Navarati Festival 2021
As some of you many know, last week’s new moon marked the beginning of the Hindu festival Navarati. This celebration runs for 9 nights in honour of the Hindu Goddess Durga, who mythologically is known to have triumphed over evil in an epic 9-day battle with the demon Mahishasur. During this time in India, specifically the town of Mysore, the local palace is lit up like a Christmas tree with over 2 lakhs of light bulbs every single night - that’s more than two hundred thousand standard household light bulbs. Every afternoon, before the switch is flicked, no less than 100 people check to see if any bulbs may have blown the night before. At dusk, thousands of families gather on the lawns of the palace, the atmosphere abuzz with music, magicians, glowing coloured fairy floss, women in fine silk saris with fresh jasmine garlands woven through their hair. Life in India is synonymous with religious festivities scattered throughout the calendar year. Some of the major ones that left big impressions on me are Diwali - the festival of light; Holi - the festival of colour; Onam - the harvest festival where every single domestic and farm animal is completely painted top to toe with turmeric paste. If you’ve ever used fresh turmeric, you know it stains for days, if not forever…
What I appreciate most as I write and reflect on all this, is that there’s nothing quite like a festival that brings people of different social and economic backgrounds together. Many countries and many religions do this, and many of these celebrations date back to the early days of agriculture, religion and folklore. Then of course there are more recent festivals like Burning Man, Wanderlust, Splendour in the Grass, and even the bizarre festival of cheese rolling in Gloucester, England, where participants literally chase a piece of rolling cheese downhill. Need I say more.
This all reminds me of a time when my dear friend Rami and I attended a cremation festival in the mountains of Bali some years ago. We chose to get involved, spinning and running with the hundreds of seething pallbearers as they charged down the streets, heaving under the weight of the cremation towers. These towers are built from bamboo, reaching heights of up to 10 meters. On top of these towers are the priests, strapped on with lengths of twine and often clutching a live rooster. The idea is to carry these towers through the streets at a ferocious speed, spinning and spiraling to put off any lurking dark spirits who were considering hitching a free ride to the cremation ground. This all happens in the middle of the day, when it’s hot and humid, and the only way to cool down is with the cold water of fire hydrants that - in this particular instance – were blasted straight at us, thanks to the village fire engines parked on the side of the road. Ahh, it’s quite the memory. Getting involved certainly made us experience a strange magic. How I love the festivals of all cultures and religions.
With our growing attachment to digitisation, I increasingly well and truly appreciate the need to experience things together, in a real and physical way. To share emotion, feel united and to actively and physically participate is something that is not to be taken for granted. We have certainly learnt this lesson at the deepest level and on a global scale over the last couple of years through isolation, lockdowns and quarantines. As humans, we thrive on communal rituals, from processions to pilgrimages to public holidays. They are a wonderful diversion from the demanding work loads of modern life. Whether it’s a paid holiday or the enacting of something sacred, these things bring us together. They present us with a warm invitation to unite and bond through love and community. And now, as Sydney lockdown comes to a close, we once again remember this delightful part of being human – blessed togetherness.
Navaratri began on the night of Thursday 7th October and will finish on the night of Friday 15th October. This festival reminds us that in many ways, our whole lives can be seen as a ritual in one way or another. The conquering of good over evil is in fact something that happens on a day to day basis.
May you live a festive life today.