Diwali 2014

Diwali, the festival of lights, is spectacular in India! Celebrating the victory of light over darkness or good over evil, I have never seen so many lights! Fireworks, fairy lights, lanterns and oil lamps, it was like the stars had fallen out of the sky. Homes and shops were decorated beautifully, giving a Christmas vibe with a high dose of fireworks and crackers.

DSCN4137Oh the fireworks! I have been a huge fan of fireworks for as long as I can remember. Today (5th November) there is an annual festival in England called ‘Guy Fawkes night’ (or ‘Bonfire night’), where there are huge community firework displays and bonfires! This is not a religious festival, it’s the commemoration of the day in 1605 when Guy Fawkes was arrested for his part in the plan to blow up the House of Lords in London, where the King was holding parliament! Guy Fawkes had committed treason and was burnt alive, so every year people burn effigies of him in huge bonfires and celebrate the King’s survival with fireworks (this reminds me of the Hindu festival, Holika). Seeing the wonderful displays on those cold winter nights could not prepare me for the fireworks during Diwali!

This Diwali the fireworks filled the night skies and they were constant! Personally, I could sit for hours watching the sparkly lights in the sky, but after a while the ‘booms’ started giving me a headache. It looked as if every rooftop were letting them off. Thankfully, Alfonso wasn’t to bothered by the noise. My husband lit some firecrackers on our roof and a rocket, which had not been positioned correctly, flew right for him. Luckily, my husband was able to do a ‘Matrix style’ back bend to avoid it. I nearly had a heart attack, next Diwali we are not lighting any fireworks! 

At 11pm, the city’s fireworks had nearly ran out and we went for pizza. As we drove we saw the pollution, a blanket of smoke covered the city, I could not believe it! Such a beautiful festival, but the aftermath was shocking. It wasn’t just the pollution, the next day I read in the newspaper that several people (including children) in Nagpur had lost an arm due to firecracker misuse. For days after I saw children. who must have been as young as eight years old, light bombs and crackers in the streets with no supervision. It would be so much safer if there were more community held fireworks displays during Diwali, a little like we have on ‘Guy Fawkes night’. 

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P.S.

Some of you have noticed that I haven’t been posting much lately, thank you for all of your messages of concern! I am fine! I decided to take a break from the internet, I love blogging but sometimes the trolls and hurtful comments get too much and I need to decompress. Thank you ever so much for all of your support! Unfortunately, as soon as I decided to return to blogging, I caught a cold. I thought I would catch a cold after returning to English weather, not before!

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Durga Puja

Yesterday we popped to the supermarket to buy some paneer (I made paneer tikka last night!). During Navratri, we have visited some of the hundreds of pandals in Nagpur. A pandal is a tent type structure, built with bamboo and fabric, which holds an idol inside. I guess you could call them temporary temples where Lord Ganesh is worshipped during Ganesh Chaturthi, and Goddess Durga is worshipped during Navratri.

Last night we came across a Bengali celebration called ‘Durga Puja’. I have heard so much about Durga Puja, I really needed to see this! Durga Puja is celebrated during the last four days of Navratri, this festival is all about good triumphing over evil! Last night, Durga puja began!

During Durga Puja, Mother Durga is a worshipped in her opulent, ten armed, warrior form! The Bengali way of making idols is beyond breathtaking and, unlike the Marathi style, she is accompanied by Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Saraswati, Lord Ganesh and Kartikeya (the second son of Parvati and Lord Shiva). The small details, the huge eyes, the ornaments, the long curly black hair… spectacular! Durga Puja for Bengalis is what Diwali is for the rest of India, prior to the festival there are months of excitement, anticipation and preparations! 

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Goddess Durga comes to Earth for her devotees! The legend of Durga Puja (because I am all about knowing the legends behind these festivals) goes a little like this…

Mahishasur, a Buffalo Demon, persistently prayed to Lord Brahma for many years. Lord Brahma saw his devotion and granted him his biggest wish, to become invincible Once he got what he wanted, he started a ravenous rampage across the world, destroying everything he came in contact with. Once the world was ruined, he wanted to kill the Gods themselves. The Gods created a force more powerful than Mahishasur, the divine feminine, Goddess Durga. In each of her ten hands she carried the most deadly weapons on heaven and Earth, and she destroyed that undestroyable demon. 

Goddess Durga later blessed Lord Ram, in the Hindu epic The Ramayana, just before he killed the demon Ravana who has holding Lord Rama’s wife hostage. On Friday, there is another festival (yes, Hinduism has a lot of festivals!) to celebrate Lord Ram’s victory! Here in Nagpur, a huge model of Ravana is going to be burnt to the ground!

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Inspired by the first Bengali pandal, we went to visit a second! Oh my gosh, it was so beautiful!! The Bengalis really know how to make idols! I could have spent hours looking up at her face, the beauty of Goddess Durga was completely overwhelming. I am lost for words to describe it further, just look for yourself…

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There is usually a flurry of excitement when people see a foreigner among them, but this time we got a little more than we expected. As we were worshiping the idols, one of the men in the pandal asked us to offer some coconuts to Goddess Durga. I love Goddess Durga, so I was enthusiastic to do so! We then found ourselves dressed up red material (I don’t know if it has as special name), which had been blessed by the Goddess, and our photograph being taken by several people!

We had just popped to the supermarket to get paneer, I hadn’t a speck of makeup, my hair was a messy (luckily they wanted to cover my head), I had even forgotten to put on a bindi before going out! I guess you should always be ready for anything, life in India is a lot of things, but boring? Never!

