Monday, October 10, 2005
festival of lights...
october is a fantastic time to be in north india as it is the beginning of festival season. we saw the first inklings of the season a few days ago during our excursion to agra when we started seeing (what looked to us to be christmas) lights strung up along fences, roadside tobacco huts, restaurants and homes. the altars of ganesh and the various dieties are decorated with garlands of marigolds and fragrant strands of leaves. colorful streamers adorn the doorways of homes and temples and the stands lining the streets that usually sell normal fare are replaced with festival supplies...ceremonial rices, nuts, fruits and the glittering red-gold-and-silver fabrics that are used as the base for alter offerings.
all this in preparation for the 9 day festival of Navratri...the most important hindu festival. it is described as a celebration 'devoted to the mother goddess or Shakti, also known as Durga...the nine days are full of joy and devoutness'.
last night we struck out to the ram leela grounds at the red fort in old delhi to visit the Dussehra fair where costumed actors reinact the struggle between and triumph of good over evil, personified as Lord Rama (good) and Ravana (evil). as we neared the area, we shifted nervously in our bumpy autorickshaw seats. it's one thing to visit old delhi during the 'safety' of broad daylight; it's another thing entirely to go as a westerner at night. i'd be lying if i denied the fact that old delhi seemed to be malevolent by night. trying not to look terrified, we emerged from our cab and wandered slowly toward the festival gates. we were definitely the only westerners anywhere for miles. being used to the constant attention we garner on the streets, the staring at the festival was taken to all new heights. i felt more alien at the festival than i have at any other point on this trip.
we're fairly certain entrance required a ticket of some kind, but i think we look so confused and in awe that the officials waved us through security. we were such a novelty that we were allowed to mount a rickety platform at the back of the festival's viewing grounds to get a closer look at the effigy of Ravana which will be set ablaze on the last festival evening.
the play was colorful and lively, bringing the hilariously dubbed dialogue to the hundreds of entranced spectators via huge horn speakers.
there were rides for the children and a plethora of brightly lit food vendors dishing up every kind of indian cuisine imaginable and some new treats we had never seen before (including a confounding stone drum on which popsicles were made).
the revelers did not know what to make of us as we wandered around wide-eyed, snapping photos and admiring the craftsmanship required to execute such a fete.