The Gangaur festival is mainly celebrated in the western state of Rajasthan to pay reverence to Goddess Parvathi – wife of Lord Shiva. The festival is mainly celebrated by the womenfolk who worship Gauri (Parvathi), seeking her blessings for marital bliss and long life and health of their husbands. It is an 18 days festival celebrated in the month of February-March.
Apart from Rajasthan the festival is also celebrated in some parts of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. Both married and unmarried women observe the festival with great devotion and enthusiasm in hope of bringing marital bliss into their life or to get a good husband.
Gangaur Festival 2019
Gangaur festival this year in Rajasthan will commence on Thursday, 21st March and will conclude on Monday, 8th April.
Nomenclature – Gangaur
The name Gangaur is a combination of “Gan” and “Gauri”, synonyms of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi respectively; two of the much revered Hindu Deities. The name suggests that the festival is celebrated in reverence to Goddess Parvathi and Lord Shiva and acknowledges the penance that Parvathi underwent, in order to gain confidence and love of Lord Shiva.
When is Gangaur Celebrated?
The celebrations of Gangaur festival begins on the first day of Chaitra, the day after the festival of Holika Dahan and on the day coinciding with the festival of Holi. Celebrations of the Gangaur festival mark the beginning of spring season and are celebrated on the next day of full moon in the month of March, which also coincides with the Chaitra month in Hindu calendar.
The Mythological Origins of Gangaur Festival
There is an interesting mythological story associated with the festival of Gangaur. It begins when Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvathi and Narad Muni (Vedic sage) went on a walk together. Incidentally, they reached a village on the third day of Chaitra month.
Getting the news of their arrival; womenfolk of the higher descent start preparing delicacies to welcome the trio. Subsequently, the higher caste women got delayed and in the meanwhile women belonging to the lower strata of the society reached the guests with tamarind powder and Akshat (kind of unbroken rice) to revere the Gods. Pleased with their devotion, Goddess Parvathi blessed them with marital bliss and fidelity.
Later when the women from higher caste arrived with their delicacies, Lord Shiva is believed to have asked Parvathi (Gauri) – You gave all the blessings to the women from lower caste, what will you give to these now. To which Goddess Parvathi replied that she will bless these women with the marital and conjugal bliss like her own. When the higher caste women finished their rituals of commemorating the Gods, they were blessed by Goddess Parvathi. The women follow the custom of worshipping and commemorating Goddess Parvathi till today and hope to be blessed with conjugal bliss and long life for their husbands.
After the commemoration, Goddess Parvathi asked permission of Lord Shiva to bathe in a nearby river. After taking bath she prepared a sand idol of Lord Shiva and started worshipping it. She got do engrossed in the worship that she lost the track of time and got delayed.
When Shiva asked the reason for her delay; she lied by saying that she met her brothers and her relatives. Then Shiva asked – what gifts did you get, what Prasad did you consumed. To which she replied that her relatives fed her with a meal of milk and rice. Listening to Parvathi Shiva, also expressed desire to consume the Prasad and started moving to the river bank, followed by Parvathi.
Knowing that she had lied to Shiva, Parvathi was worried and started worshipping the former in a bid to seek forgiveness and save her from embarrassment. Surprisingly when they reached, there was a huge palace at the same place where she had worshipped Shiva’s idol. Upon entering the palace the duo met the brothers and relatives of Parvathi.
Goddess Parvathi and Lord Shiva stayed there for two days and left for their further journey on the third day, accompanied by Narad Muni. Sometime during the journey Lord Shiva recalled to Parvathi that he had forgotten his garland at the palace. Thus, Lord Shiva sends Narad Muni to get back the garland from the palace.
When Narad reached the place, he found trees where there was supposed to be palace; the palace had disappeared mysteriously. Perplexed by the development, Narad started venturing in the forest when suddenly he saw Shiva’s garland hanging on a tree branch. Taking the garland, he returned to Lord Shiva and narrated the whole incident.
Lord Shiva told Narad – this happened because of mystical powers of Parvathi. She mystically created everything to hide the idol worship, which she did on the banks of river. That is the reason she lied and created her mysterious ancestral home and relatives. Shiva intentionally had send Narad back for exposing the truth.
Impressed by Parvathi’s dedication to Lord Shiva and her conjugal devotion, Narad acknowledged her as the most sacred and superior among all the married women of the world. He further told that a secret worship is more effective than an overt one and any woman who secretly worships Shiva and Parvathi will be blessed with never ending conjugal ties and long life.
After which Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi retreated to the Mount Kailash (Kailash Parvat). The women till today follow the custom of secret worship of the deities on Gangaur festival and seek the blessings of Goddess Parvathi.
Gangaur Festival History
The mythological stories and folklore associated with the Gangaur festival suggest that the festival is being celebrated since ancient times. The stories of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi are depicted in ancient texts like “Puranas”, reaffirming the fact that Gangaur is an ancient festival.
Gangaur festival primarily belongs to the state of Rajasthan, but since the gone century the festival has spread to some parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal due to the population migration.
How is Gangaur Festival Celebrated/Rituals/Customs
The womenfolk celebrate the Gangaur festival with much fervor and enthusiasm. They dedicate most of their daily activities to the reverence of Gauri (Parvathi). Many follow the custom of fasting throughout the festival for 18 days; eating only once daily.
Clay or wooden idols of “Gana” (Shiva) and “Gauri” (Parvathi) are prepared and decorated with colors and clothes. Some women also keep the idols and renovate them to be used the next festival season. All the worships and rituals are performed on the “Gangaur” idols throughout the festival.
The festival is equally celebrated both by the unmarried as well as married women. On day seven, unmarried women got dressed up in traditional attire and walk on the streets carrying an earthen lamp and singing songs. This ritual is routinely followed for ten days and on the last day of Gangaur, the lamp is broken and thrown into a well. The custom is believed to invoke the blessing of Gauri, who blesses the women with an ideal husband just like Lord Shiva.
The last three days of the festival are important for married women. They decorate their deities with clothes and ornaments and form a procession carrying the idols on their head. For the next two days the procession is formed and idols are taken back to their respective places of worship.
On the last day, a grand procession of the idols is again taken out with women dressed in colorful traditional attire, holding the idols on their head. The idols are then thrown in water as a manifestation of Parvathi leaving her parent’s home and going back to Lord Shiva.
Religious and Cultural Significance
Gangaur festival has much significant both culturally and religiously. The festival is observed mainly in reverence to Goddess Gauri i.e. Parvathi, the wife of Lord Shiva. She is considered the epitome of marital fidelity and manifests courage, strength, devotion and conjugal strength. The festival is significant for both the married women, who pray for long life and health of their husbands as well as for the unmarried women who pray to get a good and compatible husband.
Goddess Parvathi went through a lot of pain and sacrifice in order to gain the love of Lord Shiva. She has set an example for other women to follow by her devotion to her husband (Shiva). The womenfolk seek to be blessed with same devotion and marital bliss as enjoyed by Parvathi and Shiva.
The festival also reflects the culture of Rajasthan or the family in which it is celebrated. In a way it manifests the devotion of the women to their respective husbands and also indicates that the former are willing to go under any form of pain to gain latter’s confidence and love.