It is festival season here in India, and man do Indians know how to celebrate. From Navratri and Durga Puja, to Dusshera and Eid, there has been a steady stream of firecrackers being set off every night in my neighborhood for the last two weeks.
The slew of festivals has made me really appreciate the diversity in my workplace. My coworkers come from a variety of states, represent most of the major religions of India and, thank goodness, are patient enough to entertain my endless questions on what we are supposed to be celebrating on a given day.
So here is a breakdown of what I think I’ve learned about some of the recent festivals/holidays*:
- Navratri celebrates the different forms of Shakti over a period of nine days. The place to be during this festival is Gujarat.
- Durga Puja is sort of the Bengali version of Navarati. Like the name suggests, Durga Puja is all about the goddess Durga. The place to be for this festival is West Bengal. If you’re in Delhi, the place to be is CR Park and you should stop at every Bengali sweet shop in sight. And order meeshti doi every time.
- Once every year, Durga leaves her husband in the Himalayas to come visit her parents on Earth. Her return to Earth is celebrated as Durga Puja. At the end of the Puja, idols of Durga are immersed in water to represent her return back to her husband. She is said to take away everyone’s sin with her when she goes back home. This is a video I took of just one of the many, many trucks that was heading to immerse the Durga idol: http://youtu.be/482PwDq0TJ0
- Durga Puja also celebrates her defeating the evil Mahishasur. A classic good vs. evil story.
- Dusshera is not connected to Durga Puja, something that took me awhile to figure out. It is the celebration of Ram defeating the evil Raavan. Another good vs evil story, just like Durga’s.
- You do not want to be connected to Raavan in any way, because not only do people burn huge, wooden replicas of Raavan on Dusshera, but often they also burn replicas of his son and brother as well.
Me at Ramoji Film City in 2010, becoming the tenth head of Ravaan. Little did I know being associated with him got you burned on Dusshera. Gotta be careful who I give my head to!
- Firecrackers/fireworks are a MUST during festival time. From what I hear, Diwali will only prove this fact even more so.
- During these festivals it is easy to feel like you are attending a giant carnival. People roam from temple to temple, neighborhood to neighborhood on streets lined with street vendors selling delicious treats and goods ranging from religious paraphernalia (Hanuman’s club, play swords, different gods and goddesses masks) to circus souvenirs (spinning lights, ribbon wands, toys).
- Eid Mubarak means “Blessed Eid” and is the greeting you use for Eid.
- Eid is not the best time to be a goat, but it’s an excellent time if you like goat meat.
And I know I’ve already mentioned this, but really, I have never heard so many firecrackers in my life. I like to think the people shooting off these firecrackers at random times in the day and night are using the old alcoholics excuse, “Hey it’s 5pm somewhere”, by tweaking it, “Hey it’s a festival somewhere”…And they’d probably be right.
*I could be embarrassingly wrong about some of my learnings. I apologize in advance if I totally goofed on something. Please feel free to use the comment section to correct me!
Below are videos of the burning of the three bad guys, aka, Ravaan’s son, Ravaan’s brother and the 10-headed Ravaan himself, in that order:
In the foreground of the video you can see the actors who were performing the Ram vs. Raavan story, simultaneously as the fireworks are going off.
There was a screen set up for people in the back to watch what was happening on stage. Important individuals/community members had the honor of setting the giant representations of Raavan, his son and brother afire.
There was not much sticking around once Raavan was lit. Everyone was trying to avoid the Dusshera traffic.