Friday, 19 August 2011

Cultural Brief

India is a diverse, multicultural land. Each community brings along a rich cultural heritage, complete with its share of joyous celebrations. Birth, marriage, harvest, turn of seasons and select festivals are moments for celebration.

The Kayastha Parivar believes deeply in it's cultural heritage. Celebrations are marked by a Pooja (prayer), conducted first to seek blessings of the traditional deities. This is performed as per strict guidelines laid down. Every festival is marked by one or more such rituals / ceremonies.

India has been ever dependent on the changing seasons for its agricultural produce, which is a major means of livelihood. Hence, harvest related festivals are celebrated in each community.

In this section, we attempt to provide a fair overview of the festivals and ceremonies performed within the Kayastha Community.

Last and certainly not the least, post death rituals are also described.

Caste & sub-caste
The prayer ceremony
Engagement & Marriage

Caste & sub-caste
"Kayastha" is one of the many castes within the Hindu Community. Legend has it that Shri Chittraguptajee is the originator and forefather of the Kayastha community. The community is further divided into twelve sub-castes:


Each family may be further classfied on any of the following parameters:

Village of origin
Profession or Service
Titles and Honours

The prayer ceremony

Pooja (Traditional Prayer)
A colored graffiti (Chauk) is prepared as decoration for the Idol to be worshipped. The Idol of the Deity is then placed on a wooden platform. A swastika is drawn and a 'tilak' applied on the forehead (or the crown). An oil lamp (diya) is lit and placed at the center of the chauk, along with the offerings. The person who performs the pooja puts a 'tilak' on his forehead, sprinkles water on the idol three times and then make offerings to the God.

Baya Mansna
Take a ‘Karwa’ or a ‘lota’ and decorate its outer surface with aipan design all over up to the top. Tie kalawa round its neck. The small plate used as cover for the karwa’ should also be decorated with Satiya and lines with aipan. The aipan paste is prepared by grinding pre-soaked rice with some wheat flour and making it into a paste with water.

Married ladies dress up in new clothes, jewelry and apply mehndi onto their hands. It is customary to tie rice in the corner of the Sari. The lady performing the pooja then sits on a small wooden platform with the corner of her sari on top of the Baya. She then takes some water in her right hand and recites the pooja. The pooja is completed by sprinkling the water around the baya. The lady then seeks blessings of her mother-in-law.

Before 'Baya Mansna’ suhagans dress up in finery. They put mehndi (henna) on their hands and feet, wear glass bangles, jewelry and wear ‘Chharle' in their hair. For making ‘Chharla' take a long strand (1/2 meter) of kalawa and make a loop. Then taking strand of their hair from one side of hair parting and dividing the kalawa in two strands, weave a plait using two strands of kalawa and one strand of hair. These Chharle woven on both side of the hair parting look very attractive. ‘Tika is applied on the forehead after putting ‘Chonp-Bendi'. Roli is filled in the hair parting and a touch of aipan applied on either side of the parting . The ‘Tika’ drawn with aipan extends up to the tip of the nose. Ladies wear their ‘Chunri' in Gujarati style with pallu in front. Some rice is tied in the corner of the 'Pallu’.

After the above preparation, starts the act of ‘ Baya Mansna’. The lady sits on a patta keeping the corner of the pallu (with rice) on the top of the ‘Baya’. She takes rice, roli, aipan and little water in the palm of her right hand keeping the forefinger of her left hand on it. The lady conducting the ‘Pooja’ says" Adya adya shukal (or krishan) ‘Prakash’ aaj hua vaar ……….(what ever day it is) , aaj ……….(son’s name) bahu (her name)’…………(name of the festival), nagdi, puri, halwa, ( or what ever kept for ‘mansana’ ) ka baya manse hai, inhe rani ka raah dijyo. Rani pooje rah ko, ye pooja suhag ko. Gaur mata in ka suhag atal rahe." She then sprinkles all the things in her right hand palm around the ‘Baya’. Again taking little water in the right hand palm, she once again recites the above mentioned lines and sprinkles the water around the ‘Baya’.

