Stories From The Camp: Of Vishwakarma Celebrations & Yarnes Festival
Full of wonders and unique experiences, India never fails to surprise a tourist. Recently, Rupert Winchester was on the receiving end of one such pleasant surprise. Read on to know more…
India, as a country, and as a set of cultures, continues to confound and delight, as I’m sure it always will.
Yesterday, I was sitting peacefully writing, when a head stuck itself around my door, and I was quietly summoned to the back of house area. Not knowing what I was being called to, I asked, but was just told to follow, which I obediently did.
I was led to the generator room, where the camp’s vast backup electrical generators live. It’s not a part of the camp I’d ever been in before. I was told to take my shoes off, and was ushered into a room, with an altar set up against one generator, strings of marigolds hanging across the lights and dials, vermillion swastikas painted on to the steel panels.
On the altar itself were a large selection of tools; saws and screwdrivers and hammers and planes and mallets and pliers, with more marigolds dotted here and there.
It turns out, they were celebrating Vishwakarma to honour the birth of Vishwakarma a Hindu God who is believed to be the architect of the universe. Every year, on 17th September, Vishwakarma Puja is performed across India at factories and workshops, to ensure the safe working conditions and good fortune.
The Puja is performed by engineers, architects, artisans, mechanics, smiths, welders and factory workers. (Apparently, in big cities, modern electronic computer servers are also worshiped to ensure their smooth functioning.)
There was plenty of Hindi chanting around a fire, things were thrown on to the fire, ceremonial strings were tied to our wrists, and fruit and sweetmeats were handed around. For most people, the ceremony was just part of the quotidian round; for me, it was a strange and entrancing glimpse of the spiritual world that underpins everything in this wonderful country.
The next morning, I was woken just after dawn by chanting drifting in through my open window. Outside, a large number of monks was shuffling past, gazing around and enjoying the early morning sunshine.
This, I was told, was called Yarnes, a celebration for the monks who had spent the previous six weeks cloistered inside their monastery so as not to accidentally kill any insects by stepping on them. The monks roamed around the village, and around Chamba Camp Thiksey, where they held a little ceremony, while looking at the flowers and the trees, full, it seemed to me, of a sense of numinous wonder at the newly-revealed beauty of nature and of the world. The little monks, boys of eight and nine, ran around squealing with joy at being out in the world again.
It was a lovely, tender, unstructured little ceremony, and I felt privileged to have seen it. As I had been with the Vishwakarma ceremony the day before.
India will never fail to surprise you, with its blend of the pragmatic and the mystical, the ordinary and the extraordinary. It’s why I love it so much.
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