The thing about Indian mythology, festivals and culture is that the role of the Woman is fundamental. In the frenzy of the holiday season, and with our society becoming more consumerist, festivals like Dhanteras and Diwali have been reduced to shopping lists and return gifts and mandatory social visits.
However, if we go beyond the surface to look at the origin of festivals, you will find the role of the Woman indispensable. When we looked at the origin of Dhanteras we found the story of how an intelligent and somewhat precocious young woman who outsmarts Yama, the God of Death himself. The story goes that it was foretold that the son of King Hima would die on the fourth day of his wedding by snake bite. However, his new bride was an intelligent and empowered woman and decided that she wouldn’t just sit back and let predictions in his horoscope decide her destiny and fate. So she came up with a plan with which she hoped to outsmart the God of Death. On the day Yama was supposed to visit their house she spread all her bright jewels around their bedchamber and lit bright diyas and candles. She kept her young husband awake by singing songs and telling him stories all night long. Her plan worked because when Yama came (in the guise of a snake), he was blinded by the brilliant jewels and bright lamps and disoriented for a while. When he slithered up to the top of the heaps of jewels he was spell bound by the stories and songs and listened to them all night long. And just like this, the hour that the young king was supposed to be ruthlessly taken to the underworld by Yama, passed. In the morning, Yama, defeated by a strong and independent woman, quietly left.
Diwali is celebrated two days after Dhanteras and here again we see the role of women. The time of the pooja is pre-determined (according to the Hindu calendar). Then the whole family gathers together and prays to Goddess Lakshmi to bestow love, light, peace and good fortune. In fact, drawing the Goddess’s feet walking into the main entrance of the house is a common practice. Many families (such as mine) believe that Lakshmi visits the house sometime before midnight, which is why we keep the lamps and decorations up until then. In fact, we don’t even shut the door to the main entrance of the house to ensure Lakshmi has an easy time getting in! To turn the Goddess away is to turn away health, wealth, fortune and happiness! And no one wants to do that.
Today I had the good fortune to visit one of my oldest friends. You will find pictures of us sprinkled across my Facebook photos. We’ve lived together, travelled together, partied together, started Bharat Thakur Power Yoga classes together, explored Bangalore, worked at Infosys, spent Sunday mornings drinking tea and watching YouTube videos, shopped together, fought together…and stayed in touch right through all of this. Since she lives in Delhi now we make a point of meeting each other whenever possible when I’m in Delhi. Every time we invariably start talking about old times. The different roommates we’ve been through, the clubs we used to visit, the places we used to shop at….and we always end up laughing so hard my stomach hurts. We’ve seen each other grow into the people we’ve become and, like all good friends, we’re proud of the people we’ve become.
I was lucky that her family celebrates Govardhan pooja, and on this day the oldest female member of the family cooks traditional fare. I was invited over for lunch so that we could both sit together and have a hearty lunch. After that some retail therapy and one of my favorite places in Delhi – Dilli Haat.