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Most cultures and peoples celebrate the festivals of lights. Anumita reveals many traditions, which are basically same. ‘Tamso ma jotirgamaya’ of the Hindus find echo in the Biblical ‘Lead symbolises ignorance (Avidya, death and despair). Fire and water are of great significance to the major religions of the world. Anumita takes a global view at the various festivals of lights, in chronological order. Here she tells us about seven such festivals, as part of the special feature on Diwali, for Different Truths.
Diwali is festival of lights. Light guides us in the dark and helps us conquer the fear of darkness. Diwali has been the legacy of the celebration held in ancient times to welcome Lord Rama back from his banwas (exile). It is said that it ends evil and lets good shine. As India celebrates the Diwali, there are many other countries that celebrate similar festivals of light.
All year long, different countries around the world, light up the night sky in their unique way to celebrate. Let us take a tour of these luminous festivals.
Chinese Lantern Festival
During the Han dynasty in China, Buddhism had flourished. To celebrate Buddha, on the first full moon of the Chinese Luna calendar (usually during February and March), the whole country lights up lanterns and rejoices. An ancient tradition of the royalty now practiced among all. It is also known as Shangyuan festival or the Yuanxiao festival. This public festival lights up the whole night sky like a galaxy of stars. It marks the end of the Chinese New Year.
The lanterns are usually red in color and handcrafted. They seem to fill in all places from homes, offices, eateries, roads, streets, and open areas.
Lion dance is performed and Yuanxiao is eaten. Two men wearing the lion’s costume do their dance and often acrobatics are accompanied with it. The Yuanxiao is a ball of sticky rice with different fillings. The stickiness of this food is symbolic to the togetherness of friends and family.
As most Spanish festivals Las Fellas, celebrated in Valencia, has its own unique madness attached to it. Usually celebrated in the month of March, it commemorates St. Joseph, the patron of the carpenters. According to a well-known story, carpenters burn their wooden candle stands (parots) after praying to St. Joseph, as spring brings more light in the day time. They would dress these parots in rags and burn them, often these were the scrap wooden chips.
But things are celebrated a bit differently now. Las Fellas is a five-day- celebration of fireworks and fire every evening, which blazes up the night sky. Ninots (puppets) of paper and cardboard are built. Some are very tall and often referred as Fallas (torches). At the end of the day these huge puppets are put on fire, to signify the victory of good over evil.
The museum of Valencia has displays of such magnificent Ninots. This beautiful video shows how the history and present melts together.
Japanese Nebuta Matsuri
Japan has festivals with lights almost all year long. The most famous one is Nebuta Matsuri of Aomori. Nebutas are giant lanterns, which are made into floats and paraded along the city. It is a summer festival, which has the whole city and its vicinity up roaring “Rassera, Rassera!”
These giant floats are lighted from inside. Numbers of florescent bulbs make the whole structure illuminating. In ancient times, these giant floats were lit with candles from the inside. The floats have a design or theme associated with it. There are drummers and dancers between floats which synchronies with each other move. It is a musical festivity filled with lights.
It is said that Nebuta Matsuri is an extension of a festival called
. In this festival, lanterns are floated on the river to pay respect to the soul of the dead. To celebrate the victory over evil these lanterns are now giant floating images, which moves around the city.
During the Tanabata festival, dolls or twigs are used as symbolic to people and are floated in the water with the lanterns. They are even lit up with fire in mid water to depict the burning up of evil. Nebuta is a word used in many contexts of ceremonies.
Festival of Lights, Berlin
A very new nine-day festival during the month of October is the Berling Festival of Lights, started by Birgit Zander, in 2005. It is now a major tourist attraction for Germany, as it turns the whole city into a multi-colored illumination.
With over two million visitors during this period, the Festival of Lights has unique lights over all the major architectures. It is an art exhibition of lights. A city-wide gallery for all art lover to enjoy. Concerts and different cultural festivity thrive during this period. People from all over the world are seen to be enjoying the sights and music.
The festival of lights celebrated all over India was started as a homecoming welcome to Lord Ram, when he returned home after 14 years of exile in the forests. It is celebrated on the day of Amavasya (New Moon), which usually falls during October-November. The country mirrors the stars in the sky with each house, shop, office and public spaces lined with electric lights, candles, and earthen lamps.
Friends and family get together to pray, eat and burst fire crackers. Each state of the country has their unique way of celebration. There are customs of giving gifts to loved ones. Prior to the festivity, there is a frenzy of cleaning the house. It is said during the Diwali night, Maa Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity) comes home. A clean home attracts more prosperity.
East Pretoria Festival of Lights
From Thanksgiving to beginning of the New Year, East Pretoria, in South Africa, celebrates with aplomb. Festivity is filled with lights, food, and programs of all kind. As it spreads out for two months, there are more than hundred cultural programs. A calendar is kept to organise the programs.
Illuminated floats, colorful parades and a lot of singing and dancing mark this festival. Although it is warm during that time, there are winter carnivals. There are many laser light shows and plentitude of food during this festive season.
Festival of Lights, Lyon
During the month of December, the Festival of lights is in full swing in Lyon. This festival is celebrated to pay homage to Virgin Mary. This place is France lights up for four days.
Architects’ and artist from all over the world set up their design of lights and light shows throughout the city. It is a spectacular time and vision and each of them has a different theme and music accompanied with it.
The Basilica of Fourvie`re or the Place des Terreau are the central zones which have the fabulous displays. Each of the monuments and buildings take up a life of their own. The whole city turns into a concert of light and sound. Even the common people line their window sill with lights and candles, joining in the cities festivity.
All around the world, there many more festivals and celebrations which use lights, like candles, bulbs, and fireworks to celebrate. The common thread among all these festivities is the feeling of love and togetherness among friends and family. Everyone rejoices the victory of good over the evil, dispels darkness and count their blessings.
Happy Festival of Lights, all year round, to everyone!
©Anumita Chatterjee Roy
Pix and videos from the Net.