Archives for posts with tag: ceremony

hindu festival-6Have you ever had one those days? Where your plans change and you’re not really sure what’s going on but then serendipity takes over and you get caught up in amazing things?

Well that happened to me the other day in Colombo. I had heard that there was a big Hindu parade at Sri Subramaniya Kovil, the big temple on Slave Island. By the time I got there, after getting caught up in typical Colombo traffic whilst doing a few chores, I thought I may have been too late.

It was the middle of a very warm and humid day in Colombo – it is supposed to be the wet season, but the rains have not come, and the city is so heavy and still, waiting for a big storm to clear the air! I was beginning to wonder whether this was such a good idea – maybe I should just go somewhere with air conditioning?

hindu festival-5As I got closer to the temple I could see signs of an earlier parade – had I missed everything? But no, there were still people waiting expectantly on the corners, offerings for sale, and police monitoring the traffic. I walked up and down the street just to see what was going on, as kids played on the street in traditional outfits, and locals watched from their doorways.

It wasn’t long before the crowds began to get heavier, the police presence more pronounced, and there was a definite air of excitement. The women wore traditional saris with flowers in their hair, carrying bowls filled with offerings; the men wore orange sarongs; hindu festival-8and the children – some in traditional costume, others wet from the earlier parade – were chasing each other up and down the street.

I found a spot near a little local store. The man was preparing and selling coconuts – an integral part of the offerings – and everyone was coming to buy from him. His wife was setting up a big table with offerings at the front of the store, and an older man was preparing a pile of coconuts.

The crowds continued to build, the police stopped the traffic, one gentleman found me a peak spot for viewing and for shots, and although everyone was eager to be ready for the parade, they were also wanting to make sure I was OK! At that stage the only white woman around – but I felt very safe and very welcomed into this distinct little community within the bustling city of Colombo.

hindu festival-16And then the parade started! From asking around, and doing a little research, I found out this festival, which goes over several weeks, is dedicated to the Vel. The Vel is the sacred spear, and is considered a deity within Tamil Hinduism.

First came men carrying giant fabric Vels, followed by 3 elephants – one even dancing to the music! There were many adults and children in various costumes – peacocks, and hanuman the monkey god, and various dancers, accompanied by bands and musicians.

hindu festival-3And then came one of the most important aspects of this parade – the men and boys, often in a trance-like state, suspended by dozens and dozens of hooks. Some were sitting, some were lying, others were suspended, almost in a crucifix-like pose. As well as being suspended by these hooks through their skin, many also pierced their faces with miniature Vels. Some were offering blessings and carrying babies that the crowd were offering up.

This is the first time I have ever seen anything like this. And I watched in awe and amazement. Not something I would ever want to do myself! And it made me wonder about the dedication to their religion and their culture.hindu festival-10

There was a lull in the parade as some overhead banners were moved in preparation for the larger floats coming through. It was only then that I stopped and realised how hot I was! I must have looked a bit out of sorts too as several women that I had been chatting to earlier offered me a cold drink. But despite that momentary need for a break, I was still feeling such wonder about being involved! And thankful for the opportunity to see such an amazing event! Wow!

hindu festival-1Soon after, women came, carrying sacred fire. Some had shaved their heads as another sign of their dedication. And there were many men, waiting for the next float, all in their orange sarongs. And many with mobile phones! A real mixture of old and new working together.

The street soon filled with 100s and 100s of men and women and children. Took me a while to work out there were 2 thick ropes in the midst of the crowd that were being used to pull a large golden chariot with the priests. One rope was being towed by men, the other by women and boys. You could barely see the rope as there were so many people wanting to be involved and trying to help!hindu festival-7

At the front of this, a group of young men stopped at the large pile of coconuts that had been doused in water and yellow dye and then also set alight briefly. As an important part of the ceremony, before the priests came any further, they smashed all the coconuts on the ground – with such delight! And bits of coconut flying everywhere!

hindu festival-13And with a shout, everyone heaved, and the chariot made its final way to the temple. The crowds surged to the base of the chariot to have their offerings blessed by the priests. The air was palpable with expectation and excitement. Following the chariot was a group of women. I’m still not sure of the purpose, but many were prostrating themselves on the ground, and following the chariot, often on their knees, whilst other women were pouring water over them.hindu festival-14

I slowly made my way through the crowd to the temple entrance, and watched the confetti being thrown from the top of the temple over the priests and the offerings and the crowds as they slowly shuffled inside. Some of the young boys were still suspended outside waiting for the auspicious time for them to be taken inside.

