When I booked this trip I had no idea I would be away over Diwali and I had only vaguelly heard of it before and yet it has turned out to be one of the best nights of my trip so far!
For those of you as clueless as me, Diwali is the Hindu Festival of Lights in India where they celebrate the victory of light over darkness, good over evil. People celebrate with prayers, they light little diyas (small dishes with oil and a match or wick in it) and dress up in new clothes. Diwali eve (which if its not called that it should be – I’m also hoping Boxing Diwali is a thing too) is a time to buy new things.
Everyone on the trip was so excited for the celebrations; over the past week there has been a festive air in every place we’ve visited, the streets strung up with shining tinsel and lanterns and diyas glittering from almost every windowsill and doorway. We were even more excited to be celebrating Diwali in our CEO’s (Chief Experience Officer or tour leader) home town of Udaipur and in the end he did us the honour of bringing us to his cousins restaurant to meet some of his family and have a really unique experience.
We arrived in Udaipur the day before and after an orientation walk we took a sunset boat ride in an area often known as the Venice of India. Having seen the beauty of Venice I thought there was no way this country could compare but to my surprise I could see the similarities. An arched bridge, clearly modelled on the rialto bridge, looked out at the old palace and several 5 star hotels that floated on the water. As the sun dropped lower in the sky Dino, our CEO, told us the story of Diwali.
King Dasharatha was married to three wives and his son from his first wife, Prince Rama, was set to inherit the throne. Sumitra, his second wife, was a cunning woman and eager to get her own son on the throne, so when she saved the King during the war and he offered to grant any wish she asked for her son to become king. So the King honoured her wish and sent Prince Rama, his wife Sita and his faithful brother Lackshman into the wilderness.
Now Rama and his brother were reincarnations of the Hindu God Vishnu and they were good people so they went into their fourteen years of exile willingly. While they were there, Rama went out hunting to find a deer for Sita to eat and told Lackshman to stay with his wife to protect her. Once he was gone, Ravana, an evil demon, called out to Lackshman, pretending to be his brother calling out for help. So Lackshman left Sita to help his brother but first he drew a line around Sita with his arrow to protect her and warned her not to cross that line.
Ravana was tricky though, he changed into a priest and went to Sita to ask for food. She offered him a meal but he refused to come inside her home, as he could not cross the line, and said it would be rude, she must come out to meet him. Sita crossed the line and Ravana changed into his true form, kidnapping her and taking her back to Lanka (Sri Lanka as it was called then).
When Rama and Lackshman discovered what happened they went to find help and went to the tribe of Hanuman (the monkey God) people told them that if they wrote the God’s name onto a stone it wouldn’t sink. Using this they made a bridge of floating stones across the ocean from India to Lanka and fought Ravana. They killed him and saved Sita and everyone lit their path home. This is why Diwali is the celebration of good over evil and why lights are used to celebrate their victory.
The light had faded, the water lapped gently against the side of the boat and the story was finished but Diwali was just beginning. The next night our group met in the lobby and we admired each others brightly coloured clothes, stuck bhindis on each others foreheads and were amazed at one girls lovely pink sari. On the way to the restaurant we made a pitt stop to buy as many fireworks as we could fit in the back of our tuktuks and then we arrived.
We were introduced to Dino’s cousin, his wife, daughter, son and parents and warmly welcomed into their home. We were honoured to watch the puja, a special prayer. The family sang in Hindi while the mother waved a dish with candles in the air. In front of them was a shrine with fruit, flowers and money. Afterwards the tray with candles were offered to us to take the warmth of the flame and put it over us. After the puja we took a drink and heard about the family history, learning that they are related to royalty!
Then things really kicked off. The whole night was filled with laughter, amazing food and many many fireworks. No matter how many firecrackers went off their loud bangs still had us jumping out of our seats! I’m convinced that with Indian’s it’s more about the amount of noise that the colours or size of the fireworks. There were fountains of light, huge packs that sent 60 colourful flashes into the air and a line of crackers that fizzed and sparked on the ground. We each took a banger and lit it, quickly running away before the sparks started to fly! Health and safety didn’t exist and more than once we had to shout a warning before an unsuspecting guest wandered into the path of a freshly lit banger.
The lights and the laughter seem to be what Diwali is all about. It was an amazing experience made even better to share it with such lovely people who are fast becoming good friends. Halloween? Shmalloween! Happy Diwali everyone!