In this manner the ’Baya Mansna’ is concluded. This ‘Baya’ is then given to the mother-in-law after touching her feet, while still seated. Normally feet are touched while kneeling.

Baya Palatwana (Exchange)
As per the custom, ‘Baya‘ has to be exchanged with another person after the Pooja. In case of unavailability of another person for exchange, the ‘Baya-Mansana’ procedure is carried out in the name of ‘Gaur Mata’ and any person in the family can exchange the ‘Baya’. The kalawa offered to the deity during ‘Pooja’ is then broken in to small pieces, taken around the ‘Diya’ and worn on the hand.

Before start of the ‘Pooja’ some money and sweets are kept aside. It is called ‘Achuta' and is touch by all the family members and the same is then given away, as Achuta, to the Poor.

Offering ‘ARAK’ to the MOON
Ladies observing fast do not get up from the ‘Pooja’ before accepting the ‘Prasad’ which is received while holding the chunri pallu in hand . The ‘Prasad’ is not eaten until ‘Arak’ has been offered to the moon, whenever it rises. The ‘Arak’ is offered in the following manner.

Take a pua and the ‘Diya’ from the Pooja in one hand and water in a ‘Katori’ in the other. Let the water fall slowly on the ‘Puya’ saying…….

"Til Hariyale, jow bale, chandi ka diya, sone ki baat, char pehat ka diya, chaat pehat ki raat, bale chandrama ko arak do, ………(which ever festival you are celebrating ) ki raat."

After offering ‘Arak’ and ‘Namaskar’ to the moon, the ’paus’ ‘channa’ etc. received as ’Prasad’ are eaten with water ( it is called ‘ Pasna’) . Silence is observed at this time.

All these rituals are meaningful and rewarding if carried out with purity of heart and full faith in God.



Makar Sankrant [14th January]
According to the Hindus, the Sun enters the sign of ‘Makara’ (Capricorn) in the middle of January. It then moves northwards after completing its six-monthly southern course. The beginning of Sun’s northern course, called "Uttarayana’, is hailed as an auspicious period. ‘Makara Sankrant’ is considered very sacred and celebrated throughout India. It is customary to eat and distribute sweets made using Sesame seeds and jaggery/sugar.

Sakat Chauth
In the month of ‘Magh’ (January) on the fourth day of Krishan Paksh, the Sankat-haran, Ganapati or Lord Ganesha is worshipped. This day is called ‘Sakat Chauth’. People fast and perform "Pooja" at night.

This is festival is celebrated on the third day (Teej) of Shukalpaksh in the month of January. This has significance for newly wedded brides, in their first year of marriage. The bride receives gifts and sweets from her parents.

Basant Panchami
Celebrated on the 5th day of the Hindu Calendar Month of Magha in honor of the Hindu Goddess of Learning & Art: Goddess Saraswati. Books, instruments of art and music are offered to the Goddess for her blessings. Marigold flowers are used for the Pooja. Youngsters wear bright clothing to signify opulence. Kite flying is undertaken and competitions are organized. This day marks the beginning of Holi, the festival of colors.

It is said that Lord Shankar manifested himself out of "Brahma" in the form of "Rudra", at midnight on this day. When the time for "Pralay" (Doom’s day) came Lord Shiva performed ‘Tandav’ - the dance of destruction and in frenzy, using this third fiery eye, destroyed the universe.

People usually fast on this day. They visit the temple and offer chandan (Sandal wood), roli, bel leaves, flowers and raw milk lassi (milk mixed with water) to Lord Shiva. All night sessions of Kirtans and Bhajans are conducted in temples and houses. People break their fast on the following day. Once started, this fast is expected to be observed throughout life.

This is an occasion to celebrate the victory of GOOD over EVIL. Numerous stories behind the celebration of this festival have been written in the hindu scriptures, . The festival is celebrated with colors in powdered and water based liquid forms, which are smeared on friends and family.

It is a very colorful sight. Holi is also a day to forgive misdoing and attain a harmony in interpersonal relationships. It is customary for newly wedded brides to celebrate Holi with her parents.

