There are festivals and festivals and then there is Diwali in Oct - Nov. This is the festival of lights and the whole of India is wrapped in a spectacle of devotion and frenzied excitement. This miraculous festival has over a span of several centuries crossed the confines of race and religion and is now celebrated all over India with great pomp and gusto. Here is an informative commentary on the spirit of Diwali in three of India’s most cosmopolitan cities – Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, ...
Diwali in New Delhi
New Delhi, the capital city of India is stupendous in terms of monuments, forts and imperial legacies. New Delhi is one of India’s busiest entry points for overseas airlines and is on the overland route across Asia. The festival of Diwali holds a very special place in the hearts of Delhites and elaborate North Indian rituals are associated with the festival.
On Day 1, the ritual of Dhanteras is observed and people consider it to be an auspicious day to buy gold and silver jewellery.
Day 2 is observed as Narak Chaturdashi and people offer special prayers and light candles.
Day 3 is the time to go “Boom, Boom” with firecrackers, lighting of lamps, wearing new clothes, family gatherings and partaking of melt-in-mouth sweets. Frenzied devotees offer prayers to Goddess Laxmi and Lord Ganesha.
Day 4 is devoted to the ritual of “Govardhan Puja” and people commemorate this day in honour of Lord Krishna’s act of lifting the Govardhan mountain.
Day 5, the last day of Diwali is celebrated as “Bhai-Duj”, which actually symbolizes the love between brothers and sisters.
New Delhi is a relatively easy city to find your way around, although it is very spread out. One of the best Diwali locale in New Delhi is the unputdownable Connaught Place hub, which seem to be bursting at the seams with the festive spirit. Another stunning stretch for Diwali hopping in New Delhi is the road that passes through Parliament building, down Parliament Street, passing through the centre of Connaught Place and extending all the way to Jami Masjid. That’s not all. On Diwali, when the whole of India is luminosity personified, one of India’s most outstanding regal edifice – the stupendous Rashtrapati Bhawan, which is the seat of His Excellency, The President of India, is so beautifully illumined that it has mesmerized many an overseas traveller. In New Delhi, Diwali – the festival of light isn't merely observed. It is celebrated.
India is the land of the Taj and if there is any edifice which evokes the global community –it has to be the stupendous Taj Mahal - the most extravagant monument ever built for love. And what better way to romance the Taj then participating in the annual Taj Mahotsav, which will be held from 18 – 27 Feb, 2016. The festival will showcase the very best of India’s art & crafts, as well as soul stirring music and dance recitals. What is more, India’s famed cuisines will pamper the taste buds of the global food connoisseurs. All these on the ethereal backdrop of the Taj... For the discerning world traveler, a visit to Delhi coinciding with India’s Republic Day Parade on 26th January could be a very rewarding experience. This impressive annual Parade showcases India’s military might. Highlights comprise of the spectacular display by Indian Air Force and the march of the Camel mounted contingent of BSF, which is the world’s only camel mounted military unit.
Diwali in Mumbai
Mumbai on the other hand is the economic powerhouse of India. It is the fastest moving, most affluent, most industrialized city in India. Mumbai has India’s busiest airport for international arrivals and departures. However, Mumbai is most renowned globally as the biggest film producing city in the world, overtaking even the hallowed Hollywood. The western Indian state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, has a somewhat interesting set of Diwali rituals as compared to other parts of India.
The Marathi people herald Diwali with the trademark “Vasubaras”, which essentially is cow-worshipping, which is followed by the ritual of “Dhanatrayodashi” that involves the womenfolk lighting “Diya” (Butter Lamp) and offering the same to Lord Yama (God of Death). The next day is devoted to observing “Narak-Chaturdashi” which essentially is a celebration of the slaying of mythological demon Narakasur by Lord Krishna. The ritual involves early morning bath with scented oil - “Abhyang Snan”. Day 3 is the time for Lakshmi puja in honour of the Goddess of Wealth – Laxmi. The Marathi people believe that Goddess Lakshmi visits every house on this auspicious day. After the ritual worshipping of Goddess Laxmi, the people of Maharashtra exchange pleasantries and indulge in melt-in-mouth delicacies like Chivda, Chakali, Anarse etc... Day 3 is also considered to be auspicious by Marathi couples and the holy ritual of “Aukshan” is observed and husbands offer special gifts to their wife. The last day of Diwali is the ceremony of “Bhau Bij” wherein sisters pray for long and blessed life of their brothers.
