It's been a long time since I've sent an update and so I have lots of photos and a few stories: some funny, some happy, some sad.
I'd rather start with a fun story. Today is Holi which is a festival celebrated more in North India than here so my friend & I went to the area of Chennai where lots of Gujarati people lived. It's a fun holiday associated with Krishna, the mischieveous, fun incarnation of God. People throw brightly colored powder or colored water all over each other. And boy do Indians love color! Each color is so deep and intense. I've never seen this depth of color anywhere else. There will be bonfires tonite and of course the day is begun with Puja, or worship.
Each day begins with the women sweeping and scrubbing the house floors in preparation for a new rangoli. Rangolis are patterns made with chalk, white or colored, simple or very complex. They are a welcome sign at the entrance of most Indian homes. Each family member will then bathe and then they are ready for Puja. It is very ritualized, involving offering the Lord flowers, incense, light (oil or ghee) food (usually a coconut in South India) and sometimes sandalwood paste. The light is probably the most important aspect as it symbolizes knowledge, whereas darkness symbolizes ignorance. Knowledge removes ignorance as light removes darkness. The oil or ghee in the lamp symbolizes our negative tendencies and the wick is our egos. So our negative tendencies are burned away as the flame burns upward toward higher thoughts and actions. Almost every home has either a Puja room or each building will have a small shrine. Shoes are never worn inside a Puja room or inside a temple. Every morning a Hindu priest comes to clean our Ganesh shrine and decorate it with flowers and perform Puja.
Knowledge is revered in India and there is of course, a festival to celebrate learning. This is a perfect time for asking blessing for exams etc. Books are never touched with the feet. There is a festival almost every week in India. There is one for brothers & sisters, tools & beasts of burden, remembering our past relatives, and the birthdays of all deities, etc. Sometimes the festivals last for days or there may be several in 1 week. I esp. like the festival for tols & beasts of burdens because that includes the animals which are painted different colors on their bodies and horns. The ricksha, truck & bus wallahs (drivers) get into the act too by decorating their beasts that they manuever around the crazy, crowded cities.
Festivals almost always begin with ritual bathing and usually involve gift giving of clothes, money or jewelry. Wearing new clothes, if affordable to the family is typical. Most large temples have tanks, or manmade ponds surrounded by steps, where people practice these rituals. Most Indians bathe twice a day. With all the personal and home cleanliness, it is hard to reconcile the filth and trash found just outside everyone's doorstep.
India is a complicated place. So much beauty but it has it's share of ugliness. So much purity but there's also filth. The political corruption is staggering and expected. The suicide rate is astronomical but no one will admit it. They are listed as "heart failure" which is true, esp. after one pours kerosene over oneself and strikes a match. Or an entire family swallows poison because they cannot repay their debts which were at an enormous interest rate. Students are under so much pressure during exams that the suicide rate goes even higher.
Back to happier things:
I love this picture. Joe took it when he first arrived. These lovelies are of course, water buffalos. What can I say? We love cows.
￼Hema with Mary-Chitra helping Cesca with her first saree.
A brahmin wedding Joe went to. The groom always arrives on a horse. Notice his hands are hennaed too.￼
The weddings usually last several days. This is the actual marriage ceremony the time of which is set by astrologers, numerologists and the lunar calendar. It could be @ 4 a.m. Sometimes there can be 1000s invited and everyone comes. People feast after they have greeted the bride & groom. In South India the marriage is official when a gold colored string is knotted around the bride's neck several times. She never takes it off except for replacing it once a year on their anniversary. The groom places a toe ring on each foot. Only married women wear tikkas--the powdered mark on the forehead. Widows usually stop wearing tikas. Tikkas are blessing, usually gotten at a temple each day. Those that worship Vishnu will wear a different mark than those that worship Shiva, etc.￼
One of my favorite stores, full of lots of shiny things.￼
The mall. The first time Joe & I went it was a weekend and we had to leave because we couldn't take the crush of people. Now I'm a pro and can make my way through any crowd.￼
A typical sweet shop with lots & lots of help. Still, service is usually agonizingly slow.￼￼
Preparing for the arrival of Krishna's Chariot during a festival procession. Now that was fun & joyful.
Remember the Hari Krishna's in the 60's with all the dancing & chanting? I went with some friends who are followers.￼￼This typical South Indian dress. They may have a small towel over their shoulder which has many uses. Check out the cell phone.￼
One way to deliver chickens to a shop or restaurant.￼
Blessing of the groom by a relative.￼
Mix of modern & ancient India.￼
Our Puja man.￼
Puja for our car and our driver, Raj's two-wheeler (motorcycle) of which he is very proud.￼￼