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Festival of Lights: Physical Pleasure of Faith


The deliciously physical expression of religion, of faith in the spiritual, surely reaches its height in Hinduism. We are now in Day 3 of the 5-day Hindu holiday Diwali, the festival of lights — of joy and blazing light — the triumph of good over evil.

Sanctifying Ourselves (photos from Audio Compass)

My experience of Hindu celebration in Varanasi resulted in this night on the Ganges, among others, in my novel Sister India:

“From the ghat ahead of us, floating tapers begin to drift out from shore…We approach Panchaganga, the confluence of rivers. Just ahead, where the waters are most purifying, is the crescendo of light. Out from the bank lean the long slender bamboo poles, each bending with the weight of an oil lamp, flame glowing through the weave of the dangling basket, great long grasses tipped with light.

Ramesh’s face, those of my three guests, that of the man at the oars, give off a ruddy light. From each of the balconies, sparklers spew like firewater pouring. We slip closer, crowding in among other long rowboats filled with dark shapes, or, if I look behind us, by robed figures with brightly lit faces.

The chant rises louder, more insistent, as if it were the rush and whisper of a waterfall and we are every second pulled closer. There is the priest, his big bare belly and chest glossy in the blaze of so many fires. He stands on a stone that is level with the water. We are close, two meters or less from where Ganga slops onto his bare feet.

Ramesh surveys it all as if he is once again seeing it for the first time.”

I am not a Hindu. But one need not be. Such a physical experience of devout celebration is a profound joy in itself.

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  • October 25, 2014 at 9:15 pm Reply

    I would love to see that in person. The candlelight reflected on the Ganges must be breathtaking.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 25, 2014 at 9:45 pm Reply

      I will never forget it, kenju!

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