Tag Archives: #festival

Durgashtmi – Ghost Festival

There is a festival in India called Durgaashtmi, and what happens is that ghost enter the human body – ghosts like past spirits. They enter the body because maybe they haven’t gone to heaven or something like that. Like they haven’t found piece in their life or death. On the festival day these spirits want to show that they are still around and need peace, so their enter some women’s bodies, and these women become uncontrollable. So people say that they have supernatural powers or force or energy and totally become crazy. That happens in India – you can watch videos and stuff. Sometimes they chain these kind of people up. So all these Indian priests come and try to provide peace to the spirits by saying mantras in Sanskrit. And basically these mantras are supposed to get the ghost out of their body. Many priests believe the ghosts are a ghost of this goddess called Durga. She is considered to be a mother figure that’s super angry that won’t go out off your body. Some people also die from this process because they get so crazy and start to drink blood and stuff. It’s a very weird festival, at the end of the day they try to get the ghosts to quit the bodies of the people and the people aren’t dead yet.

Context: [informant] The main aim of the festival is to provide peace to the spirits and get them out of the world of the living. And this is of course scary also, because if Google Durgaashmi ghost you can find that girls are really.. I don’t know… like there are really ghosts coming in the bodies.

Thoughts: Seemingly possessed people are a phenomenon all over the world, and I think it can be looked at from many different lenses. Psychologists might call it psychosis, and religious people might call it possession. Regardless, it is very interesting that India has created a festival around 

Sufism: Qalander and the Tradition of Jhuley Lal

Context: Some research showed that other sources spell Qalander and Jhuley Lal differently than informant JL, a former federal senator from Pakistan, did. This may be because of translation to the romanized alphabet, but the different spellings are Qalandar and Jhulelal. Regardless, Qalander is a Sufi, likely referring to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, who lived in the 12th century and was buried in Sindh, which JL notes is his former country. Below, JL relays his knowledge of Qalander and his annual tradition of dancing. 

Main Piece: Transcript:

JL: One of the Sufis, his past name is “Qalander”, who is a very popular sufi. He also has an annual event, and his event is also marked by dancing… Even though he is a Muslim Sufi, most of his followers are Hindus because they believe that this Sufi is a reincarnation of a Hindu god… called Jhuley Lal. The word Jhuley means in the local language “the rocking” like dancing… and Lal actually is the red color. He used to wear red dresses always and he always used to dance going around in circles. And that is why people go in his tradition, and they all dance and most of them also wear red clothes. So you have a Muslim Sufi who is a reincarnation of a Hindu god. And there were people in millions even coming from across the border who are Hindus, and of course you also have Muslims. It is also in my former country, it is in the province of Sindh… His shrine is in a city, where you have the annual event where people will go and dance…

JL: So what happens is when the region was locked by terrorists for a time, who were hardcore islamists, they wanted to put a stop to this dancing, as you can understand you have man and woman rocking together at the shrine. Maybe 10 to 15 years back, the terrorists had actually planted a bomb in the shrine… and the bomb exploded and about 150 people died. And they thought that by doing that they would put a stop to all these followers coming to the shrine… And the tradition was that every morning at 4am they would ring the bell. And right after that explosion which probably took place at night, on the dot at 4am the caretaker of the shrine rang the bell and people came back to the courtyards and started dancing and nobody was afraid, so the tradition continued. 

I continued to ask JL about the strength of the belief in Sufism (for more, see Sufism: Festivals). He told me that, for the Sufist’s belief, so long as you were dancing and following the tradition of the Sufi, nothing bad would happen to you. The tradition of Jhuley Lal was so strong that not even a murderous bombing would stop the followers from dressing in red and dancing in the courtyard. 

Thoughts: Sufism is a firm belief system whose followers believe in devoutly in the hope that it will bring them good fortune. Even through death and tragedy, their devotion to Sufism did not waver, and I think that makes Sufism and its festivals powerful traditions. There’s certainly something to be said here about Sufis as role models for a population. The community of Sufists believe in these Sufis because of their positive qualities, and they practice traditions like dancing in red dresses so that they can imitate those positive qualities and find good fortune. 

The Prep-work Behind The Elderflower Festival

Interviewer: So how did it get started in your home town?

Informant: My parents started off just making a couple of gallons with a couple of friends, I’m not sure exactly who they picked it up from. And I think they may have done that in the house before the Bury. Or right around that time, anyway. Probably around 60 years ago (2020). There have been more Elderflower Festivals than my parents have been present for.  There was one in 1967? My parents went on sabbatical to America and their friends broke in and made Elderflower anyway. There was another one when they sailed one of their boats down to the south of France and my brother and me hosted it on our own. I’m pretty sure my brother has been at every Elderflower Festival.

Interviewer: Does it only happen one time a year?

Informant: It has to take place when the flowers are in bloom, usually in the first or second week of June. It cannot be delayed, the flowers do not stay out for very long. It is an event driven entirely by natural forces and the need for alcohol.

Interviewer: What typically goes into the festival preparation wise?

