25 October 2008

Diwali preparations

I've been watching the city prepare for the upcoming Diwali celebrations. Little clay pots called 'diyas' are for sale everywhere, heaped in big piles. These are placed inside and outside homes, filled with oil and lit on the night of Diwali. Buildings are being decorated with garlands of bright lights. The shops are full of shoppers buying jewellery, new clothes and sweets to give as gifts to family members and friends.

Diwali - or Deepavalli as it's called in South India - is the most important Hindu festival. This festival of lights celebrates the triumph of good over evil when Lord Krishna destroyed the demon Narakasura under whose rule people suffered from many hardships. This is also a time when the goddess Lakshmi is worshipped.

During this festival, homes are thoroughly cleaned, including all metal pots which are filled with water. On the day of the festival, new clothes are worn after a ritual bath. Gifts and sweets are distributed to friends and family members. At night the clay lamps are lit and firecrackers are set off - making this perhaps the noisiest Hindu festival!

Happy Diwali to everyone!

22 October 2008

Morning in India

I love mornings in India. There’s something magical about the first hour just after sunrise when everything is waking up and the air is fresh and cool and the noise of the day hasn’t settled in yet. I love waking up to the sound of the birds that nestle in the huge tree in front of the house. Less pleasant is waking up to the sensation of my toes being nibbled by Squeaky who is awake and active as soon as the sun is up. I try to keep her out of the bedroom by keeping the door closed but she makes such a ruckus that I give in too easily.

Twice a week I get up just before sunrise to go to my Kalaripayatt class. Not even the cats are up when I drag myself out of bed. When I leave the house, the sun is already up. I walk to a friend’s house nearby from where we take an auto rickshaw together to class. During my walk, I witness the city waking up. I see the milk sellers and newspaper boys on bicycles making deliveries. Early morning devotees are already at the Hanuman temple on the main road offering their prayers. I cross 80 Feet Road easily because there’s very little traffic compared to during the day when crossing this road is a nightmare. I walk through the block between 80 Feet Road and 100 Feet Road known as Defence Colony. Here I come across people walking dogs (usually this is a chore for domestic staff and not the owners!). I pass the walker’s park which is already a scene of activity with walkers dressed in track pants and running shoes making their rounds around the walkers’ path at a fast pace. (You never see anyone jogging in India!) The stray dogs are still curled up sleeping in sheltered corners, often in groups. I also see auto drivers asleep on the backseat of their auto rickshaws. For some, their vehicle is not only their means of livelihood but also their home. Maids are busy sweeping the road in front of houses and drawing beautiful kolams.

Many yoga and meditation classes are held early in the morning, around 6 or 7am. This is because early morning is considered to be an auspicious time, especially between 4:24 to 6am which is called Brahm Muhurath. This ‘ungodly’ time, an hour and a half just before sunrise, is actually very ‘godly’ as it’s considered to be the best time for spiritual practices like prayer, meditation or yoga.

The trip to class which is in central Bangalore takes only 15 minutes at this time of day when traffic is light and there are not too many vehicles on the road. However, on the way back home an hour and half later, the scene is very different. The roads are clogged with cars, motorcycles, buses and auto rickshaws as schoolchildren head to school and people are on their way to the office. The magical hour has passed!

14 October 2008

A long weekend in the Western Ghats

India's landscape is as diverse as its people. The Western Ghats are a 1600 kilometre-long mountain chain that descends down the western coast of India. They erupt in the north-western state of Gujarat and descend straight down along the western coast of the Arabian Sea through the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala, ending at the southern-most tip of India in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu.

The dense forests, lakes and rivers are home to many bird and animal species, as well as a variety of plants and flowers not found anywhere else in the world.

I spent four days in the Chorla Ghats which border the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa. Arriving on the tail end of the monsoon, the hills were a rich, lush green with many rivers and waterfalls gushing through the dense landscape.

The 70-kilometre trip from Belgaum in North Karnataka took 3 hours through very rocky, post-monsoon pot-holed roads! Once we crossed the border into Goa, the roads improved considerably:

The road in Karnataka:

Just a few metres away, over the border in Goa:

Some photos from a long weekend in the Western Ghats:

08 October 2008

Dasara days

Like last year, my landlady insisted I come see her puja room which she has specially decorated for Dasara. Every year on this occasion, she brings out all her painted statues of gods and goddesses and proudly displays them for 10 days in her puja room. She explained that she has had these statues for the past forty years: “These are antiques!”, she told me proudly.

The small puja room was crowded with the full pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. The Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva had their prominent places on one shelf, while the Dasavatar (10 reincarnations of Lord Vishnu) occupied a whole shelf underneath, jostling for space with Lord Venkateshwara and Princess Padmavati from Tirupati who were observing the whole scene. The goddesses Parvati, Saraswati and Lakshmi were also there, showering their auspicious blessings on the whole household and ensuring success in spiritual fulfilment, learning, and wealth and prosperity respectively. There were also two black statues. I don’t know who they represent but she told me they are ‘very important’.

Today being Ayudha puja, she had also laid out her husbands’ tools and children’s books so that they could be blessed and continue to bring their owners success.

Before I left, she gave me a few bananas and put a tikka on my forehead with red and yellow powder and made me promise to send her the photos I took of her puja room to her email address so that so that she can send them to her daughters who live in the US.

Tomorrow is the last day of Dasara and a public holiday. Happy Dasara to everyone!