Sunday, October 18, 2009

Light and laughter

One of the Hindu festivals I didn't comment on last year was Divali which is one of the major festivals all over India. It celebrates the homecoming of Rama after a 14-year exile in the forest and his victory over Ravana. In the legend, Rama's subjects welcomed him home by lighting rows (avali) of lamps (dĭpa). Of course the 20th century has had an influence over the ceremony so, although you still get the traditional little terracotta pots filled with oil and to feed the burning wick, you also get a plethora of electric lights strewn all over the houses. Strangely, whilst I find this slightly tacky at Christmas in England, in India it seems sort of right and I was thrilled to see that my landlord, Surendra, had gone in for this with as much exuberance as he had last year. In the morning, piles of fireworks appeared on my roof-terrace and I was woken to bangs and laughter as the older children clearly thought they should practice lighting a few in advance. The main celebration started with the women of the household creating the rangoli. These intricate designs are made by pouring coloured powder to form the, usually floral, image and less detailed ones appear on the doorsteps of houses to celebrate almost any festival. For Divali, however, the all the stops are pulled out and they can take up to a couple of hours to create. Once the rangoli was completed, the family went into the back garden for a private puja (service) whilst I stood on the roof terrace and looked on. After dinner, the main fireworks display started. Health and safety officials have not reached Bhawanipatna (or I suspect any part of India) and the fireworks were let off in a completely haphazard manner both in the front yard and in the street with any child over the age of about 10 being deemed old enough to light them whilst the smaller ones peered in closely until they were whisked away just before the thing went off. Motorcyclists continued to career up and down the street and many only narrowly missed going up with the fireworks as they went off. All in all, it was an immense display of firecrackers (yards of which were laid up and down the street); small rockets; Catherine wheels (which were either laid on the ground or held in your hand); light fountains; bombs (which made a very loud noise but didn't' do much else); and hundreds of multi-coloured sparklers. In addition, similar displays were going on up and down the street and further away some households had gone for more aerial displays which you could also see. Yes, it was dangerous but it was also immense fun and I wonder if we've maybe sanitised the experience too much in the West with our stage-managed displays and if there mightn't be a middle way. Probably not, but I wouldn't have missed this experience for the world. Click here to see more pictures.

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