"Wading neck deep in a swamp, your revolver is neither use nor ornament until you have had time to clean it" Mary H. Kingsley (1897)

festival

Stumbling Into Light: Departure

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Just beyond the monastery, the feast of Saint Sebastian is celebrated.

Picture taken in Vagamon, one and a half kilometres from Kurisumala

 


Time At The Temple: Part 4

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Parasoled.

Men sit and stand on festal elephants during a temple celebration in Fort Cochin.


Time At The Temple: Part 2

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A drummer in our local temple.

Picture taken in Fort Cochin


A Splash Of Colour: Part 2

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A Mattancherry mural.

Picture shows one of the many street artworks featuring in the Cochin Biennale.


The Rhythms Of Sunday

Not a Hindu celebration,
but a Christian festival.

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Picture of St Jude’s chapel taken in Pattalam, Fort Cochin


Through Smoke And Fire

A procession of crosses emerges from the smoke and explosive percussion of festal firecrackers.
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Picture taken outside Santa Cruz Basilica, Fort Cochin


Waltz Of The Parasols

Women bear their parish festal parasols.
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Picture taken in the churchyard of Santa Cruz Basilica, Fort Cochin


Along For The Ride..

Boys hitch a ride on the back of a Ganpati festival float.


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Picture taken in Kannur, Kerala


The Power Of Percussion

We left the golden beauty of the beach only to wander into a twilight festival:
A party of young Hindu faithful were celebrating the festival of Ganapati.

Percussive rhythms should never be underestimated:

Their power to evoke passions crosses all cultural boundaries:

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Picture taken in Kannur, Kerala


Preparing A Pookalam

As I took breakfast this morning Dalila, my wonderful cook, and Anu, my ever-cheerful houseboy, sat in the kitchen, separating flower petals.

We are now in the midst of Onam – Kerala’s biggest festival – a time celebrated by everyone: Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike.

Part of Onam’s tradition is the making of a “pookalam”: a small carpet of flower petals to welcome the return of a semi-mythical Kerala king whose reign, much like England’s King Arthur, was a time of peace, justice and chivalry.

Once they had taken breakfast Anu, with the help of Stefan – Dalila’s youngest son – spent the rest of the morning creating an Onam pookalam in our hall.

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Mobility Issues

Transporting festival paraphernalia to and from the temple.

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Picture taken in Fort Cochin 


Not In New Zealand Anymore..

Following Sunday’s café breakfast, we rode straight into a boisterous but very good-natured Hindu procession heading for the temple.
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Picture taken in Palace Road, part of Fort Cochin’s  “Brahmin colony”. 


The Cultured Approach

Yesterday saw Anu struggling with the laces of his new shoes,

Then waiting for food with our driver,

And guests.

Today heard us musically welcomed to Trivandrum,
for three days of books, authors and poets:
The 2011 Hay  Festival in Kerala
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Pictures taken from my front yard, in a roadside restaurant, and in the Kanakakunnu Palace Conference venue, Trivandrum.


Elephant Boys

This festival included elephants, each bearing three or four young men.

The boys are not mahouts, they are performers. Their role is almost that of cheerleaders.

They hold aloft the brightly coloured silk parasols.

From atop the elephants, they display decorated white woollen fleeces and peacock feathers in a carefully choreographed routine, which adds further drama to the musical crescendos.

But as the small orchestra quietens

The boys slip into laughter, conversation or their own private thoughts.

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As for the mahouts,

They keep a lower profile.

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Come Blow Your Horn!

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I chance upon another festival.

This time the celebration is Hindu, with a full contingent of brass players.

Their lungs are strong,

Their embouchure, impressive!

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Or possibly…


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Reasons To Be Happy

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This weekend, Hindus all across the world celebrated Holi.

Although in Kerala Holi is a relatively low-key event, packets of brightly coloured powders were on sale along the roadside.

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But I had my own celebration.

My cousin from the USA was stopping over

And she came bearing the very best sort of gifts:

Cheeses!

A deliciously mature Oregon cheddar,

Canadian Brie

And, just for Holi, a rich-looking, blue cheese.

