This morning, we rose early to go on another Chennai photowalk, especially for Diwali. Again the route chosen for the group took us near the Kapaleeshwarar Temple, in Mylapore – which I blogged about a few weeks ago. At this point, many of you will be asking, “What is Diwali?” If you ask the question here, the answer is invariably, “It’s the Festival of Lights!” – which doesn’t get you a whole lot further. But it’s the most significant of Hindu festivals, and occupies a place in Indian society similar to Christmas in Christian countries – this is pretty much THE holiday of the year.
For us foreigners who understand very little of the background, and experience virtually none of the many traditional practices that go on in peoples’ homes, however, the holiday involves mainly nonstop firecrackers, building gradually over the past week, and maintaining a dull roar over the last 24 hours as the skies are continuously lit up with fireworks in all directions. But here is what we were told is the background for Diwali:
Diwali or Deepavali is one of the most important and most celebrated Hindu festivals in India. Diwali or Deepavali festival is also known as the “Festival of Light”. People celebrate by lighting earthen ‘diyas’ (lamps), decorating the houses, setting off firecrackers and inviting near and dear ones to their houses to share in a sumptuous feast.
Significance of lighting a lamp: To Hindus, darkness represents ignorance and light is a metaphor for knowledge. Therefore, lighting a lamp symbolizes the destruction, through knowledge, of all negative forces.
The history of Diwali is replete with legends and these legends tied to the stories of Hindu religious scriptures. The central theme of all legends points to the classic truth of the victory of good over evil. Throughout most of India, the festival is associated with Lord Rama’s victory as the King of Ayodhya after his return to the kingdom from 14 years of exile, together with his wife Sita & brother Laxman after killing the demon, King Ravana.
The Celebration: It is the one time in the whole year that children volunteer to leave their beds long before the day begins. In fact, the traditional oil bath at 3 am is the only chore that stands between them and pre-dawn adventures. They emerge, scrubbed clean to get into their festive attire, and light up little oil lamps, candles and incense sticks. Celebrations always involve the lighting of fireworks and sparklers.
So today was the big day, and this morning we went to the neighborhood surrounding Chennai’s oldest temple to see what was going on. It was a mix of excellent light (rain clouds alternating with early morning sunshine), accented with smoke from chains of exploding firecrackers. And it’s apparently also a tradition to wear new clothes (we were chastised), so you will see in the photos many people either wearing festival attire, or a brand new outfit.
The first few are families lighting firecrackers out on the streets in front of their homes.
The practice not only makes a lot of noise, it leaves behind a lot of little bits of paper!
Other folks were spotted coming or going from temple early this morning. There are several in the area.
Not everyone was lucky enough to enjoy the day off – for some this is an opportunity to make a few last minute sales.
(In India, banana leaves are commonly used in place of plates)
This gentleman is preparing a cool drink of coconut milk.
Mohammed, above, was making his way through the streets when one of my fellow photographers asked if he would pose with the device he was carrying, and he was happy to oblige. This is basically a frame and a bicycle wheel, rigged in such a way that it turns a grinder. This is used to sharpen knives. Mohammed made me promise to deliver him a print and gave me his address.
And for others, Diwali is no reason to break from the daily routine.
My daughter came on her first photowalk today. As the only female photographer in the group, she was able to get a lot of photos that would have been difficult for us men to get. Here she is making friends with a group of flower vendors. The ladies were all smiles and giving her flowers for her hair – but “dad” is all about business and wants a few rupees for the trouble.
Later on, I’ll post about the fireworks.