Monday, November 7, 2011

Divali in Mumbai

If you look up Divali on Wikipedia, it is described as a festival of lights honouring good over evil, celebrated by both Hindus and Jains.  There are five days to the festival, each with separate significance.

But in Mumbai, everyone we asked described Divali as the festival to honour Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity.  This festival has been highly commercialized because it is considered an auspicious time for important purchases and proper observances will set you up for a prosperous upcoming year.  Hence we saw huge billboards and newspaper ads encouraging people to get out there and shop: cars, furniture, home renovations, but most of all gold, both as a jewelry and an investment.

Divali is called the Festival of Lights but it seemed to me it could equally be called the Festival of Flowers.  Buildings and cars were festooned with flowers, mostly marigolds, and rangolis were painstakingly shaped with flower petals on floors everywhere.   Markets were full of clay saucers, to be filled with tiny candles floating in oil, and placed decoratively inside or outside buildings, or within rangolis.  We saw a rangoli etched out with glittery powder and sprinkled with candles on the pavement in front of one shop, which was very pretty as it sparkled in the night.

We had spoken to some hotel staff about Divali and when we arrived back from breakfast, we were greeted with wide conspiratorial smiles.  When we opened the door to our room, we were surprised and delighted to see that our room had been decorated for us, with a rangoli, and an elephant (representing Ganesh, the elephant of good fortune) decorated with flower petals.

Divali lasts for five days and Mumbai is reputed to celebrate most vigorously, especially with fireworks and firecrackers.  We were at Marine Drive to enjoy the first night of Divali.  Marine Drive is a boulevard that borders the bay in Mumbai, with wide sidewalks for strolling and a cement wall for sitting to appreciate the view.  It gracefully curves around the bay and is dubbed 'The Queen's Necklace' at night. 

On Divali along Marine Drive there were clusters of people were setting off things every few feet - six-foot high sizzlers on the ground, noisy crackers that startled you with loud bangs, beautiful fireworks shot into the sky.  The cacophony was continuous and the air was filled with smoke.  You had to keep your wits about you, as you might be standing looking at one display, to find another being lit right behind you, or perhaps a dud firework that had been shot high in the air coming to land near you.  I found this short video on YouTube which captures the randomness of the firecrackers and fireworks very well.

It was such a contrast to Canada, where everything is so controlled, with planned fireworks by municipal authorities, let off by certified fireworks people, and with the crowds a specified safe distance from the point of lighting.  Here very young children would dash up to the fireworks with sparklers to light them up.  It was up to the crowd to be alert and stay clear of the explosions on all sides.  It was similar to the Duresha celebrations where giant effigies 90 feet tall were burned, and people were standing very close.  The effigies were supported by guy wires to force them to fall in place, but any surprises would have been quite devastating to the crowd.  It was great to be part of something so different. 

One lovely custom of Divali is that on the third day, brothers are supposed to visit their sisters.  The sister ties a rakhi, a colourful thread, around the wrist of the brother, signifying the strong bond between brother and sister.  The brother brings a gift to the sister.  One of our guides said that he had given his sister a card.  That seemed a bit modest compared to what we'd heard about.  It turned out to be a credit card!  His sister is studying in university and he had offered to help her, but she had declined preferring instead to earn her own money as a tutor, he said proudly.  I think he is quite confident his credit card won't be abused.  In a society of multi-generation families, where the wife lives with her husband' family, this custom to strengthen the bond between brothers and sisters is quite heartwarming.

1 comment:

Cheap Flights to Mumbai said...

Where you come from does matter -- but not nearly as much as where you are headed.