Informant: Well the deal is something around 40 guests are invited and they’re asked to pick Elderflowers so when they arrive they can deliver their flowers. We spread the tarpaulin on the backyard and lay the flowers on it to dry and be shredded. And in return for their labor, the guests are fed a huge buffet lunch. There are a number of elements of that lunch that are obligatory. Coronation Chicken, Roast Beef, Deviled Eggs, Roast Turkey, Potato Salad, and Garlic Bread and there’s always a rice of some sort. There’s a late morning snack of sausages done on a barbecue because we have a late lunch, because we don’t have lunch until we reach a quota of flowers. After lunch, the afternoon is devoted to games, ‘gassing’ (talking), and drinking wine. Because my parents were teachers a lot of the guests were faculty or students. It’s just a thing a lot of Cambridge educators do.

Interviewer: Is there a recipe then that one has to follow to make Elderflower wine?

Informant: There is a certain amount of citrus fruit that needs to be peeled and squeezed and that is combined with boiling water poured through the flowers in a muslin shiv. With a large amount of sugar to feed the yeasts. My father used to be the viter but now my brother does it. Fermentations takes place in large Demi-johns and it takes about 3 months to the point where the wine can be decanted and bottled. Elderflower wine has an unusual ‘nose’ which takes some getting used to, but the taste is very pleasant.

Background: This festival takes place either the first of second week of June, it is a time sensitive celebration that must occur during that time or not at all. Luckily it is also during the summer break for most British educators, so it is an excuse to see each other outside of work and get drunk together.

Context: My informant and I were discussing whether or not there would be an Elderflower Festival this year due to the Corona Virus. This would be the first time since it’s conception that the Elderflower Festival would not be held, but my informant believed it would be for the best since a majority of attendees are rather old and would be at risk.

My Thoughts: I’ve attended the Elderflower Festivals before and they are a riot! There’s a lot a family and friends who attend and at the end, people are gifted a bottle of last year’s batch. The festival has grown over the time I have attended from just 30 people to closer to 60 or 70. People keep bringing friends to come celebrate, which means a lot more time is put into prepping the meals and getting a supply of flowers to shred.

While not directly a festival celebrating life cycles, the festival is based entirely on the production of turning blooming flowers into wine, so there may be some form of symbolism there.

Armenian Vardavar Festival


Transliteration: Vardavar

Translation: Flaming Rose

Description: Annual festival that Armenians celebrate on July 8th. Name literally means to sprinkle with water and the flaming of the rose. The legend comes from goddess of love named Astghik who spread love across Armenia by sprinkling rose water across the land. The god Vaghan is the person who defends love against evil. After the adoption of christianity this tradition was recognized as Vardavar where everyone in the neighborhood, streets, parks, etc splash water on each other. Anyone in the neighborhood is fair game.

Background Information: This is a very popular holiday/festival in Armenia that is celebrated by everyone in Armenia ranging from little children to elderly. It is a community affair.

Context: The informant told me about this festival during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian tradition/holiday that she knows about.

Thoughts: This holiday seems to have roots in pagan traditions but has managed to carry on to present day. I think this holiday does a great job at showing the spirit of the Armenian people and brings a joyous part of the year that many look forward to. I believe that through all that the Armenian people have gone through, Vardavar is a testament to the strength of Armenia’s culture and heritage.

Dolores Hill Bomb – Bay Area skating “festival”

The following is a transcript of a conversation between me, M, and my friend, T.

M: What is the Dolores Hill Bomb?

T: I guess it’s more for like bay area skaters, but Dolores Hill Bomb is this event we go to. So like every summer, I don’t remember what day, in San Francisco, a bunch of –hundreds actually– of skaters get together and they just like, bomb hills in San Francisco. If you look up Dolores Hill bombs there’s tons of videos. They or we actually do it every year, its literally just skaters getting together and fucking bombing hills, because there’s a lot of hills in San Francisco. 

Me: what does that mean? Bombing hills?

T: Just like, going down hills, like fast. Super high speed. It doesn’t sound scary, but just going downhill on a skateboard, like a big San Francisco hill…..its intense. You need to watch videos.

M: How did you hear about it?

T: (pause)…just like, through the community….if you hang out with um any sort of actual skater and skating is something they’re passionate about, you learn about it. It’s through word of mouth, and that’s how it started. 

Me: So it’s hundreds of people?

T: Yeah, and people keep coming, even though every year someone injures themselves pretty bad. It’s a big deal for us.

Me: How long have you been going to it? 

T: Just two years. But I’ve known about it for a while…I didn’t go before because I was younger, its a bit of …well, you know skate scene can be vulgar, so I didn’t go, and also it was a bit of a drive and I didn’t have a car. 

Me: Is it like a festival?

T: Yeah, but it’s not an organized thing. It’s not sponsored or official, people just choose to meet up on this day, and support each other, and just skate. 

Me: Did you compete or just watch?

T: Hell, no! I skated around there and casually, but I didn’t bomb…its not a competition necessarily, more like a meet up….it just goes on until the cops come shut it down, because it does shut down the entire street. Skate culture in San Francisco is huge.

Background: Informant is 20 years old, and considers skating to be a big part of her life. She builds her own boards starting in middle school. She skated to school everyday since she was 12 and has continued to skate on her own and with her friends. (most of her friends skateboard as well) 

Context: T is a good friend of mine who I interviewed while FaceTiming her to catch up during quarantine. I asked her about any interesting folklore she knew.

Thoughts: This is the first time I have heard of anything like this. I think it’s a great example of how folklore is so reliant on community and word of mouth, and that people can strongly feel connected to something. Also, that there are layers to folklore- this is not just about skateboarders, but also the Bay Area.