Diwali (festival of lights or literally “a row of lamps”) has been going on for the past week and I have experienced this important religious tradition mostly through loud noises and smoke in the street as people light firecrackers everywhere. My host family is Christian and so typically do not celebrate the holiday besides having the week off of school. (Most of my information about Diwali is therefore coming off of the internet). However, since I was staying with them, they did what they could to demonstrate what it meant for others.
I was told that common practice during Diwali is to play cards with family and friends and to go around and offer gifts to loved ones. A former driver of my hosts came to drop off a box of chocolates, which is a common gift for just about everything. Re-gifting is also a common (although probably not spoken) practice. General service people, such as the mail deliverer, have the opportunity to ask for a larger tip “in the spirit of Diwali.”
I mainly participated on Diwali day through decorating the house and watching Lakshmi puja (a prayer ceremony for Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity).
We started the day off early by going to the flower market (early because it’s best to do things in the morning or evening so as to avoid the hottest part of the day). The flower market was described as the most hectic market in Mumbai by my host. The drive there was almost as hectic (there really are no rules on the road, you just do what you must to get through the crowds of other cars, rickshaws (passenger carts), and people).
The most popular colours to make flower malas (flowers strung together) seem to be orange and yellow
The host grandfather mentioned that this women had covered her hair for modesty when he walked up.
Indian taxi-cabs don’t scrimp on colour and design.
Street vegetable sales.. with some I have never seen before!
I then had the privilege of making a flower mala and decorating the entranceway of my host’s home.
A tradition is to decorate with flowers and little clay lamps (bowls) to put oil and candles in. These light the way into the home for the goddess of good fortune.
Next was the puja (prayer) ceremony, which included garnishing and pouring milk on the idols, circling a tray with candle around the prayer table, being blessed by the priest and receiving a thread around your wrist and an offering of fruit and sweets. I was lucky enough to be invited to the neighbours’ for this ceremony.
Last, but not least are the light shows to ward off evil spirits. This includes fireworks and sparklers. I have never stood so close to fireworks before. The discarded pieces remain in the streets. They were all entirely lit by hand (and/or by sparkler), although a cultural tradition, still not everyone was comfortable with doing this.
Before, during, and after all of these events there were hoards of people lighting fireworks and sparklers everywhere. The bangs went long into the night and began early in the morning (including the first night I arrived in India at 4am).
Diwali was absolutely incredible and I am so grateful that I was able to celebrate it WHILE IN INDIA (…no big deal). I cannot express how amazing it was to stay with a host family and now that I have arrived on campus (blog post to follow), I feel even luckier to have had that opportunity.
More adventure stories to come.
Until next time,