12/31/2009 | Gujarat , India

Ambaji: Pos Purnima Festival

A couple of the members of our group had made a promise to visit and perform a puja at the temple of Ambaji in Northern Gujarat, about an hour drive from Abu Road where we stayed the night.  I decided to join them on their early morning pilgrimage, while other members of the group spent a leisurely morning at the hotel.  I was glad I went as it turned out to be the highlight of the four day trip for me.  While well known to Gujaratis, Ambaji is virtually unheard of to most foreign tourist.  I can say that with fare bit of certainty as neither I nor my father (who lived in India and got his Ph.D. studying Indian History) had heard of it.  Our visit fortuitously coincided with the festival of Pos Sud Purnima, a once a year event that celebrates the birthday of the temples principal god Mata Arasuri Ambaji.  The festivities draw devotees from all over Gujarat and Southern Rajasthan to participate in the auspicious ceremonies of the day including a procession that carries the idol through the streets of Ambaji.  I turned out to be an attraction only second to the god himself.  Few foreigners travel through Gujarat (a shame since I would rate it as one of India’s most underrated states) and even fewer make it to Ambaji, virtually none go to the surrounding rural Gujarati villages where the majority of people gathered for the festival spend most of their life.  I probably had my picture taken about as many times as I took pictures and I took a lot of pictures.  I shook hands with more than twice as many people as had taken pictures of me, and I even signed a couple of autographs.  I think Vinay was a bit amused at the attention I was getting.  Both of us Americans from the same place spoke with the same American accent but the people could care less about him.  It dawned on me that this minor celebrity is a very unique facet of traveling as someone from a European background.  If you’re from anywhere else in the world for better or for worse you don’t generate that kind of interest in places.  I guess we’re just funnier looking than most.

I also found it amusing that the next to me, the second most popular person to get your picture taken with was a guy dressed up in a Santa Claus suit who was part of a group portraying various Hindu gods, marching in the procession.  The procession was an odd collection of everything festive, or at least considered to be festive by someone.  The Santa Claus was just the beginning, there was an Indian Michael Jackson look alike dancing atop a truck, a confetti canon, a group of people covered in purple powder, dancers, musicians, an elephant, several camel carts, and like any Indian festival crowds of people.  In short there was plenty of fodder for my lenses.

By late morning we returned to Abu Road to pick up the others and visit the Dilwara Jain Temples at Mt. Abu.  These intricately carved white marble temples built between the 11th and 13th centuries contain some of the finest (in my opinion finest) sculpture anywhere in India.  Some carving is so intricate and the marble so thin it is translucent.  Unfortunately there is no photography allowed inside the temples, I was told on my first visit to the place back in 1994 that photography had recently been banded because people (non-Jain Indian tourists) were taking inappropriate pictures with the Jain deities.  A shame because the sculpture is so impressive, though the atmosphere of hordes of Indian tourists that were also visiting the temple over the new year holiday detracted a bit from the place.  Nevertheless I was still as impressed as I had been 16 years earlier.

My new years eve was about as eventful as my Christmas Eve, we spent it sleeping in a minibus as we drove back to Bhadran.  It was an enjoyable trip, certainly not how I typically travel and got to see a number of things good, bad, and interesting that I would have never seen on my own. Of course there was the enjoyable company hanging out with Vinay and his cousins as well.  I was thankful I could tag along with the NRIs.

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