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Narali Purnima: Opening of maritime routes

Sanjeev V Sardesai

Goa, with its 3,702 square kilometres geographical area, has an almost 105 kilometres shoreline. The close residential proximity to this vast coastline, extending from Tiracol to the North till Polem Beach to the South, has logically prompted some communities to pick up trades related to the waters. These trades and occupations having been put into inception, millennia ago, have evolved and modernised, over the period of centuries. However, the respect expressed to the seas and rivers, by these communities, comprising both Hindus and Catholics, has not waned.

And indeed, Goa as a state and India as a country, have a huge range of communal diasporas, who express their gratitude for continued success of their livelihoods and trades, through unique traditional rituals and customs.

During the annual monsoon along the West coast of India which starts to set from the beginning of June, the trades related to the seas, come to an almost standstill, due to the ferocious winds, strong currents and at many places, the navigational routes being blocked by debris and silt brought down from the hill and mountain ranges.

The period from June 1 for a period of 60 days, is also unanimously accepted, by the administration as well as the fishing community, to allow the fish to travel inland and lay their spawns in the safe mangrove blessed river banks. This natural process allows a new batch of fish to be bred, which in turn compensates the space created by the previous years’ fishing activities. While this fishing ban is sincerely accepted by the communities, the opening of the season is equally awaited by them.

Hence, when the conditions are favourable, and the fury of the monsoon recedes, the fishing community gear up to launch their boats and canoes into the waters. However, prior to the launch of their sea-going vessels, they express their respects and gratitude to the Sea God, Varun, by offering a ‘coconut fruit’ and flowers on the full moon of the Hindu calendar month of Shravan. They also pray for the safety of the fishing community brethren, who brave the rough waters for their livelihood. This coconut offering ritual marks the end of the ban on fishing and is known as Narali Purnima (‘Naral’ is coconut and ‘Purnima’ is full moon night).

This Narali Purnima is an event which is primarily celebrated by the fishing community and is a major festival observed in Goa and Maharashtra. This day is also celebrated to strengthen the bond between a brother and sister – wherein the sister ties a silk thread to the wrist of her brother (rakhi), who in turn vows to protect his sister from any harm and calamity.

There is a mythological, as well as a contemporary legend, which informs and justifies the institution of this beautiful tradition.

In mythology, we are informed that Draupadi, the wife of the five Pandav princes, had tied a thread of her silk saree, on the wrist of Lord Krishna, a close friend and guide of the righteous Pandav brothers seeking his protection. We are aware that during the mythological disrobing of Draupadi by Dushyasana, in the court of King Dhritarashtra – father of the Kauravas (100 cousins of Pandavs), after the Pandavs were cheated in a game of dice, it was Lord Krishna in keeping with his promise, who created an unending length of Draupadi’s saree, to save her honour.

Another legend informs that in the year 1535 AD, the Queen of Chittor, Rani Karnavati, who was ruling the House of Sisodia, in the name of her son Vikramaditya, after the death of her husband Rana Sanga became aware that the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, who had earlier defeated her husband, was preparing to attack Chittor again. Understanding the fate that would befall her and her subjects, at the hands of the marauding attacker, she is said to have sent a rakhi to the powerful Mughal emperor Humayun, to accept her as his sister and save her honour. Humayun was touched by her gesture and accepted her wish, but his forces reached too late to intervene and save her. Realising that defeat was imminent, Rani Karnavati is said to have committed ‘jauhar’ or ‘self immolating in fire’.

(Photos credited to Prokerala, news dailies/ www.google.com)

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