Deviyan (Navaratri)
This festival is celebrated to pay respects to the Hindu Goddess Durga for annihilating demons that had terrorized innocent citizens. This festival is celebrated twice a year, once after Holi in the month of ‘Chait’ and then before Dussera in the month of 'Kuwar'. The first day of Chait Navratri is also celebrated as ‘Gudi Padwa’ or the Hindu New Year Day. This pooja/prayer is performed in various ways, as per family traditions.

Gangaur Teej
Gangaur Pooja is performed on the third day of "Chait Navratri" by married women seeking the well being and long life of their husbands. It is customary for the brides parents' to gift the bride with sweets and cash on this occasion.

Bud Amavasya
‘Bud’ (Banyan) tree is worshipped and a fast is observed. Married ladies assemble together and offer prayers. A fast is observed for well being of their spouses.

Bud Saten / Bud Savitri
Seven days after "Bud Amavasya", the Banyan Tree is once again worshipped. Married ladies pray and wish long happy lives with their husbands.

Nirjalya EKadashi
Of the t24 Ekadashis observed in a year, this "Ekadashi" is considered to be most significant. A complete fast (without drinking even a single drop of water) is observed. Alms are distributed to the poor and the learned priests (Brahmins).

Guru Poornima
Jagat Guru Shri Vyas has been accoladed as the first ever teacher of the four "Vedas". He is worshipped every year on "Ashaadh Poornima". Hence, this day has come to be known as ‘Guru Poornima’. Teachers and Parents (considered to be our lifetime teachers & guides) are honored on this day. Guru's / Teachers receive gifts from their disciples.

Celebrated during the rainy season, this is another festival of significance to the newly wedded brides. During this festival, married girls visit their parents. On her first "Sindhara" after marriage, it is customary to receive clothes and ornaments from her Mother-in-law. Sweets are also offered to the bride. Young girls join up with the newly wedded bride, swing and make merry.

The festival of ‘Teejen’ is celebrated on the day following Sindhare. It is also called’ Hariyali Teej’. The festival is celebrated with much mirth and gaiety, singing songs and swinging in the gardens or at home.Girls and married women apply ‘mehndi’ (Henna) on the hands in beautiful and intricate patterns and decorate their feet with "Alta". They wear colorful clothes specially green and red, glass bangles and ornaments.Married girls celebrate this function at their parent’s house.

Raksha Bandhan
Celebrated on the full moon day of the Hindu month of Shravan (August-Sept), it is fond expression of love and respect between brothers and sisters. Sisters tie ’rakhi’ on their brothers' wrist seeking their long life. That is not all; this day has become an important symbol of helping and protecting others as well. Brothers in turn gift their sisters with presents. In case of brothers living away from home, sisters send Rakhi to their brothers with fond wishes.

Shri Krishna Janamashtami
Lord Shri Krishna was born this day, at mid-night, in Mathura. Legend says that Lord Shri Krishna was reborn in different forms, always to relieve the people of misery inflicted by tyrant rulers and demons. Hailed as the annihilator of all evil, his birth is celebrated by Hindus worldwide. Beautifully designed tableaus in homes and temples herald the birth. Infant Shri Krishna is put into a cradle and is rocked into pleasant slumber. Ardent followers fast, some even without any fluid intake. The Kirtans, bhajans, dances and dramas continue till midnight, when the Lord’s birth is heralded by the ringing of bells and their blowing of conches.

Ganesh Chaturthi
Ganesh Chaturthi or Lord Ganesha's birthday, is celebrated on the fourth day of 'Bhadrapad' (late August or Mid September). Lord Ganesha is believed to be the ultimate redeemer. He is the God of wisdom. He is worshipped and placated before the start of any auspicious work. In Maharashtra, certain other Indian states, and even some other countries in the world, people bring home Idols of Lord Ganesha or contribute collectively to setup the idol at a cultural place. Idols are worshipped numerous times everyday {minimum - twice a day) and are immersed in water (in the sea, a river or a well), upon completion of the festivities. The duration of the festival is 11 days. However, devotees may choose to celebrate for 1½, 3, 5, 7, or 11 days as per their individual capacities. It is customary to perform pooja on the day following the immersion day.

