A man dressed as a woman in traditional attire performs the Chang Nritya
A man dressed as a woman in traditional attire performs the Chang Nritya

Geender Utsav in Momasar celebrates the rich tradition and cultural heritage of Rajasthan and adds a beautiful hue to the festival of colours – Holi, writes Shillpi A Singh

When we think of Holi, we think of colours, water sprinklers, water balloons and meeting and greeting friends, acquaintances over gujia, bhang and thandai. When we think of a celebration, we know only of the famous Holi celebration of Barsana in Uttar Pradesh. But away from the hustle-bustle of the city, Momasar, a nondescript 500-year-old village 250 km north-west of Jaipur and barely 125 km from district headquarter Bikaner, in Rajasthan, plays the ubiquitous host to a unique, fun-filled celebration, Geendar Utsav, just days before Holi.

How it started

For the uninitiated, the tiny hamlet of barely 15,000 people enjoys the enviable reputation of being the hub of cultural events, festivals, and fairs around the year. If Geendar Utsav spread over three days and two nights celebrates the different hues of spring to the beat of traditional musical instruments, nagada and dhol along with dhap and chang, two-day-long folk festival Shekhawati Utsav-Momasar, heralds autumn and provides a one of its kind platform to folk artistes from across the state to showcase their musical talent.

Adding a colourful dimension to Holi, the festival is marked by Geendar dance that has men dressed in colourful costumes, from lehenga-choli to mini-skirt, tube tops and hats, and disguised in different characters swaying to folk music taking centre stage at the celebration.

The tradition of having imposters to add an interesting colour to Holi was started by a native of Sardarshahar in Churu, late Nathuram Sharma in charge of police chowki, who dressed as Shiva and sat under a tree to leave people wondering about his real identity. The bafflement led villagers to start the unique celebration of having men disguising themselves as women, and donning historical, mythological, political, and comic avatars, and dancing away in gay abandon, giving the Shekhawati region its unique Holi carnival, and the tradition has continued here since 1941.

A handful of enthusiastic villagers were dressed as Kawariyas
A handful of enthusiastic villagers were dressed as Kawariyas

Masters of disguise

A variation of Gair dance, Geendar is also performed exclusively by the menfolk while the women stand on the sidelines and watch them perform, cheering and hooting for them in between, and enjoying the fun-filled role reversal for a change. The entire idea behind putting up a disguise is to become unrecognisable. Apart from playing the role of the audience, the women help men put up the act for their evening performance.

“The preparation goes on for weeks, and men take ample care to decide on the character, paying a lot of attention to their costumes, make-up and accessories to be worn for the Geendar Utsav. In a family, the son is unaware of his brother or father’s looks, and even though they will be dancing together, the ‘behroopiya’ tries hard to ensure that his identity remains discreet,” says Vinod Joshi of Jaipur Virasat Foundation, and a native of Momasar. The Foundation is the cultural body which is at the helm of organising the Shekhawati Utsav since 2011 and is working to promote, preserve and provide a platform to the folk art forms, artistes and communities in Rajasthan.

Children used this occassion to dress in different characters of their choice
Children used this occassion to dress in different characters of their choice

Festive fervour to the fullest

While performing this dance, men form two concentric circles, and while grooving to the tune of traditional folk music, they move diagonally and swap their positions to add swag to their performance that begins just after sundown and continues through the night. During the nights preceding Holi, the tiny hamlet comes to a grinding halt and becomes the perfect stage for these untrained but passionate dancers to flaunt their moves, as they groove in joy carrying sticks and at times even gleaming swords to add an element of drama to their performance, and people peeping from rooftops, balconies and along the streets to catch a glimpse.

“The festival-like these act as a catalyst to bring together the various communities of the village. It may come as a surprise that villagers work collectively without discriminating among their religion, caste and creed to make it a grand success. There is a sense of ownership and pride among them, and that’s what was the idea,” says Joshi beaming with pride. The success of the lesser-known Holi celebration has caught the fancy of urban natives, with or without roots in Momasar who come here in hordes to soak in the festive spirit and have some fun, food, and loads of frolic.

A group of men dressed in traditional finery for the Geendar dance
A group of men dressed in traditional finery for the Geendar dance

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Momasar: The culture hub

Shekhawati Utsav-Momasar coincides with the Navratras or Diwali. As per the different activities, the festival is held at different locations across the village. The opening day concert is held at the local deity’s temple, Bhomiyaji Ka Mandir, and over the next two days, it spreads to different venues – farmlands, schools, century-old charming havelis, and Taal Maidan and displays local music and talent. One can see men spinning yarn from drop-spindle, or know more about rope-making or catch young students of wood-craft displaying their creative works. The festival celebrates the richness and diversity of the performing art forms and artistes from the Shekhawati region as well as different parts of Rajasthan, who congregate here from nearby villages, towns, cities to showcase their musical talent before an admiring crowd of music lovers from India and across the world. An initiative of Jaipur Virasat Foundation, the folk festival is organised with the help of the local community, Panchayat and other institutions and organisations, in the village.

Places to see around:

In Momasar, there is a 250-year-old temple of folk deity Ramdevji spread over 200 acres. A score ago, a doctor visited the village and started a tree plantation drive around the temple complex. Today, more than 20,000 trees dot the space. The village has a centuries-old stepwell with a unique regional architecture of water conservation, at Taal Maidan. The local crafts like blacksmith work, gold and silver jewellery, carpentry, pottery, traditional rope and hut weaving and paintings give a sneak peek into rural life.

Toliyasar village that falls about 20 km from Momasar is famous for its five centuries old Bhaironji ka Mandir, a common pilgrim spot.

Sardarshahar is a historical town situated 36 km from Momasar is famous for its havelis with frescoes, mangodis and papad, sweet dish ‘feeni’ and wooden artefacts. A 300-year-old museum here houses items of original sandalwood. ‘Chintaharan Hanuman’ temple is a popular pilgrim spot.

About 125 km from Momasar lies Bikaner, which is known for its palaces and havelis, ‘Bikaneri bhujia’ and local craftworks – wood carving and painting on leather.

How to get there?

Momasar can be reached by buses to the main highway entrance of the village and then requires local transport to get to the village which is 20 km from Agra-Jaipur-Bikaner highway (NH 11) and 11 km from Delhi-Bikaner state highway.

From Delhi: 350km: The route will be Delhi -> Rohtak -> Bhiwani -> Sardarshahar -> Momasar

From Jaipur: 250km: The route will be Jaipur -> Sikar -> Fatehpur -> Ratangarh -> Rajaldesar -> Momasar


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