I suppose if you are going to India, there is no better way to experience it than by going to a Hindu Festival.
Over the last couple of months I have poured over the images I captured on my 3 week trip to the other side of the planet. Every time I look through these images, I feel like I am pulled back in time. One of my favorite memories from my time in India was going to the local Hindu temple during one of their many festivals. I wish I could tell you exactly which festival this was, its really hard to say, I got a lot of different information while I was there. From what I can find on the internet, I believe it was the end of the Ayyappa Festival, but I could be completely wrong, so feel free to comment if you know the correct Hindu festival name.
The temple is situated down a very long dirt road in the small village of Chowara, where our Yoga and Ayurvedic retreat took place. Typically when I am in places like this, I find that I cannot sit still until I have explored every last corner of the town I am visiting. As soon as we got settled in, I grabbed my camera and took off to explore the area. With no real destination in mind, I thought maybe I should pay a visit to the local temple. Not realizing how far the walk was, I was very happy I wore the right shoes and had a bottle of water.
After what seemed like hours, I finally reached the my destination. This was not a temple like what you normally picture. It was all outdoors and the shrines were spread out in little buildings along the property. Perhaps I am used to the traditional temples where you approach the steps, remove your shoes, and bow as you enter the room. This was a bit different, and as soon as I walked up the path I was greeted by this lovely little woman who took my hand and happily showed me around. She attempted to tell me the stories of the shrines, but neither of us spoke each others language so we just pointed and used body language to show our understanding. I loved every minute of this.
On my walk to the temple, I noticed people lining the street with festive lights and GIANT walls of speakers. There were metal chain gates with animals Hindu Gods made out of holiday lights woven through the chain, then hung up on a wire over the road, nailed to trees and hanging everywhere you can imagine. Someone at the temple explained that there was a festival happening, and they were preparing for the parade. I was sold. As soon as I returned to our beach village I asked about the festival and if we were allowed to attend. They explained that we were welcome to attend and that there was in fact a parade planned. There were also elephants scheduled to be a part of the events. Well of course there were, we were in India!
The excitement built in our group as we got closer to the day of the festival. Most of the women in our group had never been to India before, some had never left the United States, so there was much excitement from all of us. As we grew closer to the day, the information changed a bit. The times of the parade changed, the number of elephants changed, the route of the parade changed. Every day was different. We went with the flow and decide to just go and see what happens! Having photographed many Indian weddings in my lifetime, I was not surprised when things did not start on time. If you have ever been to a Hindu event or wedding, you will know what I am talking about. We just rolled with it and took in all the sights, sounds and colors. The whole scene blew me away. From the Bollywood style music, to the kids all dressed up, the colors of the sari’s, the smell of the offerings the women were cooking.
Behind the temple, there is an opening to the cliff where you can watch the sun dip down in the pink and purple horizon of the Arabian Sea. As the sun was going down, the music really got going. Most of our group had decided to leave at that point, there were no elephants yet and nothing really new to see. Kelly and I decided to stick around to watch the fireworks, which took place right in front of us. With ashes raining down from the sky we thought this was a good time for us to head out.
As we walked down the dirt path we realized the procession was coming right at us. Clamoring up along the edge of the road we watched in amazement as the decorated shire was paraded past us. Trying not to get lost in the sea of tuk-tuk’s, motorcycle’s, people and buses, we made our way down the street.
I am not sure pictures or video could capture what we witnessed. It was absolute mayhem, In the best way possible of course. The parade had arrived, just in time for us to get a taste of what this day was all about. Walking back to the beach village we felt like fish swimming up stream, on several occasions we were nearly hit by a passing vehicle of some type. Then we saw the elephant, only one, although I heard there were more coming. It was amazing to see this decorated animal paraded down the road and hear all the on lookers “ohh” and “awww” in its presence. Normally, I am not in favor of watching an animal used for human entertainment, but knowing these elephants are worshipped like gods made me feel a little better.
By the time we got back to our room we were exhausted. From the lights and music to the energy of the people, the whole experience was so awe-inspiring and spiritually awakening. I cannot wait to go back to India to see more Hindu festivals as I am sure there is so much for me to learn.
Sadly, during the time I was writing this post, an explosion happened at one of the temples very close to the one I visited. Over 100 people were killed during a fireworks display at the new year festival. If you do go, please be very careful when you watch the fireworks. We had to run to get away from some of the ashes that were still burning, they were falling on people and it could have caused some very serious injuries. Lessons learned.
I will end this post with a picture of one of the many, many cows we saw on our journey in India and Sri Lanka. Perhaps I will make this a regular ending to all of my posts, as I now have more pictures of cows than I know what to do with. They are sacred in this part of the world and I feel it fits the theme of the post. This is a cow that randomly crossed the road in front of me as I walked back to our beach village on that first day of exploration.