The Jhoolan Yatra, the festival of swings, is another popular celebration in Puri. In the month of July or August, an icon of Krishna, along with Radha, is placed on a swing gaily decorated with images of dancing girls and musicians made of paper or metal foil. The swing is gently swayed by a relay of priests while goti puas, young boys dressed as girls trained to dance professionally, dance to the lyrics of Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. In Nathdwara, a similar swinging ceremony—the Phul Dol—takes place in February or March. The image of Krishna as Navanitapriyaji—the child on all fours crawling with a ball of butter in his hand—is placed on a flower-bedecked swing and rocked reverentially.
Each ritual is wrapped in its own myth, its own *mythologized’ kernel of history encased in its own specificities of devotion. An interesting legend relates to the establishment of the Guruvayoor temple, deep in the south of the subcontinent, in the lush green state of Kerala. On the eve of his death, Krishna entrusted an image of Narayana, which he used to worship himself, to his friend Uddhava, who in turn gave it, in safekeeping, to the Guru of the Gods—Brihaspati, who, assisted by his disciple Vayu, brought it to its present location, where Shiva himself consecrated the installation. Hence the name: Guruvayoor.
The murti at Guruvayoor is considered by many to be the most resplendent. Krishna is dressed in a robe of yellow silk, with a shining crown on his head. The disc, the conch, the mace and the lotus can be seen in his four hands. Ornamental drops glisten in his ears, the vanamala garland adorns his neck and the lustrous kausthubha jewel rests on his chest. Shri, the Goddess of Prosperity, and Dhara, the Goddess of Earthly Wealth, hold him on either side in loving embrace. His face is in smiling repose. An unending stream of devotees throng the temple. Hundreds of children are brought every day for their first feed of cereal—annaprasam.
Dozens of couples are married in its precincts daily, for it is believed that this ensures a happy marital life. The Guruvayoor Utsava (festival) takes place in February or March and lasts for ten days. The entire township appears spruced up for the event—houses are white-washed, fencing and tiles repaired, and the streets along which the procession will pass festooned with arches and ornamentation. A distinctive feature of the festival is the avoidance of loud fire-crackers, for these are likely to frighten Unnikrishna—the boy Krishna. The celebrations are a visible community event, with the multitudes thoroughly enjoying the daily engagements, culminating in a mass dip in the temple-tank, and an elephant chase, whose din and furore and devotional ecstasy is said to have a miraculous curative impact on patients suffering from rheumatism and paralysis.
Within the temple structure there hangs today the photograph of the great vocalist Chembai Vaidhyanatha Bhagavatha. It is said that in 1938 he was to give a performance at the Zamorin’s palace at Calicut but people were amazed to see that not a sound came from his silently moving lips. Chembai rushed to Guruvayoor and craved the mercy of the Lord. Miraculously, his voice was restored.
But who could confine Braj Bihari within the confines of a temple? As he had danced with Radha in the groves of Vrindavan and, as the notes of his flute had wafted beyond the groves to be carried along the ripples of the Yamuna, so did he dan;e and sing and paint his way into the lives of the common folk in a hundred enticing ways. He was Akhila Kaladi Guru — the apostle of all arts and the embodiment of all that was beautiful. It is believed that all the arts emanated from his dance on the hood of the serpent Kaliya. In that moment of creative rhythm, beautiful in its frenzied control, subtle in its balance, and unparalleled in the vigour of its impact, poetry was born, and taala, and poetry in movement. If Shiva, in the awesome grandeur of his tandava was Nataraja, Krishna, in the delicate seduction of his movements, was Natwara.
He is the main theme of the Manipuri dance of the north-east, of Kathak in the north, and of Odissi in Orissa. In Karnataka, the Yakshagana dance form celebrates his aishvarya bhava, the heroic exploits of the Chakravartin Krishna; in Andhra, the Kuchipudi dance style relives his daring theft of the Parijata tree for Satyabhama; and in Tamil Nadu, he is one of the main subjects of the classical Bharatnatyam dance. In Kerala, Prince Manavendra wrote eight dramas on Krishna, drawing from the Gitagovinda and the Bhagavata Purana.
From the plays was born the dance form of Krishnaattam— the dance of Krishna, a forerunner of the more popular Kathakali. In Gujarat, the more folksy Lakuta and Dandiya rasa are inspired by him; and, in Maharashtra, the vibrant Tamasha folk theatre depicts with abandon his audacious dan leela. In Assam, we have the local dramatic tradition of the Ankia nat and the immensely popular plays of Srimanta Sankaradeva, the great saint-reformer of the fifteenth century.
Sankaradeva was a great devotee of Krishna. His collection of poems— Kirtana Ghosh—is regarded as the most sacred religious book by the Hindus in Assam. He wrote six dramas of which five were on Krishna. In Bengal, the Chaitanyainspired yatra dramas are extremely popular, and in the tribal belt of Chattisgarh, the Jhumar songs and Rahas dance, celebrating the love of Krishna and Radha, keep improvised gatherings enthralled the entire night, night after night.