Posts Tagged ‘Festivals’

North Tour: Gangtok: Not your ordinary Holi-day

April 25, 2011

Tuesday, 22 March

NEW JALPAIGUDI TO HOWRAH: I’ve celebrated a lot of holidays and festivals since coming to India. You rarely have to wait a week, or even a few days, for the next one to come around. Having spent eight months in India, I have a pretty large sample size from which to choose my favorite Indian holiday.

So when I say Holi has been my favorite holiday in India, that’s saying something.

Choose the clothes you’ll wear during Holi wisely. Because there’s virtually no chance they’ll come back looking like they were before going out. In fact, if they do, double-check the country you’re in. It’s probably not India.

Why bother? Because Holi is little more than an excuse to go color other people in public.

By “color”, I mean “throw powder onto,” “spray died water onto” or “smear color onto the faces of those around you.” The dye, while not permanent, doesn’t wash out easily, and after spending two hours outside, we were left looking like various combinations of zombies, the boogeyman, and the Hulk.

As we played in the Gangtok streets, our white T-shirts stopped resembling white T-shirts. So much red, yellow, green, purple and blue was splattered on our clothes, none of their original colors remained. The 13 of us had a mutual agreement to turn each other’s clothes into epic souvenirs. Each blank spot was sought out and filled in. Each patch of uncolored skin and hair was dyed. If any one color seemed too predominant, others were sprinkled in where needed.

Thanks to several water bottles and a new kind of powder, pink became the predominant color on our shirts. Because water intensifies the Holi colors, everyone was soon saturated in hot pink. After an hour in the Gangtok streets, I was unable to distinguish our nationalities from those of the Indians nearby. Our skin colors, hair colors and exuberance in celebration left us looking so similar to the surrounding locals that even a scintillating eye couldn’t tell us apart. Franzi, a natural blonde, didn’t have a single blonde hair left when we returned to the hotel.

I took no pictures or videos on the day, and most of us had decided the risk of our cameras getting ruined was too high. So I have nothing but my pen to describe the scene of Holi in Gangtok. Of small children squealing in delight and showering us in Holi water. Of men friendshipping us by hugging us and rubbing powder on our faces. Of a permanent layer of pink dust coating the main road when we walked the city hours later, all participants having gone home for lunch, an afternoon nap, and a compulsory hot shower.

I originally wished I’d been in Nagpur for Holi, so as to celebrate with my host family. But I take no issue with having spent it in the Himalayas with my friends. It could hardly have been any better than it was.

Holi is about having fun.

And as we danced in public together at the end of our outing, we couldn’t stop smiling.



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

September 13, 2010

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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