What is Diwali?
In Sanskrit, it translates to "row of lamps", and it is a festival which lasts for a number of days, usually in October (depending on a lunar calendar). It is called the Festival of Lights, and to the Hindus the lights are put out to guide and welcome Rama back to town from his victory over the Demon of Lanka. To other groups it means something completely different: Jains, Sikhs and others have their own reasons, but almost all religious groups use the date to celebrate a victory of good over evil. Lamps, or small pots with oil and a wick, and/or candles are arranged and lit.
My understanding of Diwali was that was when you meet up with as much family as can fit in a house, perform a group prayer, eat way too much food and pop firecrackers. For you in the States, imagine the Holiday Season, Thanksgiving and Fourth of July happening simultaneously, in one night.
Preparing for the prayer
The first night of Diwali 2009, was indeed special for me. I was invited by Anjali to meet family and to enjoy the festivities and traditions associated with Diwali. I was warned by Sudev (Anjali's brother-in-law) to pace myself on eating, as we would basically have the equivalence of a complete meal after each puja, and we were going to have three that evening! The first food given at the end of each puja is a sweet, or barfi, which is milk and sugar cooked down until it is solid. At the final puja, I accepted my offered block of concentrated sweetness, then witnessed Anjali break off a tiny corner of one. My immediate exclamation of, "You can do that?", gave us a bit of a laugh.
Anjali and me sitting on the front step
You can see that I wore a kurta pajama for the occasion. Note the lights. Let me tell you, it is difficult to light candles with a candle while trying not to set yourself ablaze in a kurta with a scarf!
Thinking "Don't catch on fire. Don't catch on fire."
After each puja, it was time to grab a plate and enjoy some food.
And, of course, more sweets.
Where is the DMZ?
I mentioned there would be firecrackers. I failed to mention that it would sound like a war was going on outside!
You can see lights and smoke from fireworks
Taash, or Card Game
So, now what do we do? We have full stomachs and all the candles and lamps are lit, pujas are finished. Ah, let's play cards! A coworker told me the name of the card game was Tin Patti. I asked, "Three Husbands?" Korak then said, "No, not pati, patti." We finally got it figured out once he informed me on the number of t's: pati means husband, patti means cards. You could call it three card stud, as you are dealt three cards and there are no community cards, nor a draw. Several rounds of betting ensue and the people left in show their hands. I won the first hand and lost just about everything else past that point. Anjali joined the game after an hour or so, and the losses were now doubled. At least the stakes were low. It was fun to play and we had a great time.
A group of card players
The pots were never very big
Engagement Get-Together / Afternoon Tea
It was technically the next day when we headed back to the hotel. We needed some rest to prepare for Meet the Family, Episode Two.