“It’s kind of like Christmas in India” and other Indian festivities

I’ve come to the conclusion that three things are more important than anything else in understanding Indian culture: food, family, and festivals.

While I plan on giving food a post of its own sometime, I’d like to talk about the latter two of those, since all three are inseparable from Indian culture, and all three were a big part of this past weekend.

I was told earlier that the reason Rotary places us with host families is because the family is at the heart of every culture. And they’re completely right about that with India.

Prajyot and his parents came into town from Pune on Friday, and this weekend has had a certain energy that hadn’t been present for a while. Since Mayank left for Michigan, life had been a little quiet; the energy in the house had lessened after the months-long buildup of preparing for his trip came to a climax with his departure. We weren’t exactly sad, but things felt a little stale.

Festivals bring flavor to life in India, so things never feel stale for long.

Here’s a sampling of the celebrations we’ve had since Independence Day:

August 24: Raksha Bandham

I was confused the first time I heard Mayank refer to Saket as his “brother”. Since they have the same grandparents but different parents, that makes them cousins, right?

But “cousins” are considered brothers and sisters here, which means I, an only child in America, have several “brothers” and “sisters” in Nagpur and Pune. Our extended family here is so large I’ve lost track of all the aunts and uncles, and I don’t know most of their names. When addressing an elder brother, we’re supposed to say “dada”, which means Saket is “Saket-dada”.

Raksha Bandham is about the relationship between brothers and sisters. One of my “sisters” tied three bands – rakhi – around my wrist to symbolize our relationship, and did the same for Saket, Mayank and Vedant (a 12-year-old “brother” who lives nearby and visits almost every day). In return, the brothers offer gifts to complete the ceremony and vow to always protect the sister.

Of course, we had a feast as well.

September 2: Dahi Handi (Krishna’s birthday)

Since I attended college like any other day, I didn’t realize anything was happening until I heard the celebration that night.

My host mom, Saket-dada and I went to the nearby field, where over 100 people were gathered around a long rope stretched 15 feet high. Tied to the rope was a pot filled with buttermilk. As drums were rhythmically pounded, water and pink powder were thrown into the crowd. About a dozen people closed in beneath the pot and formed a human pyramid in an attempt to break the pot.

Of the many attempts, only about three or four times did a group succeed. I kept my distance and stayed dry, but Saket contributed to some of the successful efforts, earning him several buckets of water splashed on him.

I’m not sure what it all had to do with Krishna’s birth, but it was a lot of fun to watch.

September 10: Eid ul-Fitr

Our family didn’t celebrate this, since our family is Hindu, but this Muslim holiday was celebrated around the world and India was no exception. Eid marks the end of the Islamic holy month Ramadan, which here is called “Ramzan”. (Romanization of many of these holidays, by the way, can be inconsistent.)

September 11 – present: Ganesh Chaturthi

This is the holiday that’s confused me the most.

I usually don’t hear about these holidays until the day before or the day of, so they’ve lacked the buildup and suspense of holidays I’m used to, like Easter or Thanksgiving. It’s probably because this is my first time celebrating them. Ganesh is no exception.

For ten days, people celebrate the Hindu Lord Ganesha, probably the most recognized of the Hindu deities. It’s impossible not to immerse in the festivities – drumbeats from a parade thundered through our living room the other night and we’ve already had two well-attended feasts with friends and family.

Now we’re in the process of decorating part of our dining/ sitting room. Where before sat a swing-like bench there is now a space for an idol of Ganesha, which comes in tomorrow morning. The surrounding frame is decorated with leaves, flowers, and several kinds of lights in many colors. It’s not finished yet, and it already looks quite flashy.

It’s kind of like an Indian Christmas tree.

Actually, it’s kind of like Christmas in India.

Seven days to go. There’s much more to come. And we haven’t even had Diwali or Holi yet…


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5 Responses to ““It’s kind of like Christmas in India” and other Indian festivities”

  1. John Says:

    Wow. The pyramid thing sounded really cool– I’m doubting you got a video of it, but if you did.. .bring some footage back! 🙂

  2. Pradeep Popale Says:

    The event you mentioned which was celebrated on Krishna’s birthday is actually called Dahi Handi (buttermilk pot) and it is kind of remembering pastimes Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna as a kid, used steal butter from kitchen and thus his mother kept the pot at a height. But then Krishna got few of his friends together, made a human pyramid and stole the butter. Lord Krishna who appeared in Vrindavan – India, 5,000 years ago; had many great pastimes with his devotees. Dahi Handi is just one way to remember those pastimes. Different states celebrates Krishna Janamashtami in slightly different ways. Even here in Chicago we celebrated Krishna’s birthday by fasting and chanting.
    It seems that you are aware of Holi festival. Which is also a pastime of Lord Krishna, who used welcome spring by throwing colors on his friends and villagers. After Ganesh chaturthi it will be Navratri (nine nights) – nine day long festival of Goddess Durga in Oct.
    I enjoy reading your blogs and it will be great if you can also post some pictures, specially of Sinhgadh – thats a special place for me as I studied in Pune 🙂


    • cyoder Says:

      Thanks for the information! I added “Dahi Handi” to the post. I really appreciate getting feedback from people who are already familiar with Indian culture!

      As for pictures, I won’t make any promises I can’t keep, and this blog has certainly been quite lacking in pictures, but I’ll see if I can put anything up!

  3. Abby Says:

    I absolutely loved Janamashtami! I’m enjoying Ganpati as well. There’s a large idol set up in the temple on our street, and I’m waiting for them to bring him out.

    I was able to get some videos of the pyramids in Mumbai. I posted them on my blog, if you’re interested.

    Thanks for the background. Even though I experienced the festival in Mumbai, I wasn’t sure what the significance of the clay pot was.

  4. PA Says:

    I absolutely heart this time of the year wherein we have festivals back to back!

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