Anant Chaturdashi (Chaudash)
The 11th day following Ganesh Chaturthi is Anant Chaturdashi. A fast is usually observed on this day. A customary Pooja / Prayer is held in the morning. At the end of the day, the fast is broken with traditional sweets and wheat chapatis.

'Shraadh' means 'Shraddha' which stands for unconditional, limitless reverence. Sons pay respectful homage to their deceased parents and grand parents. The fifteen days of "Krishna Paksh" following Ganesh Chaturthi are called ‘Pitra Paksh’ or Shraadh days. "Shraadh" is performed respectfully for the departed elders only during this period. The son or the grandson of the departed person/s performs the Shraadh.

Navratri follows Shraadh. The first day of "Navratra" is considered auspicious for sowing barley in a small pot, which grow quite long in nine days, and these are used for "Sussera pooja". Devi pooja is performed throughout the nine days.Ramayana is read. Gujarat celebrates Navaratri with "Dandiya", a popular folk dance.

Dushera or "Vijaya Dashami" is one of the most popular festivals of Hindus. It is celebrated with great gusto throughout the country. In North India it is observed as "Vijaya Dashami’ celebrating the victory of "Lord Shree Ram" over ‘Ravana’, the demon king. In West Bengal, it is celebrated as ‘Durga Pooja’. In Gujarat, it is "Navaratri", the festival of nine nights.

The festivities start on the first day of the Hindu month of Ashwin (Sept-Oct). During Navrati, people in towns and villages stage "Ramlila" enacting the life story of Lord Shree Ram. Family members gather and worship their respective tools, arms, pens, ink; pencils etc. Musicians worship their instruments. Weapons are also worshipped. It is a way to acknowledge and thank God for the skills and abilities bestowed upon us.

Karwa Chauth
On "Karwa Chauth" married ladies observe fast for the health, long life and well being of their husbands. It is believed that Draupadi observed this fast at Shri Krishna’s insistence resulting in Pandava’s victory over Kauravs.

Ahoee Ashthami
Ahoee Ashtmi is celebrated for begetting children and for their well being. Many mothers keep ‘Nirjal Vrat’ on this day.

Dhan Teras
"Dhan Teras" marks the beginning of "Diwali" celebrations. It is a prevalent custom to buy some new utensils or gold/silver jewelry on this day. Such a purchase is believed to be very auspicious and promises a profitable future and good luck.

Narak Chaturdashi
This is usually the day following Dhan Teras. It is heralded as another day of "Victory of Good over Evil". It is believed that the evil demon "Narakasur" was annihilated by Lord Vishnu on this day. People also prepare to welcome Goddess Laxmi, "The Hindu Goddess of Wealth & Fortune".

Diwali, the festival of lights is the most joyous Hindu festival and is always celebrated on ‘Amavasya’, the 15th day of the Hindu month of ‘Kartik’ (Oct-Nov).

It is believed that Lord Shree Ram returned home this day, after a 14 year exile in the forest, and after conquering evil demon king 'Ravana'. In an open and boundless expression of joy, the people of Ayodhya lit "diya's" (earthen lamps filled with oil) all over the city to welcome him. The tradition continues till date.

Pooja is offered to Goddess Laxmi. Gold / Silver and other precious items adorn the pooja. This is a family affair, all members participate in the Pooja & the celebrations that follow. Houses are decorated with "diya's" to celebrate diwali and welcome the Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth. Firecrackers form an important part of the celebrations.The following day is reckoned as the first day of Vikram Samvat, a Hindu New Year’s day.

Kartik Ekadashi
It is believed that Lord Shri Vishnu rests in ‘Ksheer Sagar’. He sleeps through four months and wakes up on "Kartik Ekadashi". Since Lord Shri Vishnu's blessings are a must for any alliance, no auspicious events or marriages etc. are performed during this four month period. People fast all through the day. At night, Bhagwan Vishnu is coaxed to wake up with the sound of Conch shell (Shankh), Ghanta (big bells) and Ghariyal. Celebrations begin after ‘Lord Vishnu’ wakes up.

