This week was the Hindu holiday of Dashara, which celebrates the triumph of Ram over Ravan (the 10 headed demon and kidnapper of Sita- Rams wife). Basically Ram kills Ravan and rescues Sita. On Dashara, this "fight" is re-enacted in "Ramlilas" or performances where actors dress up as the characters involved and perform the story. It is also re-enacted through the burning of large effigies of Ravan, his brother, and son. These effigies are large paper machie-like puppets filled with fireworks. In this way, someone "playing Ram" will shoot a arrow (often fire tipped) at the puppets causing the puppet to begin to burn, and then let off the fireworks, making lots of noise, smoke, and fire. There are large performances broadcast on national tv, and smaller ones in individual colonies (neighborhoods). These performances
usually take place right around sundown or 6:20pm- the time that Ravan was supposedly killed
This year was particularly fun because Dashara and Yum Kippur (the Jewish day of Atonement- when Jews fast and go to synagogue to repent for last year's wrongs and have a good new year) fell on the same day. This was exciting because many Hindus had been fasting for at least one of the 9 days leading up to Dashara- these days are called Navratri (literally meaning 9 days). These 9 days celebrated the goddess (Shakti/Devi) and her 9 forms. (Ram supposedly prayed to the goddess during Navratri which gave him the power to defeat Ravan.) Thus when I told people I was fasting they were a little confused about why I had waited to fast until Dashara, when no one else was fasting. It was still fun describing "my holiday" which was on the same day as "their holiday."
I broke my fast with traditional Dashara food: chole (chick peas) and Poori (fried roti-like-bread), supplied by our tiffin service. It was very good but too oily to break your fast with, and it made me a bit nauseous. I miss my bagels, spread, and smoked salmon!
On the other hand, describing traditional Yum Kipper food to my Hindi teacher allowed me to describe the finer points of Jewish cucumber pickle (in Hindi!) and how it is different from Indian pickle (made from hard mangoes- not the ones you get in the US- lemons, and chilies). It was very hard to describe. Indian pickle is spicy, red in color, and not cooling like a good cucumber pickle. In any case, I might have to find a way to get someone to bring a jar of Jewish pickle to my Indian friends here, because now they are all curious to try it.