Thursday, October 9, 2008

Christmas has come early

Well not exactly but it feels like it. The streets are festooned with avenues of lights (some of which look remarkably like Santa on his sleigh) and the town is emptying out as people take their families away on holiday. The reason for all this activity is that it's Dushera – one of India's main festivals that celebrates the three-eyed, ten-armed goddess of power who is known as Durga in Orissa. Several temporary temples have been erected (which are as large as the permanent ones) and for the past three days there have been queues of people – one for men and one women – lining up for the opportunity to pray in front of the fantastically decorated statues of the goddess. The statues are made of clay and are intricately painted and decorated with jewels – real ones. At the end of the festivities the jewels will be returned to the bank vaults and the statues floated in the local river.
At home and in the office, because Durga is the goddess of power, everything that relates to or uses power is blessed. There was a lovely little puja (service) at our office where all the motorcycles were lined up in a row and, as prayers were said, they were daubed in red paint, had incense waved in front of them and flowers and small pieces of coconut scattered over them. Everyone then came inside where the same service was carried out for the benefit of the computer and the photocopier. Not quite so nice is the fact that they still sacrifice animals in Bhawanipatna – a practice the authorities are trying to stamp out. Not being squeamish, I thought I might go and have a look but having seen a movie of the ritual on someone's mobile phone, I'm glad I didn't pursue the idea. Naively I had thought they would slit the goat's throat and effect a clean death but no, they went for an Anne Boleyn-style execution swinging the axe into the petrified animal several times before it's head was eventually severed. I only saw the one goat sacrificed but it was clear that others were also meeting their untimely deaths up and down the street. On a less gory note, Dushera is also a time when women traditionally go home to visit their mothers so whilst Baiyajant's wife, Gita, has gone to see hers, his two sisters and their respective children are visiting him and theirs. On the down-side the women have to fast for a day to ensure their fathers' and brothers' well-being; on the up-side they expect their brothers to buy them at least one, if not two or three, new saris.
I'm glad I stayed in Bhawanipatna for the festival rather than going to the larger towns where I gather the lights and entertainment are more spectacular. I got see and be part of the more intimate side of Dushera rather than just being a spectator and I'll know for next year not to venture down the street where the animals are sacrificed.

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