Exploration: Wild Weekly Photo Challenge
Exploration: WIld Weekly Photo Challenge
Master of photography Ansel Adams once said that “In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration.”. The more I travel the more true I feel that is. I have decided to tell a tale for this week’s Wild Weekly Photo Challenge of an evening of exploration on my recent trip to India. Sometimes it is well worth venturing out of your room….
Lighting lamps at the Karthikai Deepam festival in Thanjavur
In India’s muted dusk light it is remarkable how much illumination one small ghee lamp can provide. Sat in my touristy cocoon of the exquisitely renovated Tanjore Hi I heard the hum of voices outside my open window. Throwing open the wooden shutters and the veil of the white mosquito screen an inviting scene was being played out beyond my room. Women swathed in bright saris scuttled excitedly up and down the narrow alley and children sporting sequins were pirouetting around fizzing, spitting firecrackers. I quickly decided this could not be a routine night in Thanjavur and joined the frenetic pace by darting out of my room to discover the reason for the delicious light that seemed to be seeping from every street.
The hotel receptionist informed me that today was an auspicious festival in the area; Karthikai Deepam. They invited me to take a stroll in the neighboring streets and camera in hand I slipped my shawl around my shoulders and headed out. Quickly I realised this walk would be closer to a guarded dash dodging fireworks that seemed to be pouring out of the backstreets like the streamers bursting out of party-poppers. We quickly removed ourselves from the main road and began a search down the side streets. Children greeted me with laughter and sparklers as they ran between neighbor’s houses. Women sat washed with golden luminosity as they lit candles and added embellishment to the decorative korams that mark their doorways whilst their men sipped steaming chai and nattered with their neighbours. Despite the sudden earsplitting bangs being expelled from fireworks and crackers the atmosphere had calmness to it.
As we passed one household a nattily dressed Indian man invited me and my companion into his home for festival food. His wife and his three children served me a sweet snack made from puffy dried out rice. I gratefully received this and felt humbled that people would show such kindness to strangers. In the midst of India’s chaos and crowds it is often these small moments that stay in the heart. We only stayed for ten minutes and spoke about the routine events of life, compared travelling experiences and observed the golden fish in the large, well lit family tank with amusement. The fish stared back looking longingly at the rice snacks in our small silver bowls perhaps mistaking our festive chow for their dinner.
After returning to my room, ears still buzzing, I researched Karthikai Deepam to find that I was fortunate to have stumbled upon this festival when I did. This festival is predominantly celebrated in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and its date changes every year. This transpires on the day when the moon is its fullest. The festival is seen locally in many ways as more important than Diwali. Lamps are lit and in the Thanjavur area particular focus falls on the relationship between brothers and sisters. Sisters light lamps and place these outside their homes praying for the good health and success of their brothers. One of the staff from Tanjore Hi explained that this is more of a festival of lamps than a festival of light! As the lamps glow local people believe the light emitted will draw in prosperity and good fortune for the coming months.
The most unexpected thing about the festival for me was as I lay tucked up in bed envisaging a night of screaming fireworks and laughter beyond the hotel walls there was suddenly quiet at 10pm. As quickly as the streets were animated at sunset they were swiftly brought back to the normal sway of life in Thanjuvur. For the majority of people work had to resume early the following day so their beds beckoned. Before long the stark Indian sunlight took over from the delicate glow of the ghee lamps and only the tell-tale traces of rice powder and ash hinted at what had lit up paving stones the night before.