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Indian harvest festival

09/12/02 12:00AM By Charlie Nardozzi
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(Host) Commentator Charlie Nardozzi was in India last fall. He tells us about a harvest festival he witnessed there.

(Nardozzi) It seems no matter where you are in the world, fall is a time for gathering together to celebrate the harvest. As I wandered through our local Champlain Valley Fair this fall, I remembered being in India last fall. Although I was in the Kullu Valley of Northern India mostly to study meditation, I couldn't resist taking a few days and traveling up the valley to one of the most celebrated fall festivals in all of India, Kullu's Dashehera.

To set the stage for this wild festival, which features Gods, food, the biggest flea market imaginable, and animal sacrifices, you have to understand that Kullu is called the "Valley of the Gods." Each village perched on the slopes of the 10,000 foot tall mountains surrounding the valley has a special God. Be it Durga, Krishna, Ganesh, or a host of others, each village has a temple where a statue of their God resides all year. The exception is Dashehra. The story goes that Dashehra is a celebration of Lord Ram's victory over the evil Gods. So all the village Gods come down to a huge open field to celebrate this victory. But they don't come quietly! Processions of sometimes a hundred villagers descend from the mountains and parade up the main (and only) road of the valley right by the meditation center. The villagers are blowing their long, brass horns, beating their drums, singing the glories of their God while carrying their God statue decorated with flowers and silks on a palanquin. The parading starts 1 to 2 weeks before Dashehra and continues up until opening day with the "running of the Gods" ceremony.

That day thousands of people fill the field as the King of Kullu and his entourage set up court. With them is the official statue of Lord Ram, carefully moved from its permanent temple onto a huge wooden cart. The villagers bring each of their Gods to pay homage to Ram, and then, as if taken by the God's spirit itself, they push and pull the massive wooden cart carrying the King and his court to the temple where Ram resides during the festival. It's a wild scene of horns blaring and drums beating the crowd into a frenzy, Gods swaying on their palanquins, hundreds of people crowding to help pull the cart, and visitors, like myself, scurrying just to get out of the way!

Now the festivities begin. Not unlike a fall fair in New England, there are exhibits of fruits and vegetables, commercial booths selling everything from kitchen utensils to carpets, and a huge open air used clothing sale. You see, for many of the villagers this is time to stock up on warm clothes and supplies for winter, visit with old friends, and party like there's no tomorrow. At the end of a week or so of festivities, Dashehra slowly winds down. The villagers, a bit hung over and exhausted, quietly start their trek back into the mountains hoping their Gods have blessed them with another good year of growing.

This is Charlie Nardozzi from Hinesburg.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.
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