Experiencing India, the Land of Festivals

Hazel Geary
Sunday, 21 October 2018

An account of how an expat experiences the festive season in India.

I have been living and working in Pune for over two-and-a-half years now with my husband and we recently had our first child in June. One of the things we have found so interesting about living here is the abundance of festivals, with something always happening from small celebrations of local gods to the larger festivals of Ganapati and Diwali.

We have tried to get involved wherever possible to experience the festivals and understand more of the customs that happen for each. During Ganeshotsav, we have twice been on organised walks through the centre of Pune to visit many of the main mandals and some of the smaller, lesser-known ones, and watch the hugely busy parade. It is always amazing to see the care and devotion given during the festival and experience the carnival like atmosphere. Each time we go, we see something new and understand a little more about why this festival in particular is so popular in this city.  

The housing society in which we live in Pimple-Nilakh, is excellent at organising events around festival times, from shopping events before Diwali to the Ganapati procession and the very enjoyable and messy Holi celebrations! This year, we unfortunately won’t be here for the Diwali celebrations as we’re travelling but we will be taking with us a selection of tasty sweets which I purchase each year to share with friends, family and people who work in our society. It will be interesting to see how differently another city celebrates the same festival.  

During my first year in Pune, we were on our way home from dinner as we passed a group of women dancing in our local town square.  Our driver explained that the festival was Navratri and the dance was called ‘Dandiya’ and so we stopped to watch. Within five minutes, we had been invited to join the dance and shown how to do it. We were absolutely terrible, but felt incredibly welcomed and had great fun experiencing something so different to what we see in the UK.

One of the most interesting things for me regarding the festivals here in India is how different regions favour certain festivals — it is recommended that for Holi, you travel to Rajasthan where it is celebrated more wildly, whereas for the best Ganapati celebrations, Pune is the place to be. It is also incredible how welcoming everyone is to people of all nationalities and religions during the festivals. There is such warmth from all involved and people are so eager to share information and their passion for their festival.  The noise and traffic of festivals is sometimes overwhelming during this time but it is worth the vibrancy of the colours, people and music.  
(The writer is the COO of David Lloyd Clubs Talwalkars)

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