Today’s a public holiday here in India – it’s one of the more important religious celebrations of the year but true to the truly breathtaking breadth of India’s culture, the celebrations and festivities take on a surprising variety that I was lucky enough to be able to witness. My limited understanding of the religious significance of the day means that I’m not quite the best person to explain what goes on here but I’ll give it as good a try as I can.
It’s Dasara today, the end of 10 days of prayer and celebration that takes a bewildering array of forms that one gets confused even thinking about it. Last night, I had the opportunity to witness part of the Durga Puja, a celebration of the worship of the goddess Durga who is an incarnation of the supreme goddess Devi. What happens is that for several days a highly ornate idol of Durga is set up in a huge tent called a pandal and its worshipped and venerated. On the 10th day, the idol is brought, amidst much fanfare to a body of water and its immersed in it to complete the festivities.
One thing that one realises is the level of festivity that comes with the worship and veneration. I’m used to a much more sedate form of worship and seeing the energy in the dancing, drumming and chanting during the puja was really a sight to behold. I like the fact that the devotees were willing to put their everything into the worship and it reflects on the level of devotion that they have. The palpable energy and sheer number of people at the puja was indeed heartening – religion continues to have a very important part of the lives of the Indians.
That was last evening. I was invited to a celebration of a different sort this evening. Ajay and Archana (colleagues of mine here) invited me to their flat for a traditional South Indian celebration of Dasara – with the Golu in the house. It’s a little less energetic but quite amazing nonetheless. The family painstakingly set up a display that consisted of a huge number of small idols on a series of 5 steps in a corner of their flat. The result was a number of tableaus about various stories of gods and goddesses, with a focus on Parvati who is also an incarnation of Devi. The hosts did a great job of trying to explain the significance of all the scenes and of the whole festival but sadly the huge number of gods, goddesses and incarnations of the same did help to confuse my already confused mind. Suffice to say it’s a day of celebration and devotion – not just to the gods but of life and friends as well.
(Apologies in advance for any misrepresentation of the festivities, traditions or religious ceremonies. I tried to be as accurate as possible based on the bits of information I’ve received.)
Durga Puja in all its crowded glory
Golu – scenes of Hindu divinity