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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Kartik Purnima: The Moon is beautiful tonight, so is Life!

 Its Kartik Purnima - the full moon night of Kartik - the 7th month in our Indian calendar.
They say, the moon is at its brightest tonight.  And I believe them. Because, the moon is shinning so bright, I can look back and see my childhood. Mooonlight clear.

I see a courtyard - cleaned and mopped with water mixed with cowdung in the morning. Hours later, its hardened, cool and there's not  a speck of dust anywhere.

On that courtyard, someone's drawn paintings with rice powder. This is the courtyard of my Mamu (maternal uncle) Anil Singh.


After the courtyard, comes a large, stand alone, pentagonal room. This is the 'raas mandap' (raas auditorium). On either side of the room's doors, Marigold bushes are on the bloom. Inside the room, a stage has been set for a performance. Tonight, in this Raas Mandap, a little boy and a little girl - dressed as Hindu god Krishna and his lady love Radha will sit . And surrounding them will be sixteen women of the community. They will dance and sing as Gopini (consort of Krishna) all night, enacting roles from stories of  Krishna Leela (romance of Krishna and Radha).



In our north-eastern province of India, the air this time is crisp and gets colder as the night falls. My 'mamu' - a photographer and an art lover - would fetch me and my siblings every Raas night, wrap us in shawls and seat us in the warmest corner of the veranda of the Raas Mandap, so we would have the best view of the dance when it begins.

I remember sitting there, holding my breath, waiting for the women dancers to enter the Raas Mandap. On one side would sit a row of drummers, dressed in whites. The singing would be done by the sixteen dancers/Gopini - dressed in their traditional regalia. They have rehearsed for tonight's performance for a month.

As a child, I didn't understand every act of the performance. Also, after midnight, I would fall asleep and then Mamu would take me to his house, located at the far end of the courtyard, where I would stay until dawn, when the climax act would be performed by the singers. In short, I would miss out on a lot of the celebration. And yet, this remains the most memorable festival of my childhood. The reasons?


First, My uncle, who belongs to Bishnupriya Manipuri community, wasn't born of my granny's womb. My mother met him one day and called him brother. But 'mamu' embraced us with so much love, it broke the barrier of language, community, religion and every man-made wall that keeps a human away from another. Vasudaiva Kutumbakam - the world is my relative - I learned this philosophy early on - and embraced it myself - courtesy my mamu. And Raas purnima - the only festival we celebrated at mamu's house, therefore, became a symbol of all that my mamu practiced: love, kindness, tenderness.


Second, The colors of the gopini's costumes, the music, the graceful dance moves, the scent of flowers in the air, the mysticism of the festival and the devotion of those who gathered to watch the performances - combined together, these factors formed my first understanding of the richness of our cultural diversity, giving birth to the writer in me.


Third: In the morning, once the celebration was over, we would eat the food that was offered to the god in the middle of the night, during the performance. It was called Bhandara. - rice and lentil cooked together. I have never eaten anything tastier than that! 

So, tonight, as the moon shines bright, I stand on the terrace of my city apartment, grateful for having occasions like Kartik (Raas) Purnima that helped me be me. The moon is beautiful, so is life!

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