I love the festival of Divaali. All that colour and excitement and hope. All that drama, too – Rama and Sita’s epic love story and the way Rama is helped by the monkey god, Hanuman, and by his best friend Laskhmana, when Ravana, the Demon King, abducts Sita. What a great story!

When I was living in South India, I made friends with a group of students in the town where I was living. They put on a play which focussed on the moment when Rama tries to win Sita’s hand in marriage. Will he succeed where other suitors have failed? Will he be strong enough to lift Siva’s bow, string an arrow on its bow string and then hit a seemingly impossible target. The tension is high – Rama has fallen in love with Sita and of course, Sita likes the look of him, too. But their love can go nowhere unless Rama can accomplish this first particular challenge.

 

Everyone sitting with me in the theatre knew the story – and, as in all good epics, we were all nearly sure that that Rama was going to win, but, still, we were on the edge of our seats as we watched. As the wicked Ravana burst onto the stage, terrifyingly powerful and throwing thunderbolts left and right (well – ok – my friend Prem was bashing a huge drum in the wings) , we couldn’t be absolutely sure of our hero. Just as in the stories of Achilles or King Arthur, or even of Superman or Harry Potter, we all secretly knew that our hero would get there in the end, but it was seeing how he did it that  kept us on the edge of our seats,  abandoning ourselves to a thrilling piece of theatre.

Divaali, though, is not just a celebration of good over evil; of light over darkness; or even of the derring do of superheroes. Sita is no shrinking violet. She is the manifestation of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, one of the most important Hindu goddesses, and she embodies that very female virtue of good housekeeping. So Divaali is not just a celebration; it’s also a time to get your house and accounts straight and look forward to a happier year ahead.

As each Divaali comes round, I watch the fireworks and see the decorations and lights, so welcome in the northern hemisphere as the days shorten and the dark encroaches. I remember sitting in that South Indian college hall years ago, the fans whirring overhead, the smell of the jasmine woven into my friend Thilika’s hair and the calls and cheers of the audience as we urged Rama on, even though we’d seen the story countless times. How exciting it was to see Rama bending that great bow and winning his Sita. Good had won through, and everything was going to be all right.

 

 

 

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