Diwali, the festival of lights
Hello, Dear Readers!
I cannot believe another month – my third in India – has come and gone and that it is already November. I have been doing some serious travel since the last time I posted. As I mentioned earlier, the month of October is jam packed with holidays here in India. And November hasn’t disappointed so far either. I took advantage of the holidays to get out of Delhi and continue exploring this incredible and incredibly large country. I spent the few days before Diwali (October 26) in Gujarat and Rajasthan with my roommates Lesly and Priti. Priti is from Ahmedabad, Gujarat so we traveled home with her for the holiday and learned about the Gujarati way of life.
Diwali is the Festival of Lights in India and also marks the beginning of a new year in the Hindu calendar. Diyas, or lights, light up homes for the entire week of Diwali. Families light candles and string electric lights on their homes. Like New Years in some parts of the United States the celebrations also involve fireworks, firecrackers, and just generally a lot of noise. It is the most important holiday in India and non-Hindus also participate in the spectacle. For Hindus the celebration begins in the home with a pooja, or ceremony. We got to participate in the pooja with Priti. Most Indian homes have a space for a small temple or even a small room specifically for the purpose of being a temple in the home. Hinduism is a very family-centric religion and devotees practice daily in their homes with prayer, pooja, and blessings. Diwali actually lasts for a number of days with the main pooja and celebration of the new year on the fifth day – which this year was October 26th but it changes every year as the Hindu calendar is lunar. On the 25th Lesly and I helped Priti light candles around the house for the pooja. We placed candles and incense in the entryways, the yard, and entryway to her home. The house was decorated with garlands of leaves and flowers. Priti offered flowers, milk, and prayers to the Lord Krishna who is represented in statue in her small temple room. When we had prepared everything the three of us sat in her front yard/garden and soaked in the serenity of it all. It was really nice.
In addition to learning more about the Diwali holiday and Hinduism we did some sightseeing, relaxing, and plenty of eating over the few days we were there. Gujarati hospitality is second to none and we felt like part of the family from moment we arrived. Our activities included a weekend road trip to Mount Abu, a mountain lake right across the border in Rajasthan about 4 hours from Ahmedabad. We had an evening tour of historic Ahmedabad, saw a Bollywood movie in the theater on opening day, visited the historic palace of the King of Bikaner, ate delicious home cooked food, had dinner with the finance minister of Gujarat (a relative of Priti’s boyfriend’s business partner), ate a traditional Gujarati dinner on the rooftop of one of the nicest hotels in Gujarat, and shot off some (tons) of fireworks of our own.
The end of our trip turned out to be one of the most impressive parts of the entire excursion. Because we had to be back for classes at the end of the week we ended up flying back to New Delhi on the day of Diwali which meant we got to see the fireworks from the air. On Diwali almost every family in India lights off fireworks or firecrackers in parks, parking lots, from terraces, on the streets and in the alleys. The country erupts with noise and light. I am fairly certain you need a license in the US to get the sort of fireworks that are easily available during this season in India. We left the Ahmedabad airport at 9pm to an incredible pyrotechnic display. When we took off over the city the whole plane ooo’ed and aah’ed looking at the gold and glittering sea of lights below. Halfway into our flight we were again transfixed by a stunning light show below us. The golden lights of a medium-sized city were sparkling red, blue, green, and white. We were flying over Jaipur, Rajasthan. Delhi welcomed us with an especially impressive firework display. As we were landing the three of us agreed that we just had the best seats to the most incredible fireworks display any of us had ever seen. I don’t even know how to explain what a whole city lighting fireworks looks like from the sky – awesome, stunning, breathtaking, spectacular, are just some of the words that come to mind.
The trip was amazing from beginning to end. I extend a huge Thank You to Priti and her friends for so kindly welcoming us into their lives for those days and assuring we had an amazing experience in the great state of Gujarat. I’ll be back again.
More pictures coming soon!