I definitely chose the right time to come to India, as it is “festival season”. They have a very different mindset for many of their religious festivals/holidays than Westerners; it’s more like Columbus Day. Almost everyone still goes to work (except for government employees, banks, and sometimes schools/universities), except for the upcoming Diwali where I am told almost no one works for 3 to 5 days.
From October 15th-23rd, the festival of Navratri has been going on, which is a Hindu festival where they honor various goddesses and people are fasting (they eat one meal in the evening). Though, I was traveling for most of Navatri, I did get to see Papa-Ji and Mama-Ji complete the traditional prayers, ring the bell, and blow the goat’s horn one night, very cool.
On the 10th day, it is Dusherra. The reason for celebration is based on a Hindu tradition where good has triumphed over evil, which they celebrate by burning an effigy representing the physical embodiment of evil.(I got the entire epic from Papa-ji; however, I’ll only give this very short version here) Since I had been gone for 10 days, I went in to work still, but I was the only one there for most of the day. While I sat at my desk working on a proposal due in one week (doing my daily routine of slowly moving my computer around my desk trying to find a spot where the Internet work, very similar to a doctor trying to find a heartbeat), I heard hoards of people walking by, drums pounding Dutch house rhythms, and a general air of excitement. While celebrations occurred all around the town, the main celebrations in Udaipur were held in the stadium near Chetuk Circle. I went with two close friends, and we showed up right at the end to see the large wooden structures where the effigy was smoldering into ash. (Sorry, all I have is my iPod touch for a camera, meaning no pictures where you can actually tell what is happening)
In general, things are going very well here. I’m busy working on a variety of different things for the organization. There are some new volunteers at Jagran so I am doing a bit of “coordinating” for that as well. I just returned from a two-night stay with the two new volunteers in the Jagran field office at Vali. First, we went to the field office in Jaisamand, which is home to Dhebar Lake, Asia’s 2nd largest man made lake, which has 52 villages surrounding it. After spending some time looking at the fish, elephant statues, and a photoshoot with the driver came a very beautiful drive to Vali.
We were lucky enough to have a full moon that night for two reasons. First the power was out in the village and we needed the light to see. But also because certain places in india have a type of celebration where many people from the community gather around to sing songs, play different musical instruments, and drink lots of chai to celebrate the full moon. In Vali, it was hosted by one of the Jagran coordinators who packed his house very full and made sure we had a good time there.
The next day, we saw a number of different projects Jagran is running in the village, and I got a chance to practice my remedial Hindi. Still not conversational yet, but definitely getting a strong start. At least, I can tell people I want food now.