It seems like the time for traditional festivals and celebrations here in Bangalore just now. Which is very welcome when Holy Days become Holidays… and we had 2 days off work this week.
Wednesday was Eid-ul-Fitr, when Muslims celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. And the next day was Ganesh Chaturthi, the Hindu festival of Lord Ganesh, son of Shiva and Parvati, who is notable for having an elephant’s head.
Today is Saturday and the Ganesh festivities seem to be continuing… I made my monthly pilgrimage into the city centre today to go the bank, and there were lots of temporary constructions by the roadside, each with curtains at the side and a cover over the top, featuring a lavish statue of Ganesh inside and a conspicuous sound-system set up with huge speakers either side of the statue. There were also plenty of trucks driving around with Ganesh statues on the back, accompanied by young men shouting energetic chants.
Just as I write this, sitting in my flat, a similar truck is touring round the apartment block opposite… with a large crowd following it, drummers drumming, lots of cheering and whistling and fire-crackers going off — all mingling with the usual car horns, although they might be also slightly more enthusiastic than usual for a Saturday night. I haven’t heard this much noise in the neighbourhood since India won the cricket world cup.
There are lots of banners and posters up around town wishing everyone Eid Mubarak, Happy Ganesh Chaturthi and also good wishes for Mary’s Feast — or the birthday of Mary mother of Jesus, celebrated in a few days’ time. There’s a sizeable Catholic population in Bangalore, and it seems that St Mary’s Basilica here will be celebrating mass in English, Kannada and Tamil.
In case that lot isn’t enough, it seems that local people will also be celebrating some traditional harvest-time festivals as well. I’ve seen messages today on twitter sending greetings for Kailpodhu, a festival from nearby Kodagu (aka Coorg) which seems to involve blessing farmers’ weapons so that they’re ready for repelling wild boar. And we received an email at work encouraging us all to wear local ethnic dress on Tuesday for Onam, the biggest festival from neighbouring state Kerala, which appears to be related to the rice harvest. I’ve heard male students this week discussing in the corridors whether or not they will wear a Dhoti to college, but how many lecturers will turn up in one remains to be seen…
Coming from largely-secular Britain and not being religious myself, it’s very interesting to see just how enthusiastically the religious festivals are observed here. And the other festivals are equally interesting, as they represent truly ancient unbroken traditions — something that’s very hard to come by in many parts of the world, where they inevitably get displaced by repeated conquests and invasions.
And although people here generally seem to be quite cheerful at the best of times, there’s also a noticeably positive atmosphere about the place right now. And regardless of which faith you have, or whether you have any, everyone benefits from that. I’m starting to wonder what Diwali will be like…