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4 TH November, 2009
...continued from "(4a) An Indian Hospital and the Lotus Temple"
This past Saturday we celebrated Diwali, the Festival of Lights. It is one of the biggest festivals here. Diwali celebrates the homecoming of Rama and Sita in the Ramayana. It also marks the Hindu New Year. Celebrating Diwali has been one of the my best experiences so far (so I'm going to explain it in a bit of detail)!
In the morning, the girls and I made colorful paper decorations which we hung up all over the home. The house was cleaned thoroughly. We also painted "rangoli" designs on the floor. Cleaning and decorating the house is meant to attract Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.
Breakfast was my all time favorite "aloo paratha" (a sort of bread pancake stuffed with potato). After breakfast, everyone dressed up in their best outfits. I got to wear my saree for the first time. At least 10 girls crowded into my room to help me wrap the saree, put on bangles, and apply a bindi. Next, we all went to the meditation room for "puja" (worship). Songs were sung/chanted, incense burned, and an offerring of sweets made. The puja ended with a "rasgulla" (a syrupy dough ball of a sweet) and a "tika" (red forehead mark) for everyone. Before lunch, a couple of the girls and I walked to the local market. I attracted more attention in traditional clothes than I do in my usual western wear. Grocery shopping in a saree was fun though.
We had a special lunch with "puri" (fried bread) instead of our usual "roti". Around five, we all went outside to start preparing "diyas" (little terracotta bowls with oil and a wick in them) to light up the house. By the time it was dark, the whole neighborhood was lit up. The Diwali lamps represent the lights that were lit to guide Rama home. Before dinner, we had a second puja where the God Ganesha was worshipped. This puja ended with more sweets and "kalava" (sacred red string bracelets).
After dinner, fire crackers were distributed to all the girls. Then the madness began. Incredibly happy, exciting madness. But madness non the less. 40 girls, many under the age of 13, in a smallish space with their own personal supply of spark spewing crackers... It was insane. There were crackers that shot sparks up like a volcano, ones that made incredibly loud booms, and ones that exploded with bursts of flame, just to name a few. The next couple of hours were spent playing with fireworks. It was great. (My little brother would have had the absolute time of his life). I fell asleep to the sound of fireworks.
And that was Diwali. All in all it was an awesome experience.
I am having such a great time in India!