Good triumphed over Evil last week here in Lajpat Nagar. In Hindu lore, Lord Rama rescues his wife Sita after the demon-king Ravana has abducted her. The festival Dussehra commemorates Rama’s defeat of Ravana and is also evidently a perfect excuse to light off a lot of firecrackers. Here’s what happened this Thursday on Dussehra.
For the last week, men and boys have been painstakingly creating twenty-foot tall effigies of Ravana, his brother Kumbhkarna, and son Meghnath. On Dussehra, they erect these effigies, made of bamboo, paper, and straw, throughout the neighborhood.
In the afternoon, a jumbled parade winds its jubilant way through the streets of Lajpat Nagar. A sparkly man who I assume is Ravana rides his throne atop a horse-drawn carriage and calls out to onlookers. He manages to entice some of them onto his float for personal attention and perhaps some demon-king curses. (Similar to Santa Claus during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, if Santa spoke to you directly and if Santa was evil.) Kids dressed as demon lackeys (maybe?) toss fruit – fruit! – into the crowd. A marching band does some playing and some marching and a lot of posing for my camera.
In the evening, the real fun begins. Just as the sun begins to set, firecrackers begin exploding, frequently, loudly, and disturbingly close by. Music blares, and horns honk as cars inch their way toward the central square of Lajpat Nagar, which is filling with festivalgoers, anticipating the show to come. Reena, David, and I arrive in the square and deduce from the energy of the crowd that this show is going to be good.
On a stage in the middle of the common, male and female dancers swing their long black hair around and around their heads and spin in ecstatic circles to reenact the final moments of battle between Rama and Ravana and to excite the crowd. And what a crowd. People seem to be sitting on every flat and semi-flat surface, crowding around the roped-off area near the effigies, jostling for a better view of the stage. Sparks from fireworks are spraying into the air in rather close proximity to the onlookers, and I can’t help but think to myself that in lawsuit-ridden America, festivals like this would never happen. Which is definitely a shame.
The battle rages on the stage, and finally the rescued Sita emerges. The crowd roars, and a flaming arrow is shot into the effigy standing about twenty feet from Reena, David, and me. The effigy ignites slowly and then…..did I forget to mention that all the effigies are filled with firecrackers?…starts to explode. (Before continuing to read, parents should take a deep breath.) The deafening noise and bright light starts to get closer because the pink, glittery, giant Ravana is toppling toward us. The crowd surrounding us turns and runs. In this flowing sea of people, I somehow manage to lose my shoe.
Ravana hit the ground and burned out without really getting too close to anyone. (Parents: I’m sure the turn-and-run instinct was more precautionary than necessary. I have a feeling that the falling effigy situation is normal for Dussehra.) So the excitement died down, and with the help of some giggling kids, I miraculously find my shoe!
The other effigies are subsequently burned, as are effigies throughout the neighborhood. We can’t see them, but we can hear them when they are lit. After all the Ravanas, Kumbhkarnas, and Meghnaths have been burned, a spontaneous dance party breaks out in the street. (I’ll load a video of this tomorrow.)
And this is only the beginning of Festival Season in Delhi.