Kumar Purnima: Celebrating Full Moon

… and the twin ways in which Odisha does it

By Madhulika Dash

October 31: the day, this year, marks the beginning of Sharad Purnima. Or the time when nature turns to full winter. For the rest of India, this day is beginning of two weeks of worshipping Lord Kartikeya, the handsome son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvarti; for Odisha however, this day is celebrated as Kumar Purnima. A day when we celebrate the Full Moon, which is seen as the celestial representation of Kartikeya.

But it isn’t just one of the simple celebrations, in fact, of all the festivals that marks the ritualistic calendar of Odisha, Kumar Purnima is perhaps the most fascinating and entertaining with loads of folklore and zestful banter. It is a day when men and boys play cowris – a form of currency in Kalinga – at night for Lakshmi’s blessing, the goddess who is said to walk the alleys of the town; while unmarried girls and women pray to the moon to get a groom who is a spitting image of Kartikeya – in looks, virtues and personality. In fact, grandmothers and married sisters often tease their younger, unmarried siblings to hurry up with the moon viewing, lest they get an old husband; while men take on relearning old-style gambling with cowris to entice Lakshmi into blessing them with wealth

Legend has it that even Lord Krishna, on this day, would have his peers play the good old cowris pachisi while he happily disappeared to have fun with the gopis who would arrive on the riverside to pray to the Moon for a handsome groom.

The day also sees parents sending gifts to their daughter and son-in-law wishing them a bright future’ close friends gifting their neighbours with gifts of sweets and new clothes; and girls nicknaming their closest ‘chanda’ (the moon) for the rest of the festivity. Such was the belief in the power of the new moon that under the Ganga dynasty, it was customary that on Kumar Purnima that fell before the princess’ wedding, she would choose her close aides (chanda) who would accompany her to her new home. The ritual, as per the folklore, began with gifts being send out he night before the festival, which included sweets and new clothes among others. The girls would bathe early offer ‘anjuli’ – a kind of offering – to the rising sun, and then in the evening dress up and pray to the moon together. After the puja, the neighbourhood would get together to play games like Khapara Dian, Daudi Dian, Pasa Pali, Ganjapa Cards, Conch blowing among others. Even to this day, playing the Thia and Basa Puchhi, which is a dance done while being on a full squat, is customary – and often has the elders joining in too

All this fun and gaiety while makes Kumar Purnima one of the most beloved festivals of Odisha, fascinatingly, even in the state there are two different celebrations that take place. The more elaborate rituals, which involves the anjuli and even decorating these little mud houses with jahni (ribbed gourd) flowers, is observed in the Ganjam district of Western Odisha, where Kumar Purnima is as big a festival as “Raja” is for the rest of the state; while the North and South follow the evening ritual of praying to the moon. Of course, there are regions where the festival also has women floating paper boats as part of the celebration following the ancient tradition where sailors’ families and wives would sail these boats to send their love and blessing to their seafaring son/husbands on this day; and a few centres where the full moon light is harvested to cleanse the soul and mind. In fact, the lunar affect on our minds is one of the reasons that on this day, a lot of time is spent under the open skies as it helps cleanse the negativity of the mind and soul.

Clearly, it is a festival that celebrates not only a ritual, but also the very base of a good society based on friendship, love and companionship. No wonder Kumar Purnima remains a favourite – after all, it is one of those festivals that has not one, but many festivals rolled into one – with extra benefits of goodness.