our youth and filled with ignorance but full of the neophyte’s ardor. In those past days, at this time of the year, we both used to cut class to pursue our respective extra-curricular pleasures even as the rest of the pashu-s labored with their pashu-shAstra-s. While I was seeking my mukti from the pashu-pAsha in the study of the deep rahasya-s that I hardly fully understood then, our friend ST was seeking mokSha from the shR^i~Nkhala-bandha in the rAsa-krIDa. She said: “I was observing a solemn navarAtri, but all of a sudden I was reminded of our days in the city of our youth and the krIDa that used to be such great fun with the rest of the “gang”. But suddenly it struck me how in my childhood the navarAtri was a solemn affair at home. I wondered if the profligate rAsagoShThI was ever allowed in the shAstra-s.” I did not share ST’s closeness to the “gang” for after all like the advaitin we did not equate ahaM with the sharIra that was the “gang”. So I could not appreciate her sentiment in this regard, nevertheless the conversation veered to the tradition of the old Hindu madana-mahotsava-s. There is the famous kAmotsava that is observed on chaitra shukla pakSha, dvAdashI (chaturdashi according to some) and this is widely referred to in saMskR^ita literature. But I recall that the paramAra rAjan bhoja-deva mentions several others in his tome on shR^i~NgAra. But not having the original text of the rAjan before me I had to rely on my memory and certain other sources for this discussion. Hence, I must mention that many of them are missed in this discussion (but I might update them once if I feel inclined to look up the text again).
In the shAradi set of ratyutsava-s bhojarAja mentions:
1) navapatrika; 2)bhisakhAdika; 3) kandukakrIDa; 4) yakSha rAtri; 5) kaumudI jAgara; 6)abhyuSha khAdika / ikShu-bhakShika; 7) chandrikA-lalana; 8) haMsa-lIlAvalokana; 9) sarit-pulina-keli; 10) bali krIDa.
Of these yakSha rAtrI is known to be over-night gaming festival that coincides with dIpAvalI/dIpotsava. Hence, if a festival corresponds to the navarAtrI it should be before it. In the dashakumAra charita of daNDin, chandrasenA states the following to mitragupta and koshadAsa:
prAptaiveyaM bhartr^I dArika kandukAvatI kanduka krIDitena devIM vindhyavAsinIm ArAdhayitum | anishiddha darshanA cheyam asmin kandukotsave | saphalam astu yuShmac chakShuH AgachChataM draShTuM |
My king’s daughter kandukAvatI has come to worship the goddess vindhyavAsinI. It is not forbidden to look at her during the ball-festival. May the object of you two’s vision be attained.
Here we see a juxtaposition of the kandukotsva with the worship of vindhyavAsinI, which might suggest that it coincided with the navarAtri. As per the descriptions, navapatrika happens when the meadows are lush with grass following the monsoons. On those green meadows the participants engage in drinking and kAma keli. In the bhisakhAdika the guys hold lotus stalks in their teeth while the girls bite them off. Going by the time allotted to the season of autumnal festivals these two were possibly slightly earlier in the year and therefore before navarAtri in my opinion. The remaining utsava-s that follow dIpAvalI, include kaumudI jAgara, which is also mentioned by vAtsyAyana as the kaumudI mahotsava (also the name of a book of fiction by an early authoress vijjakA), a time suitable for initiating kAmabandha-s. It survives to this date in parts of India where flavored milk is drunk along with revelry on terraces. The abhyuSha and ikShu eating festivals appear to correspond to what in the drAviDa country is observed as the kArttika festival. The abyuSha (puffed-rice balls) is still made in the drAviDa country though the ikShu is eaten on other occasions such as pongal. The festival chandrikA-lalana was an overnight revelry when the moon was at its highest in the autumns. The haMsa-lIlAvalokana involved watching migratory water birds return to their nesting grounds in jambudvIpa, whereas the sarit-pulina-keli was revelry on the sand banks of streams.
In winter there were some more utsava-s like the blindman’s buff festival and the peculiar shuka-sArikAlApa-abhyasana. In this latter festivity young men and women tried to teach parrots and mynahs to speak.
According to bhojadeva there was another remarkable festival in spring that might have overlapped with the spring navarAtri or according to others with the vaTa festival. The polymath hemAdri also notes this festival but seems to assign a different date. This was called pa~nchAlAnuyAna or bhUta-mAtR^ikA or bhairavotsava. Here an image of bhUtamAtR^ikA and in some cases bhairava was installed and worshipped. The image was then carried forth with young women following, decked in fine costumes. They engaged in amorous dances letting their garments slip, wearing of ghost-masks and shmashAnAbhinaya (enactment of phantom apparitions from the cemetery). In spring bhojadeva mentions other utsava-s like:
udakakShveDikA involved young men and women sprinkling each other with colored water from pistons. This seems to have been incorporated in to holikA in some parts of the land whereas in the mahArATTa country the old udakakShveDikA used to survive in my days as a vulgar form on a pa~nchami day festival in spring.
chutalatika involved young women approaching their male counterparts and striking one of them with a mango twig to chose them as their jAra.
ashoka-dohada was a bacchanalic revelry for young women in which they ornamented their feet and embraced and kicked an ashoka tree. Then they spat chewed betel leaves and alcoholic beverages on the tree.
Finally there was also some ratyotsava associated with the great indradhvaja festival according to certain traditions.