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Once we were back in the car, with our coconuts and blessed material, my husband said how awkward it was because he didn’t know what was going on, these traditions are Bengali and he is Marathi. The confusion and attention hadn’t bothered me, then I realised that the majority of my life in India involves: awkwardness, too much attention and utter bewilderment! I guess I have become accustomed to it. Progress!

‘Welcome to my world’, I said.

It’s now one of my dreams to spend Durga Puja in Kolkata, Bengal! The birth place of Durga Puja, Kolkata is where the festival really comes alive, with over two thousand pandals, street lights and parties. Hopefully next year! Happy Durga Puja everyone!!!

Mahalakshmi Pooja

The morning after establishing Mahalakshmi and her children in our home, the panditji (priest) came to lead the ceremony to invoke the spirit of the Goddess into the idols. My husband and I performed the pooja (prayer) wearing the same outfits we wore for our wedding ceremony, with the house full of family, friends, food and flowers.

mahalaksmi pooja foreigner festival mahalaksmi pooja foreigner festival panditThis festival is a really special one for my family and only celebrated in east Maharashtra. I have heard so much about it since meeting my husband, I knew it was really special for everyone.

Just as we did for Lord Ganesh, we invoked Goddess Mahalakshmi with mantras, sacred leaves and flowers. We touched their hearts and with our own breathe, blew life into the beautiful idols.

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Strings of mogra (jasmine) buds in my hair, aren’t they beautiful?

heart touching hinduism Goddess Meanwhile, during this long pooja, forty-eight dishes (yes, forty-eight!!!) were being prepared by the other women of the house, There will be a point when I have to learn to cook these dishes to carry on the tradition, I should start taking notes next year!

The mountain of food was placed before the Goddesses and their children, this made the food prasad, prasad is food which is blessed. It wasn’t long before guests arrived to eat a blessed lunch and take the darshan (seeing the auspicious image of God) of Mahalakshmi. 

mahalaksmi pooja foreigner festival mahalaksmi pooja foreigner festival purple sareeVisiting Lakshmi’s from other families (eldest daughter-in-laws) were celebrated and given gifts. As the Lakshmi of our family, I performed the special gift giving ceremony which involves applying haldi (tumeric) and kum kum (sindoor) to their foreheads followed by pouring four hand fulls of rice and a coconut into their laps. Some brought gifts to give to the Mahalakshmi and performed the same ceremony infront of the idols.

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The traditional Marathi look!

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Real lotus flowers, absolutely gorgeous

The next day, sadly Mahalakshmi had to go home, with another pooja her spirit departed. I put my right hand to each of their chests and held my heart with my left hand as Grandma chanted Sanskrit mantras. She was gone, with a heavy heart, the idols were dismantled and put into the wardrobe where they would wait until next year.

Grandma separated yellow strings which had been placed with Mahalakshmi during the pooja. They were tied around our wrists (on the left hand of women and right hand of men). The sofa which had been sitting on our terrace to make room for Mahalaksmi, had to be put back and the house looked and felt normal again.

 

Ganesh Chaturthi: Lord Ganesh Came to Stay

After celebrating the love between Lord Shiva and Gauri (Goddess Parvati), we welcomed their son, Ganesh, into our home. Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most spectacular festivals on the Hindu calendar, many weeks of preparation have led up to this event, craftsmen and artists have been busy building idols of this round bellied God in a huge variety of sizes and poses. During the last couple of weeks, shops selling Lord Ganesh idols have popped up on every street. Lord Ganesh has been eagerly waiting to be welcomed into homes across India, last night the mass exodus occurred in a glorious fashion.

The shop where our Lord Ganesh came from, so many to choose from

The shop where our Lord Ganesh came from, so many to choose from

We chose our clay Ganesh idol a couple of weeks ago, but like the other Ganpatta Bappa statues waiting on the roadside, he had to wait festival began to come into our home. The night before the festival, the traffic terrible, the whole of Nagpur was out collecting their Lord Ganesh, buying decorations, flowers and sweets. It reminded me of Christmas eve in England, that last minute rush. A mixture of stress and excitement.

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Our top three (we chose the middle one!)

Just like Christmas, we bought tinsel, but instead of putting it around a tree, we used the shiny tinsel to decorate the area Lord Ganesh would be staying during the festival.  The whole evening, especially the tinsel, reminded me of Christmas eve, of my family, and I became really emotional and home sick.

The morning started with a pooja (prayer) to invoke the spirit of Lord Ganesh into our clay statue, a priest came to chant the mantras as my husband performed the pooja. Lord Ganesh is said to bestow his presence to every one of his devotees during this auspicious time. After being adorned with the holy leaves of Hinduism, red flowers, haldi (tumeric), kumkum (red auspicious powder) and a touch of his heart, the divinity of Lord Ganesh dwells in the clay statue. I love hearing my husband chant Sanskrit. 

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Our Lord Ganesh after the pooja

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Ganesh Chaturthi RANGOLI

Rangoli outside our house

That evening my husband and I went out for pav bhaji (one of the most amazing Indian dishes, originating from Mumbai) and we saw so many Lord Ganesh statues in trucks, travelling behind huge processions of dancing and drums.

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funny ganesh

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The whole city was alive with beating drums, fireworks and celebrations. Before going to sleep we all performed another ritual to Lord Ganesh, aarti, where a small flame is offered to the God as a Sanskrit song is sang (me and Alfonso couldn’t sing the song, we didn’t know the words).