Agrahayana or Margashirsha is the ninth month in the Hindu calendar. Since Vedic times, it is known as Margashirsha after the Nakshatra (asterisms) Margasiras. It normally corresponds to November/December months of the Gregorian calendar.
With the arrival of Margashirsha, Sarad autumn ends and the Hemant ritu winter season sets in and as the Maharshi described, niharaparuso lokah people feel frozen with fog. Water is anupabhogyani no more enjoyable. Earth is sasyasalini full of crops. And agni fire becomes subhagah more lovable. The days are enjoyable at noon as it is quite pleasant atyanta sukhah to move about as the Sun is not scorching.
Come Margashirsha, people of the countryside, looking at the fields that are full of ripe paddy Vipakvam shali vanam with the tops bending slightly under the weight of grains and kanakaprabhah shinning like gold to the furthest horizon, feel quite happy and enthused. For, their fields offer a delightful look.
After all, it is their wealth that is waiting to be harvested. Cows and she-buffaloes bestow them abundant milk. Indeed, there is an all-pervading happiness, as people get ready to harvest nature’s opulence jubilantly. No wonder, if Puranaas said of the month as “Masanam Marga shirshoham”—among the months, Margasira is the most important/auspicious month. As he himself said, even Lord Sri Krishna prefers to stay in Margasira among the months: “Bruhatsama thatha samnam Gayatri Chandasamaham / Masanam Margashirshoham Ruthunam Kusumakarna (BG 10.35).
Day dawns with the recitation of Kausalya Supraja Rama from Venugopalaswamy gudi, temple. Older people, taking bath in cold water, go to the temple wrapped in dhoti with uttareyam around their bare chest, unmindful of early morning’s nipping air with a clean mind to wake up gods … and of course, seek their blessings: some ask for good harvest, some for more wealth, some for the good alliance for their granddaughter, and yet others for keeping everyone in the family happy…
Suddenly, farmers get vivified with farm activities. Getting up early in the morning, they rush to fields to attend to harvesting/stacking/threshing of paddy crop, etc. Women too get up early to attend to the added importance of the decoration of their front yards of the houses well before the Sun starts His day’s journey. They sweep whole of the front yard with broom and splash the cow dung mixed water. Girls too, getting up early, come out giggling to join their mothers and draw muggulu (Rangoli) all over the front yard. Then, the girls, fetching cow-dung craft it into blobs—the size of a tennis ball—and sprinkle turmeric and vermillion over them. They are also crowned with flowers—mostly with hibiscus or marigold. After worshipping them by placing before deities, they are finally placed on the muggus drawn in the courtyards. A festive look thus pervades all around in this month.
Every day of Margasira month, my amma too used to draw beautiful muggus of different geometric patterns/spectacular floral designs/delicate tendrils with rice flour that is mixed with lime powder on the wet ground that is paved like a khaki canvas by the sprinkled cow-dung water. Sitting on the stairs with knees drawn closer to the chest to keep myself warm in that nipping dawn and watching the ease with which she used to draw that muggu and not being contend with what she drew, as I plead with her… “amma, amma draw one more at the far end of the yard”, she used to chide me: “Why sit here and waste time watching muggu like a girl .. go inside and read your books”.
Another noticeable feature of this month is that people in general turn quite generous in giving alms. Right at the dawn or even a little before, a saffron-clad mendicant, called Haridasu visits all homes singing eulogies of Vishnu, “Harilo Ranga Hari”, playing lute with one hand and clicking cymbals with the other as accompaniment, with a pumpkin-shaped copper vessel bedecked with garland perched over his head. He won’t stop in front of any house for alms, but keeps on roaming the streets singing. Hearing his songs and the sound of his ankle bells, I used to at once rush out with rice to place in his vessel. The ease with which Haridasu bends down in a half kneel while continuing his singing to the accompaniment of his lute and clicking cymbals to facilitate children bestow rice in the bowl on his head is quite amazing!
I still remember the caution that my grandmother gave me in one of those days. A recluse Brahmin draped in a saffron coloured cotton shawl used to visit our house every morning of Margasira month and stand at the steps—like an Harappan image—with a tumbler in one hand and a Panchang almanac in the other and announce his visit by loudly saying “Sri Sitaramabhya namaha” once or twice and if there was no response he would simply walk away. As usual, in one such mornings, as I brought two palms-full of rice and bestowed in his tumbler, my Nayanamma grandmother, watching the scene, cautioned me thus; “Radha look, if you serve every visitor with such quantum of rice you will go without food one day. And even if you go out like that brahmin, nobody will put anything in your tumbler … remember and behave….”
