Sunday, October 18, 2009

Diwali, the festival of lights.

Diwali is the most important holiday for Hindus, and is celebrated across India with the same anticipation and fervor as Christmas is celebrated in the States.

We saw preparations all over Delhi begin last week for the festival. People strung colorful lights across their balconies and businesses, children tested their firecrackers to the peril of passers-by, and streamers ran in a net of criss-cross patterns above every neighborhood street. Markets were full of new vendors selling clay candle pots, sweets, and nuts, and highways became congested with families driving in from all over the country. The entire city buzzed and glowed. Myself, I felt like a child again. I urgently counted down the days until Saturday, feeling sure I would burst from excitement.

Two days prior, I went to the market and purchased my first sari, a stunning silk fabric of red, bold blue, and gold decals. I had to beg the tailor to make my matching blouse in time for the holiday, but on the day of, I walked home with the most beautiful piece of clothing I've ever owned.

One day prior, preparations in our flat began. We hung up lights, bought candles, and cleaned up the flat in anticipation of our Diwali bash.

lights on our balcony

Saturday finally came. After an entire afternoon of last-minute errands and purchases, I donned my new sari, and headed over to the home of Nikita, my Indian colleague, for a puja (ritual) with her welcoming family. The room was set up modestly, with the visual center being a small platform with icons of various Hindu deities, lit up by an arrangement of small candles.

Nikita's parents

three beautiful sisters

Nikita's three sisters and mother took turns performing the various rituals, and after observing closely, I would follow suit. The rituals included flicking holy water over the icons, and throwing rice, sweets, and flowers over them.

am I doing this right?

At one point, the sisters took out a small book of hymns, and sang together while ringing a bell to herald the goddess Lakshmi, one of the central figures of the festival Diwali.

My favorite part of the puja was storytime, when we all sat cross-legged on the floor, and listened to Nikita's mother tell a religious tale in Hindi, while Nikita translated. The puja was a celebration of the supernatural, but also of the human, the element of uniting family and friends in a warm and open environment.

What's Diwali without firecrackers? Following the puja, we joined the rest of the neighborhood to light up the dark streets, laughing and shrieking and celebrating.

The night was far from being over. Arriving back home, I found that my flatmates had moved our dining table to the balcony and set up a fantastic candle-lit family dinner. I had cooked an India-style lentil stew earlier before I left, and others had contributed a huge pot of pasta, mashed potatoes, and even chunks of goat cheese and parmesan.

At around 11pm, our friends from other flats began to trickle in, most dressed in traditional Indian clothes. Out of the six intern flats around our area, ours is the largest, so it made sense that we should host the biggest party that I've seen so far. At least fifty people packed our abode. When the last person left at after 4am, it seemed like we had exhausted all the fun that could be pumped into one night. We turned up the speakers, poured each other drinks, laid out sweets on the table, and danced and talked in a distinct state of happiness.

More pictures here.


Lexie said...

i looooooooove your sari! the colors are so pretty!

it looks like you had such a fun time!

Stacy said...

That's aweseome that you got to celebrate with an Indian family!

Sadly, I feel like I've forgetten 90% of what we learned in Intro to Hinduism.