Engagement & Marriage

Engagement (Sagai)
The boy and his family are invited by the girls family to their house or any other venue for the engagement ceremony. Rings are exchanged and gifts given to the boy, his parents and immediate family members. Sweets, snacks and fruits are given along with.

Marriage (Shaadi)
Marriage follows the engagement. The day of the marriage is fixed after astrological consultations at a mutually convenient date. A list of invitees and family members from both sides is usually exchanged to facilitate proper arrangements and gifts for all who attend. Traditionally, gifts are sent to the grooms family and relatives by the brides family. These gifts are called "Sobha". Brides receive jewelry & clothes.

While arrangements for the marriage are being made, a few days before the marriage the younger sisters, and brothers of the groom-to-be, invite the bride-to-be. This social meeting gives a chance to the young members of the grooms family to know the bride better.

Marriage ceremonies begin with "Bhat Nyotna", 2/3 days before the wedding day. Grandparents from the mothers family of both the bride & the groom are invited to bless their grandchild on the occasion of her/his marriage. This personal invitation is also sent to all the maternal relatives.

On the eve of the wedding day "Mehndi" is applied on the hands and feet of the boy / girl to be married at their respective houses, by his / her mom, aunts & sisters. Mother of boy / girl and also other female relatives decorate their hands by applying ‘mehndi’. This occasion is celebrated with music and dance.

On the wedding day, it is customary for the girl to be up early and visit the temple to offer her respects to Goddess Parvati and seek blessings for a happy married life. Th Bride-to-be is usually accompanied by her cousins & friends. Thereafter, the Girl’s brother/s, sisters and a priest proceed to the grooms place to extend a courteous invitation to the marriage, in the latter half of the day.The girls brother applies a tilak on the groom’s forehead, for his well being and safety. Obeisance is paid to the ‘Family Deity’ after each ceremony. After the ‘tilak’ ceremony, coconut and sweetmeats, and a ring are presented to the bride-to-be by the boy’s brother and sisters, accompanied by their priest.

Haldi ceremony follows, wherein turmeric paste is applied to the bride & groom, by their respective family elders (women only in both cases), in preparation of the marriage. Thereafter, the two are bathed. The bride and groom, dressed in traditional wedding attire are then prepared for the Baarat.

"Baarat" is the name given to a procession carrying the groom from his place to the girls house, or the venue for the wedding. A special turban called "Sehra" is worn by the groom. The groom travels either on a decked up horse or in a decorated car. Upon arrival at the wedding venue, the ‘Baarat’ is received by the bride’s family members with garlands (milini).

A pooja is performed at the entrance to the wedding venue. Thereafter, the groom proceeds to a stage or a central area where he and the bride exchange garlands. This is the ‘jaimala’ ceremony. The bride first garlands the groom followed by the groom doing the same. The groom is welcomed by the brides mother by performing an ’Aarti’.

At the auspicious time astrologically determined by the priests of both the families, the groom and the bride are brought back to the entrance of the venue. The groom is requested to stand in a marked area (chawki) and the Maternal Uncle of the bride holds and carries her around the groom three times, with the Pandit chanting the ‘mantras’. This is called ‘Baahar-ke-Phere’.

A special enclosure prepared for the wedding ceremony is called a ‘Mandap’. The two priests, one from each family, perform the marriage rites. The marrying couple is made to take vows to remain faithful to each other and pledge to face life together through thick and thin. A sacred fire is lit in the center of the mandap and the couple to be married is made to circle the fire seven times. This is known as a "phera". At the conclusion of the ‘pheras’ the bride and groom exchange the seating place The groom is now seated to the left of the bride.

A few rituals by members of the brides family follow. The bride is now ready to leave for the grooms house. The Baarat leaving the wedding venue to return to the grooms residence is known as ‘Vida’’.