Orientation in Mumbai is relatively simple. Being an island, the city is well connected with bridges to the mainland. Mumbai is blessed with one of the best managed public transport system in India and also one of the most efficient. The best possible place in the whole of Mumbai to watch the Diwali festivities is the one and only – Marine Drive, which basically is a 4.3 Kms arch along the Arabian Sea. This entire stretch – Nariman Point – Chowpatty Beach – Malabar Hill looks stunning as the neon lights are lit up and fireworks explode on the night sky. Other locales worth a visit during the Diwali festival is the iconic Gateway of India and the Colaba Causeway. Some of Mumbai’s most scenic tourist landmarks like the Fort, Cuffe Parade, the iconic Taj Mahal Palace & Tower all look stunningly attired in a bewildering array of lights and fireworks display.
Mumbai cultural scene is vibrant and come back to the city by the second week of February 2016, in time for the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival - one of India’s largest multicultural festival, which is a kaleidoscope of cinema, visual arts, design & architecture, music, dance and theatre. India being a Cricket crazy country and Mumbai being the cradle of Indian cricket, the 2016 ICC World Twenty20 is scheduled to be held in India from 11th March to 3rd April. Mumbai has been chosen as a key venue. Check out for exact schedule at - Cric Buzz and plan your trip to Mumbai accordingly.
Diwali in Chennai
Down south, Chennai is India’s fourth largest city and is the capital of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. For the traveller Chennai offers excellent value, particularly in accommodation and transport. The city is laidback, unhurried and uncrowded as compared to cities like New Delhi and Mumbai. This incredible city is the cultural hub of South India and is renowned for its art, music, dance and architecture.
In Chennai and the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, people celebrate Diwali one day early as compared to other parts of India. People wake up early in the morning and take a holy dip in the neighbourhood water body after applying a specially prepared paste on their head and body. Womenfolk involve themselves with cleaning their houses, particularly the kitchen and apply fresh lime. The water container is filled to the brim for the holy bath. Most houses are intricately decorated with the customary “Kolam” and “Kavi”. The main worship room is replete with all the ingreidents of puja like Betel nuts, Betel leaves, Oil, Kumkum, Sandalwood paste, Turmeric and a variety of flowers. Once the puja ceremony is over, which is always held in the morning, it is celebration time. People wear new clothes and come out with all guns blazing – bursting crackers. People indulge themselves in delicacies like like Ukkarai, Velli Apam, Chutney, Sambhar, Idly along with Omapudi, Boondhi etc..which are exclusively prepared for the occassion. One of the most popular delicacy is the special Diwali Leghium.
There are several vantage locations in Chennai to involve yourself in the Diwali celebrations. One of the favorite locale is the idyllic 13 Kms. long Marina Beach, which is the second longest beach in the world, stretching from St. George Fort to Mahabalipuram. The beach promenade is replete with numerous historical monuments, all of which are stunningly illumined during the Diwali festival. Another exhilarating stretch is the 11 Kms. long Anna Salai or Mount Road, with the Parry’s Corner being the focal point of attraction. This is one of the most happening part of the city.
In terms of intensity, the neighborhoods of T. Nagar, Alwarpet, Poes Garden and Nungambakkam are absolutely magical. T. Nagar in particular being one of India’s biggest shopping hub, is at its dazzling best. The wealthy Saree and gold merchants pour in money on the eve of Diwali to make the neighborhood a fairy tale like zone.
Every year, one of the greatest Indian dance festival is organised in the historic town of Mahabalipuram, 58 Kms south of Chennai. Mahabalipuram is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Center and renowned for its intricately designed temples, which are in the form of chariots that dates back to 7th century. Travelers would do well to participate in the annual Dance Festival held during Dec-Jan by the Department of Tourism, Govt. of Tamilnadu. Some of the finest exponents of India’s traditional dance forms perform against this ethereal backdrop of the rock sculptures. For further information, please visit - Tamil Nadu Tourism. During the Dec-Jan period, the city of Chennai hosts one of the most elaborate Carnatic Music jamboree – The Madras Music Season, which spans for six weeks and offers the outside world with a rare insight into the mystical realms of Carnatic musical traditions. International audiences remain spell bound as the grapple to understand the nuances of Carnatic music like – Sruti, Svara, Raga, Tala etc...
India is mystical! So be it.