Sanjhi- the hand-cutting of paper for ritualistic and
ceremonial rangolis - is commonly understood in its contemporary form as a
ritualistic craft used in temples, and sometimes homes, for the worship of Lord
Krishna. It is believed to have originated, according to the thesis forwarded
by Asimakrishna Dasa, in his book Evening Blossoms: The Temple Tradition of
Sanjhi in Vrindavana, as 'a ritual worship undertaken by unmarried girls all
over northern India to obtain a suitable husband'. Thus, while the temple craft
is practised only by male priests and their male apprentices, the folk aspect
of the craft was, and is, practised chiefly by unmarried girls.
This craft, which involves the cutting of an intricate
stencil depicting scenes from the life of Lord Krishna and the use of this
paper stencil in creating a rangoli or floor decoration, became a temple
tradition (according to Dasa) in the 17th century, 'when the devotional bhakti
movement linked it to games played by Radha and the Hindu god, Krishna. While
the ritual of sanjhi, in its devotional and decorative aspects, continues in
villages and homes in north India, the temple tradition seems to have become
confined to three important temples at Vrindavana and a single temple at
Barsana, Radha's village.
It is important to remember that all sanjhis, whether a part
of the folk tradition or of the temple tradition, are made to be worshipped.
According to Dasa: "At the time of worship they are transformed from works
of art fashioned by human beings into a divine being, Goddess Sanjhi... the
transformation from design to goddess comes about naturally with the offering
of food bhoga followed by ritual worship aarti performed with burning wick and
an offering of water.'" This explains the fact that effacing each sanjhi
the next day and painstakingly beginning to create another one is seen not as
tedium but a labour of love, 'to please Lord Krsna'
Presently the art of using the sanjhi is practiced mainly in
the temples and homes in Vrindavana in Uttar Pradesh and it is used to depict
the different episodes in Lord Krishna's life; these episodes are linked to
festivals in the Vraja calendar. The most important of these festivals is the
vrajayatra, a period of 45 days in September and October when pilgrims from all
over India visit the sites associated with the life of Lord Krishna. During
this period sanjhis are used to decorate specific locations and places along
the parikrama. The episodes in Lord Krishna's life that are depicted through
sanjhis change every day, with appropriate themes adorning specific locations.
For instance, at Govardhan the traditional sanjhi is one that will depict Lord
Krishna lifting the mountain with his finger. At Barsana, the sanjhi depicts
Lord Krishna playing Holi with Radha and the gopis. When the sanjhi is unveiled
in time for the evening prayers it is worshipped to the accompaniment of songs
narrating stories about Lord Krishna's life. The sanjhi is effaced in the
morning and a new characterisation is then made. At the end of the pitr-paksha,
a fortnight when Hindus perform rites for and offer prayers to deceased
ancestors - when sanjhis are ceremonial - the materials used are then disposed
off in the river Yamuna.
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