The newly wedded couple is welcomed at the Grooms residence by a traditional ‘Aarti’. Then, all members of the grooms family join the couple and shower them with gifts and ornaments. This is called ‘Ruh-Numai’. The bride and groom acknowledge and seek blessings by touching feet of all the elders of the family. Later, 'Shri Satya Narayana Katha’ is performed to give thanks to ‘Lord Shri Vishnu’ for the successful culmination of all ceremonies.

Next day the newly married couple visit the brides parents house for the ‘Dhol pujane ki rasam’. The bride wears all the ornaments and jewelry given to her in the grooms house at ‘Ruh-Numai’ ceremony. All the relatives of the bride get a chance to see all the gifted items. After the ‘Dhol pujana’ the married sister puts tika on her brothers forehead and the parents present her a set of clothes. Then the couple returns to there house. ‘Satyanarayan katha’ is held for thanks giving.

On completion of one year of marriage, the coconut tied to the ‘Bareilwa’ worn by the bride at the time of marriage is untied by the grooms sister after a pooja is performed in front of the deity of the house.



Satvansha / Purvansha
Ceremonies performed during the seventh month of pregnancy of a newly wedded bride are called Satvansa. The brides brother visits his sister with clothes for her, her husband and in-laws. This ceremony is called ‘Goad-bharai’ Another ceremony conducted during the 9th month of her pregnancy is called Purvansha .

When the newborn is six days old ‘chati’ is observed. This day the new mother performs pooja for the first time after delivery. The brides sister-in-law/s present the newborn with toys and clothes and the bride with dry fruits such as coconut & almonds. These are then used to prepare a rich & savory, high energy dish for the new mother.

On the 21st day, or later, the ceremony of ‘Masoran’ is held. A grand feast is thrown. Maternal grand parents of the child gift sets of clothes, some ornaments, silver spoon, silver bowl, glass and plate to the child. A ‘shalu’ (pink yellow sari) and other clothes are gifted to the new mother. In-laws also receive presents, sweets and dry fruits. A pooja is performed.

These days ‘chati’ and ‘masoran’ ceremonies are generally combined and held any day after the child is twenty one days old.

The ceremony of head shaving of the child (sikraj) is generally held under a "mandap", on an auspicious day. All invitees bring in gifts for the child. A feast follows.


In the event of death
The body of the deceased is placed on a white sheet on the floor and aligned such that the head points northwards and feet southward. All furniture is usually moved from the room and light incense is used. An oil lamp (diya) is usually lit. Relatives and friends are informed of the incident and requested to pay their last respects.

It is customary that if the deceased is a married lady, and her husband is alive, she is dressed in bridal finery for her last rites. Widows are generally dressed in whites. In some families, a silk sari and shawl are spread over the dead body. A dead mans body is covered in white and a shawl is spread over the body.

Dead bodies are carried for cremation on a ladder-like wooden structure called the "Arthi", prepared as per the guidance of a priest who conducts the last rites. The dead body is usually garlanded. Male members of the family accompany the dead body to the cremation ground. Female members are usually forbidden to visit a crematorium.

After the dead body has been taken away for cremation, the house is cleaned and washed and arrangements are made to accommodate those who have traveled to pay their last respects to the deceased. An oil lamp (diya), lit upon the death of the deceased, is usually kept lit in one corner for three days. A nail is also hammered somewhere on the floor of this room. When men folk return from the crematorium, they are made to wash or bathe before entering the house.

Food is not prepared in the house of the deceased for three days. On the third day, male members of the family go early in the morning to gather the ‘ashes’ from the crematorium. These are immersed in any holy river. Mourning rites usually last thirteen days.On the third day, following immersion of the ashes, the whole house is washed and cleaned. All Family members bathe.In the evening, everyone assembles, applies water to the eyes and cools them. Cooking at home is resumed. This is the ‘Atak Chhutana’ ceremony which symbolizes the resumption of normal activities. Prayer meeting is also held on fourth day. On the thirteenth day a ‘Hawan’ is performed with the help of a ‘priest.

The first death anniversary (Barsi) is observed in the eleventh month after death. A priest performs pooja (Havan). Thereafter every year, on the ‘shraadha’ day, a priest performs pooja to ensure peace for the departed soul.

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