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I decided not to try and enter the temple. And to leave the crowds for some much needed respite! But after an amazing couple of hours I was still abuzz! Whatever you think about religion or people’s beliefs, or what people do for their beliefs, for me it was such an honour to be involved and welcomed into this event.

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Well, actually, maybe that should read ‘The president came to town on my birthday’… The difference a preposition makes in the English language! 🙂

The Road Development Authority here in Sri Lanka, with a generous loan from the Chinese government, has been redoing the road along the Kalpitiya Peninsula – from Palavi to Kalpitiya, about a 40 km stretch. And it has finally been finished! The official opening was the 23rd February – my birthday. And the president was in town to officiate the opening and we somehow managed to get VIP tickets to the event! What an event to add to my special day! Ha!

After showing our VIP invitations, and a thorough frisk and search by the security officers, we were seated on the special white chairs at the front of the giant marquee that had been set up in the market area in the local town Norochchalai. I had put on my ‘conservative’ dress for the event – covering my shoulders and my knees. But was still getting a few stares – partly because I was the only obviously ‘white’ person there!  1000s from nearby villages were there to have a chance to see the president – but only a few had received VIP invitations for the white seats!

As he arrived with his entourage, and a huge media contingent (this was a big PR opportunity!),  the noise and excitement from the crowd mounted, and we were asked to move closer to the front. And then came the speeches. Whilst I did not understand most of them, I certainly felt the fervour that was being created by the various speakers as they extolled the great work the president is doing in Sri Lanka.

A representative from the Chinese consulate spoke on behalf of the Chinese government. His speech went between Mandarin and English. And every time he spoke English all the cameras zoomed around to focus on me! It was quite hilarious although I had to keep my poised and interested face on for those shots! Apparently we even made it to the 6 o’clock news!

Then it was the president’s turn to speak and the crowd became very passionate and began to surge forward through the makeshift barrier into the VIP area. He even finished his speech with some Tamil – the language spoken widely in this area of Sri Lanka. As he finished, and we stood up to leave as well, the crowd finally broke through and there was a rush to get closer to the president. I was caught for a moment in the crush until his security staff held back the crowd and we were given safe passage out of the throng!

The road was closed to traffic as the entourage continued further north. So we walked back into town. What a little adventure to add to my birthday! 🙂

galungan-7Today is Galungan – a very important festival in the Balinese year.

Galungan recognizes good (Dharma) over evil (Adharma) with people acknowledging the creator of the earth, and offering sacrifices of food and flowers to ancestors within village temples and family compounds. 1st galungan-1

galungan-2Each family/compound has a responsibility to create a penjor for the entrance to their home, as well as contributing offerings to the family and village temples.  Preparation takes many days, and the local markets are always busy in the period leading up to Galungan.

Many events occur before and after Galungan. Tomorrow everyone will spend time visiting family and close friends. It all culminates in Kuningan in 10 days time. Kuningan means yellow and on this day the Balinese will make special offerings of yellow rice. 1st galungan-3

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As the year has 210 days, I was also fortunate enough to be here for Galungan last year as well! I was invited to join Made as he visited several village temples to share his family’s offerings. It was a busy, bustling time, nothing too formal! Families, all dressed up in sarongs and kabayas, knelt in temple compounds, offering their gifts and receiving blessings, before chatting to friends and moving onto the next temple. What a privilege to be involved.

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