by Upagupt Mohanty
I t is said that marriages are made in heaven! A marriage is believed to be a joyous union that brings happiness and fulfilment not just to the individuals concerned but also to their families and the immediate society. Ironic as it may seem, in the case of Gods and Goddesses, marriages are made on holy earth. It’s no joke, yes, it’s true.
‘Sital Sasthi’, a five day elaborate affair is one such old and iconic Hindu festival of Sambalpur, Western Odisha which celebrates the Divine nuptials of God ‘Shiva’ with Goddess ‘Parvati’. Sambalpur is famous for ‘Shakti Peetha,’ where the union of God Shiva and Shakti is worshipped. This annual festival is held on the sixth day(Sasthi) of the ‘Shukla Paksha’ in the ‘Jyestha’ month as per the traditional Odia calendar.
No one knows exactly about the origin of the ‘Sital Sasthi’ festival. This traditional wedding festival is more than 400 year old. While one school of historians state, that the Divine Wedding Ceremony was started by the ‘Brahmins’ from Jadhuapada, hailing from Uttar Pradesh, the other school of historians claim that it was started by the ‘Brahmins’ of Nandapara, hailing from Puri. The Brahmins of Jhaduapara are known as ‘Aranyak’ and those of Nandapara are known as ‘Utkaliya’. For decades, both these sections of Brahmins have been at loggerheads due to their cultural differences as they organize the festival separately each year. In recent times, there has been a channel of inter-exchange between the two sections which has bridged the ‘Brahminical’ divide (if I can call it so!). This popular festival attracts lots of tourists to Sambalpur, to witness the Divine Wedding Carnival.
It is believed that human beings are creations of God but there are fortunate ones w h o h av e t h e privilege to become parents of the Divine. In this week-long summer festival, it is quite amazing to see that Goddess Parvati becomes the daughter to human parents who carry out the marriage like their own daughter’s wedding. It is interesting to note that, for the ceremony, parents of Goddess Parvati change every year, while the father of God Shiva is constant and descends through the generations within a family. The people of Sambalpur believe, it as eternal privilege to become the ‘Kanya pita’ or father of the bride. It’s a pleasant surprise, that caste and community doesn’t pose any barrier for this change process of ‘kanya pita’.
The Sacred Ceremony:
The wedding ceremony of God Shiva (the groom) with Goddess Parvati (the bride) is performed with all rites and rituals similar to any Odia marriage for us mortals and it has the same integral components like a ‘Baraat’ procession from the groom’s place to the bride’s place, ‘panigrahan’, ‘kanyadana’ and ‘kanya bidaay’. A couple is nominated as per names announced in the ‘ThalUtha’ (the beginning) ritual to adorn as the bride’s (Goddess Parvati) parents and offer her hand in marriage to God Shiva, the groom.The festival starts with ‘Patar Pendi’, the ritual where negotiations for the marriage modalities take place such as the engagement and the finalization of the date and time for the marriage. Then comes, ‘Narasimha Niuta’, the wedding invitation being sent to all deities through God ‘Narasimha’. On the wedding day, God Shiva moves with the ‘baraati’, in a glittering parade of deities with the temple servitor and the local residents, along with booming traditional music from gongs, conchs and trumpets and spectacular fireworks, on the way to Goddess Parbati’s residence. The bride’s family greets them and the wedding is solemnized. After the marriage, the newlyweds go about on an enthusiastic procession, touring through the town before returning to temple.
The whole of Sambalpur wears an impressive and vibrant festive look, charged with colour, sound, lights and sights during the ‘Sital Sasthi’ ceremony. In this incredible mega carnival of Western Odisha, artists from all over the nation congregate to showcase their mesmerizing items of creation with a healthy competitive spirit and immense fervour and joy.
The different take:
Another unique aspect of this celebration, is the participation by eunuchs, who dance to the beats of ‘dhols’ and ‘duduli’ to celebrate this divine union which they consider as ‘Ardhnariswara’, their icon. This festival is also referred as the monsoon wedding of God Shiv and Goddess Parvati, since it is held in the beginning of the monsoon season. The symbolically representation can be deciphered as the energy of God Shiva denoted by the intense austerity akin to the intense heat of the summer, while the early showers of monsoon, which provide coolness denote Goddess Parvati. Farmers celebrate the divine wedding as the onset of the much awaited monsoons. Mr. Shekhar Meher, a resident of Sambalpur shares…We eagerly look forward to the tour of the newlyweds, wherein people wait enthusistically at their doorstep to treat the newlywed Divine Duo with ‘aarti’ and food. To me, attending ‘Sital Sasthi’ festival is like attending a marriage in the family” Indeed a unique wedding festival which gives rise to another saying, ‘Divine marriages are made on earth’ ! ❏