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July 2003* 07/25/03
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By Yumi Onishi
Bang! A short thunderous noise echoed among stumpy houses along a narrow lane. No, its not a terrorist attack but sure is an earsplitting noise made by a local fire cracker. Deepavali has already passed a few weeks ago when children in the neighborhood all came out on the streets to break fire crackers one after another sometimes keeping the residents awake until midnight. Matter of a fact, this bang was a leftover from the previous celebration. Tonight is Karthika celebration in Kerala.
Karthika is seldom known to the outside world. It takes place on the full moon day of Malayalam month of Karthika (Oct-Nov) on the day of Karthika. Karthika is one of twenty-eight birth stars. Each birth star marks approximately 1.25 days throughout the year. The origin of its celebration is vague. Some say it was originally celebrated only in Tamil Nadu, a neighboring state of Kerala. The story behind it has at least two versions. One is that a demon was defeated on this day once upon a time. Another says Karthika is in rejoicing of harvest season, particularly tubers. In fact, tubers grow around Karthika month and seven different kinds of tubers are cooked on this day. Sweets made of steamed rice flour topped with melted black sugar and wrapped in cinnamon leaves are also served in every home.
Slowly, I navigated through the narrow lanes to witness the rare opportunity of being here at right time. Every house front is filled with cheers of young children awaiting the lighting of candles and locally made small earthen clay pots brimmed with oils. Karthika is celebrated by lighting the candles and oil lams displayed around the house. As I turn from corner to corner, every house in the area is surrounded with flickering lights.
On the main streets are neighborhood Hindu temples blaring the large speakers with religious songs. Once a sacred worshiping place has become commercial in recent years in India. Today, it is a common scene for temple festivals to exhibit their presence by loud music speakers. To escape from the enthusiastic music of competing temples and banging fire crackers, I followed the narrow lane further to the outskirt of the neighborhood. As I paced around a house corner, vast paddy field spreads beyond darkness. Surprised by a sudden change of landscape, I gazed the still darkness from the edge of paddy field. After a moment of enchantment, I looked over my shoulder to see the town ornamented with lights. Speechless. Then a breath. A hundred and eighty degrees, I am surrounded by countless number of auspicious lights floating in the distance.
flickering flames of Karthika oil lamps and candles, I sat at the front
steps of a house gazing at the still scene of floating orange stars
on the ground. The sight is truly heavenly. In the dark sky above is
a round moon with hundreds of stars. On the ground is a mirror image
of the sky reflected by hundreds of candles and oil lamps. After half
an hour, one by one the candle wax melted away and lamp emptied the
oil. Slowly, the glittering figures began to cease into the darkness
of the night.
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