The Various Festive Diary of Indi


Plundered for centuries, conquered multiple times, home to some of the oldest civilisations in the world, the birthplace of three major religions— Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism—India is a country that is as diverse as the people that inhabit it. Therefore, to understand the festivals of India, one must first understand that India is a secular country that celebrates festivals of each community with enthusiasm and it would be impossible to define all of them because there are over 50 festivals in the Indian calendar each year. Each pertaining to the people of multiple faiths that inhabit it, in order to give the reader a better understanding of how festivals in India work, I will take them through my year.

January 2018—fresh off the high of a new year, I call my family to my home for an evening of singing around a bonfire, while we eat sweet balls of sesame seeds and throw some into the fire for good luck. There is a little bit of dancing and the mood for revelry is quite high, we are celebrating Lohri—a festival that marks the end of the winter solstice. It is a folk festival, sacred to the people of Punjab, for me and many like me who no longer live in Punjab, this festival serves as a reminder for gratitude and holds a special significance to look at the promise of a new year.

After the lull of Lohri, a small lull falls over my days, but not for some of my Tibetan Buddhist friends who are busy celebrating Losar—the Tibetan new year. Spread over a couple of days, their families prepare for the festival by decorating their homes, making barley beer called chong which is served warm, wearing new clothes and being grateful for the year to come. By the time Losar is over, it is time for the great Indian festival of colours Holi—the Hindu festival always falls in the springtime and is celebrated with great revelry throughout north India. It is a celebration of spring and Lord Krishna; therefore it follows the same spirit of irreverence and joy that Krishna embodies. At the heart of it is also the fable of good triumphing over evil, a theme that most Hindu festivals follow. For Holi, I usually visit my friends and family to playfully colour them, my Hindu friends often bring me Gujia—a sweet fried dumpling which for me is frankly the highlight of the festival. In mid-April, I am raring to go again, this time for Baisakhi, the Sikh festival of harvest. I wear yellow, go to the gurudwara (the Sikh temple) attend the prayer ceremony and the celebrations, I call my parents to wish them a joyous harvest, especially because my father is a farmer. By the late afternoon the festivities are over, but our hearts are full because of all the warmth we encountered all day.

After Baisakhi, a lull falls over my days. Summer is fast approaching and the rising temperatures are going to give way to a particular kind of lethargy that is special only to the Indian subcontinent, I take heart in the fact that this is also the season of mango and the watermelon, which takes some edge off the heat. By the time June approaches, my business partner who is a Muslim informs me that it is going to be the beginning of Ramazan. He fasts throughout the hot days, while he handles two jobs and an active social life. I find myself feeling sorry for him and eating for the both of us. Some days when I bite into a juicy mango in the afternoon, I think of him and feel guilty. In the evenings, he quietly slips way to the mosque for his evening namaaz (his prayers), on his way back he buys cold milk, “you get accustomed to not eating,” he explains. I find his abstinence inspiring. At home, my non-Muslim father decides to fast as well, he keeps four fasts in total, two at the beginning and two at the end of the Ramazan. When it is finally time for Eid, I partake in a feast hosted by my partner at his house. His mother prepares traditional mughlai recipes of mutton and cold vermicelli pudding is served. Once again, my heart is full of warmth and gratitude.

For two months, nothing happens, and then towards the end of August, I am invited to an Onam lunch at a friend’s place. Onam is a festival celebrated by the people of Kerala (Southern India) It is a harvest festival that is celebrated to commemorate King Mahabali, an ancient ruler, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam. In its home state, the festival is celebrated with four holidays that give people the time to worship, decorate and partake in festivities in the community. Outside Kerala, friends and family usually get together to feast on traditional Kerala food and enjoy its culture.

Between Onam and now, I have attended one more Eid revelry and watched my friends and family gather for birth anniversaries of various deities, but as the season is changing and winter draws near, the year is finally drawing to a close. The whiff of excitement is already in the air, each morning when I head to work, I see big marquees being set-up and I can feel a quiet rumble starting to grow louder in anticipation of the most joyous time of the year—the magnum opus— Diwali.

Starting mid-October, there will be nine days of worship of Durga, the female warrior goddess that represents feminine energy. During these days of worship, people will get together each evening to celebrate the festival, gigantic durga idols will brought into most community centers and people will sing and dance around it. At the end of these nine days, there will be Dusshera—the festival that marks the end of war between the Hindu deity Rama and Ravana, (who abducted Ram’s wife Sita). People will burn effigies of ten headed Ravana and celebrate the triumph of Rama, and of good over, evil.

Almost ten days later, it will be time for the final festival, the grand old Deepawali or Diwali as it is known less formally—the christmas of the east. The festival of lights as it is called will be celebrated by lighting 100s of lamps in each home, flower decorations and worship of the goddess of wealth— Laxmi. I will head home to be with my family, I will go bearing gifts and help my mother clean out the house, make flower arrangements and even draw little feet on our doorway for the goddess of wealth to enter our home and our lives. In the evening there will be firecrackers, but most importantly, everyone I love will be under the same roof.

Once Diwali is over there will be a fleeting sense of loss at the end of another year, but the promise of a fresh new start will await. Less than two months later, the cycle of festivals will begin again, but until then I would like to reflect in gratitude on the magnanimity of life in this diverse land that I was born into which gives me a reason to celebrate and feast all year long.

By Gunjeet Sra


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