Diwali…the festival of lights

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Diwali is one of the biggest festival celebrated with much fervor in India around the end of October or beginning of November every year. Homes are lit up with lights to welcome Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth and crackers are burst from sundown to wee hours of the morn.

Diwali is a term derived from ‘Deepavali’ which literally means ‘a row of lights’. Traditionally the festival is celebrated by lighting earthen lamps called ‘Diyas’ filled with oil and arranged in a row, hence the name ‘Deepavali’. The lamps are lit to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. Many myths and legends are associated with the festival, the most popular of which is the commemoration of the return of Lord Rama, the Prince of Ayodhya who is an incarnate of hindu God Vishnu, along with his wife Sita and brother Laxmana after spending 14 years of exile in the forest during which he led an army of monkeys and vanquished the powerful and indestructible Demon king Ravana of Lanka who had abducted Sita from their abode in the jungle by disguising himself as a sage. This victory which signifies the triumph of good over evil and the final return of Rama to Ayodhya as the King was celebrated by the people by lighting up ‘diyas’ (lamps) that lit the kingdom. 
Although Diwali is a Hindu festival, it is celebrated even by those belonging to other religions as well, partaking in the infectious joy and cheer that reverberates throughout the country and even abroad where Indian communities are found. In present times, diyas or earthen lamps are lit mostly as a token. Homes are mostly lit abright with electrical lights and crackers are burst in celebration as are seen in the pictures.
Today the festival of lights has become synonymous with the festival of fire crackers. The only downside is  the massive increase in the pollution level. In big cities which are already facing high pollution levels, the smog created by the fire crackers are amply evident the following day which takes days to clear. It is high time we become more sensible and go easy on the crackers. Instead  we should light more lamps and enjoy the goodwill and cheer, more than just bursting crackers non-stop. It will not only make the festival more meaningful but also good for everybody’s health as well. Happy Deepavali…. enjoy the lights.

Holi, the festival of colours and human bonding.

Holi ‘The festival of colours’ is one of India’s most popular festivals. It is celebrated on ‘Phalgun purnima’, the full moon day of the lunar month of Phalgun, which fall around the calendar months February-March. It marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, and celebrates the harvest of the year’s toil. This year 2012, Holi was celebrated on March 08, 2012.

 The ‘Holi’ is the festival of Hindus and like most festivals it has religious connotations, commemorating events in Hindu mythology. For instance the burning of bonfire on the eve of the festival is known as the “Holika Dahan” which is associated with the burning of Holika, the sister of demon King Hiranyakashipu. The Hindu mythology has it that the young prince Prahlad, son of King Hiranyakashipu, was a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu. When he refused to shift his devotion to his father, the most powerful demon King of that time, the latter ordered that the young Prince be killed as a lesson to all and tasked his sister, demoness Holika, to carry  out his bidding. When she carried young prince Prahlad to the fire to be burnt alive, the Prince was miraculously untouched by the fire while Holika was burnt to ashes. His unflinching devotion had saved the prince from any harm.

 Today, however, the festival has less of the religious fervor and celebrates the human bonds rather than for any religious commemoration. Almost all, men, women and children of all ages, young and old, even across religious divides, celebrate the festival smearing each other with colours of all hues, splashing coloured water on one another and in doing so, renewing the human bonds of friendship, amity and affection. A festival worth celebrating indeed.

A few candid moments caught in my lens.

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“Lai Haraoba” of Manipur- Festivity of the Gods

One of the most popular dance forms of Manipur, the dance is a duet of Khamba and Thoibi, two most popular mythological characters immortalised in a popular folklore.

The ‘Lai Haraoba’ which literally translates as ‘Festivity of the Gods’ is a native festival of the ‘Meiteis’, the majority ethnic group of Manipur, a state in the northeastern most corner of India.  Predominantly Hindu Vaishnavites after their forcible conversion in 18th Century during the reign of  King  Pamheiba (also known by the Hindu name Garibniwaz) , the  Meiteis  originally had  its  own traditional religion which worshipped  ‘Shidaba Mapu’  or  ‘Atiya Shidaba’  as  the supreme God, the creator.  Sanamahi, Pakhangba, Nongpok Ningthou, Leimarel and Panthoibi are some of the major household deities and about 364 Umang Lais (Jungle deities) are worshiped by the Meiteis. The Lai haraoba is the festivity  or the merry-making of these Gods which according to mythical belief was first held at ‘Koubru Ching’, a hill situated in the northern end of Manipur (along NH 39). The festival is a celebration of the creation of the universe on the will of Atiya Sidaba and the recollection of the evolution of plants, animals and human beings which were enacted by the deities. The same has been followed down the ages by the human beings  so that  they  never  forget the origin of the universe.  Lai haraoba is one of the most important festival of the State of Manipur.

The most enchanting part of the festival is the colourful and exceptionally beautiful traditional dances performed by young and old, from near and far, as seen here in the photographs. The festivity is also replete with dance drama, enactment of Khamba and Thoibi, the hero and the heroine of a popular folk-lore and interestingly an evening outing by the deity in which it is carried around in a palanquin around the locality in full frenzy. Here I give you a glimpse of the festival.

Another famous dance form of Manipur, the Leima jagoi is most acclaimed for its graceful fluid movements. Along with Maibi jagoi, it is one of the most important dances performed in the festival.
Princess Thoibi was the daughter of the King of Moirang. Popular folklore has it that the beauty of Thoibi was unsurpassed. None ever was as beautiful as her. The Thoibi in the picture here perhaps came quite close to the legend. Oh! FYI the Thoibi here is a guy!
The Kabui Naga dance is one of the most colourful and rhythmic dance ever. The Kabuis are a predominant tribe of the Nagas and historically quite close to the Meiteis. It being performed as one of the important dances in the festival reflects the cordial relations between the two ethnic group which goes back ages.
A version of the Kabui Naga dance with a new choreography.
And here is another Thoibi with a modern twist !
The deity goes on a tour of the locality. The bearers of the palanquin are so possesed by the time it returns back that it scrambles all over place. God definitely seems to be enjoying and that too in quite a frenzy.
The street is packed with revellers dressed in traditional costumes following the deity taking a tour. Here is a picture that reflects the mood in the streets.
One Khamba hitching a ride….back to the future !

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