Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 25, 2015

Ganges Dusk

Wake up to drums and loud chanting.
6:20 AM. Is it a dream?
Here one wakes from dream into dream.
Every other day is a holy day in Kashi.
Another devotional festival.
Today is Dev Diwali.

But didn’t we celebrate Diwali, Festival of Lights, just a few
days ago?
That Diwali was devoted to the goddess Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu’s
consort.
Dev Diwali is devoted to Lord Shiva’s victory over the demon
Tripurasur.

On Dev Diwali, which always coincides with a full moon, devotees
take a bath and/or a boat ride in the Ganga, light oil lamps, called
Diyas, do puja, set off fireworks, and make lots of noise.
Devotional noise.
When the sun sets, the steps of all the Ghats and temples are alight
with Diyas, milllions of them.
Millions?
Yes. Everything becomes exponential in India.

It is Dev Diwali, full moon, and I’m in an old open boat on the sacred
Ganga.
As soon as the moon comes up in the east through the mist the
drums start romping and the oil lamps are lit on each of the 87 ghats
from south to north.
Everywhere is elaborately patterned bright light.
Except for the two burning ghats which continue cremating corpses,
smoke curling over the Ganga.
Fire and water are the two dominant elements for devotional Hindus.

The east where the moon rises is composed of a single sandbar,
construction prohibited because it would interfere with viewing the
the sunrise.
The Mughals ruled India for nearly 200 years, did not worship the
Ganga, and razed most of the ancient temples and other Hindu
structures on the western ghats.
It is a surprise that they did not erect their own structures on the
wide empty sandbar.

The moon is full.
Chanting, music, fireworks, millions of oil lamps and a million or
more souls on each of the 87 ghats raucously celebrating.
Though Lord Shiva is nominally the subject of Dev Diwali, I do not
hear his name invoked in the chants.

I think of carnival among the impoverished, in the Brazil favelas for
example.
A week of sensual-samba-masquerade-mania a year, then back to
shitty bad-paying work, or no work at all.
In the holy Hindu city of Kashi, the carnival (without the sensuality of
course) goes on throughout the year, so that devotion is turned into
an opiate which keeps the millions of impoverished and low-castes
perpetually celebrating.
Then they go home to their squalor.

I notice how many of the poor celebrants snap photos with their
mobile, fulfilling the Prime Minister’s extravagant lunacy of elevating
the afterimage in the process of digitalizing India.

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