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The first picture in this post depicts Radha celebrating Holi, Kangra, India. Date: c. 1788. Source: Victoria Albert Museum, London. In India this image is held in the public domain.


Preparing for a Feast: Paysam

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Every festival in India is a feast for all the senses.

And in Kerala, every feast finishes with paysam.

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Vast cauldrons and trays of the dessert are prepared.

In Kannamaly the church hall is used for its storage.

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This paysam will be given as part of the free meal but can also be purchased

As a “take-away”

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Preparing for a Feast: Profane

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Preparations for the feast of St Joseph also involve food:

Quite a lot of food.

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Vegetarian curries and rice will be prepared in almost industrial quantities

To feed people of all faiths and denominations.

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Preparing for a Feast: Sacred

Today is the Feast of St Joseph.

Late on Thursday evening, a friend took me on his motorbike to St Anthony’s Church, Kannamaly – a quiet semi-rural backwater of Cochin –

Where preparations for the annual festival involve the entire community.

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A time of preparation, quiet meditation and devotion.

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The Grand Finale

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With the procession having reached its destination and the musicians refreshed,

it is time for a magnificently choreographed finale.

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“It’s the finale. It’s the last impression. A bad dessert can ruin the meal!”   Anne McManus

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Look To Your Laurels

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The procession has reached St Anthony’s chapel.

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The garlanded statue of its patron saint is displayed.

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But St Anthony is not the only bearer of garlands.

A few chosen men are sporting laurels of pastelled flowers and richly coloured capes:

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The influence of western Mediterranean Catholicism, which came to Kerala in the seventeenth century, along with Portuguese military conquest.

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A markedly different style to the two thousand year-old, Syrian Christian community of Kerala,

whose rites and vestments are close to those of the Orthodox Church.

And their liturgy, until very recently, still celebrated in Aramaic.

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Strike Up The Band!

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The sound of fire-crackers and drums was unmistakable.

Another festival had started.

This time it was celebrating the patron saint of the small chapel at the end of my lane:

St Anthony of Padua.

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We emerged from the house in time to follow the sound of music –

A fusion of Tijuana brass and Dravidian percussion.

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Fr. Martin, our local Catholic priest, walks in the heart of the procession.

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Men wait their turn for the honour of carrying the statue of Saint Anthony bearing the Christ Child.

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The drum beats intensify.

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The perfectly synchronised, varying and complex rhythms are intensely powerful.

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The procession stops at intervals, allowing the drummers to perform special sequences in well-rehearsed formations.

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Once again, I find myself blinking back tears of sheer joy and excitement.

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Serendipity

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Among the many joys of life in India

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Are frequent unsought moments of intense happiness.

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Such as when I briefly pop out to my local shops

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But surprisingly find myself

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In the midst of sheer spectacle:

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One of the myriad Hindu festivals.

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I stumble into the grace and beauty of music, drama, dance and devotion

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When all I had been seeking was hand towels…

Welcome to my Incredible India!

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“Whether we name divine presence synchronicity, serendipity, or graced moment matters little. What matters is the reality that our hearts have been understood. Nothing is as real as a healthy dose of magic which restores our spirits.”

Nancy Long

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We are indebted to the English author Horace Walpole for the word serendipity, which he coined in one of the 3,000 or more letters on which his literary reputation primarily rests. In a letter of January 28, 1754, Walpole says that “this discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word.”

Walpole formed the word on an old name for Sri Lanka, Serendip. He explained that this name was part of the title of “a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of….”

From thefreedictionary.com

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The Lady With The Lamp

Yesterday marked the festival of Diwali, when Hindus celebrate the triumph of light over darkness.

Dalila my cook, is Christian, but each evening she follows the Indian practice of lighting an oil lamp.

Our lamp is a heavy piece of hand-crafted brass. It sits upon a purpose-built solid wooden stand.  Here in Kerala, coconut oil is burnt, using a number of short cotton wicks.

Hindus follow this tradition at dawn and dusk, as puja is performed.

Ours is not a Hindu household but celebrating light triumphant is something we all share.

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