Those days of Margasira … and the Christmas holidays that were filled with thrilling experiences are still fresh in memory. It is during Margasira month that the harvested and staked (Kuppa) paddy crop is threshed. As the threshing, depending on the acreage of the crop being threshed, lasts for two to three days, farmers used to sleep overnight at the threshing floor (kalam) till the produce is fully threshed, winnowed and brought home. During those days I was to go to our fields almost three to four times in a day to serve my father with coffee in the morning, lunch in the afternoon, coffee in the evening and dinner at night.
Walking across the harvested paddy fields with a flask filled with coffee in left hand and a packet of iddlies in the right in those chilly winter mornings was an experience by itself. Water in the canals was not visible as they were covered with fog. They were only inferred through the cackling of ducks or the sudden spattering sound of water at the diving of a merry fish. As I got down from the donka main ally onto the field bund, its dew-drenched grass kissed the bare feet sending a wave of goosebumps through the body at once. But as the Sun rays shoot through the waning fog, as though in response to the Suprabhat sung by the chirping birds, warmth greeted the body. As if not to fall back in welcoming the rising Sun, the velvet flowers of the weeds that stood tranquilly in the waters turned smiley. At once, the shinning dew drops on the grass under golden rays of the east, gave a delightful look. Walking in thatsilent dawn—in a kind of neither this nor that state—I simply slipped into a kind of trans or a meditative mood … or some such indefinable feeling … I don’t know … but this much I can certainly say: it was an unexplainable experience that was simply to be lived … that’s all.
In the afternoons I used to go to the threshing floor with coffee and some snack for my father. That was the time when all the labour in the threshing floor retire to take their midday meal. So, I was to relieve the fellow hawking the banti—cattle that were tied together side by side and made to tread on the paddy stalks spread on the threshing floor in a circle—for about half an hour. It was a real fun walking behind the cattle on the paddy straw till the designated labour resumes his duty after having his lunch….
Equally thrilling was the late evenings’ walk to the threshing floor in that lush crepuscular silence with a carriage in hand. Walking back home with empty carriage in that inky darkness was still more thrilling. Taking a quick bite, my father used to hurry me up to reach the main bullock-cart way well before the road was deserted by all those returnees from fields to homes. Reciting, “Ram, Ram, Ram”, as I walked on the field bund in that inky-darkness in which the fireflies were dancing in gay abandon, even a faint flutter of a bird perched in a distantly located tree sounded threatening sending chill down the spine.
It’s only on reaching the main path way to home and listening to the sounds of creaking bullock carts, “OH, Hai” the soothingly urging sounds of the bullock-cart hawkers, the soft chimes of the bells round the bullocks’ necks … that I could feel reassured. In that dead silence someone from a threshing floor would at once howl as though seeking reassurance from a fellow floor-guard. Amidst the howling, a beautiful rendition of a popular poem wafted-in from another threshing floor: Chelliyo Chellako Tamaku Chesina Yeggulu Sahinchirandarun / Tolli Gatinche Nedu Nanu Dootaga Bampiri Sandhi Seya / Mee Pillalu Papalu Prajalu Pempuvahimpaga Pondu Chesedo / Elli Ranambu Gurchedavo, Yerpda Jeppumu Kauraveshwara. No sooner had he completed, someone cried from another threshing floor, “once more”.
The greatest wonder is that the singer of the poem, which was from a drama called, Pandavodyoga Vijayalu (Krishna pleads on behalf of Pandavas that Kauravas may forget the past and share the kingdom with Pandavas or get ready for battle), for sure had not gone to school, nor could he read or write Telugu. Yet he sang that poem perfectly alright—diction, rag alapana … everything was so perfect and sweet. Even my teacher in the school never recited a poem without book in his hand. But these labourers, by just watching the drama once, could memorise the poem and sing it for years to come so well. What a memory power! Lo, in that muse, I could reach home ….
I still remember those happy moments of the Margasira days, its festive look, and those visits to the fields in that veritable wistful mood … year after year … till I left my home for hostel-stay. Recalling those days, how I long to go and relive those walks, all in solitude. Such is the ineluctable bond with that land ….