An Indian man lights a candle during the 2012 Diwali festival in India/PHOTO: AFP
"This is indeed India; "¦ cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations "¦" : Mark Twain
Twain may or may not have been smoking something strong when he made this effusive observation. But he nailed it with "mother of history, grandmother of legend."
If there is a quibble, it is that Indians do not know themselves who this particular mother and grandmother are: Ask any Indian where legend ends and history starts, and they will be stumped for an answer.
The concept of India itself is just a couple of centuries old. It used to be a land with thousands of kingdoms until the British conquered many of them connected solely by a religion that has no name for itself.
Indeed, Hinduism has no name for itself the closest it comes to calling itself is "Sanatana dharma," which translates roughly as "eternal dharma." Dharma does not lend itself to a precise translation in English, at least not in a word or two, but roughly refers to principles ordering the universe. Good on the old Hindus though because it meant no one knew how to proselytize.
A story about the putative history of India will have to wait another day, but all this means that the origins of the country's hundreds of colorful festivals are attributed to gods and/or demons despite possibly starting in a more mundane manner.
In fact, off the top of my head, I cannot think of any holiday except Gandhi's birthday that is not attributed to the major gods Shiva and Vishnu.
Diwali or Deepavali traces its origin to several myths. With reluctance I refer you to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diwali#Regional_variations_within_India
But it is one awesome festival "¦ firecrackers, lots and lots of lights, new clothes, sweets. And the celebrations go on for a few days with all official business virtually shutting down until people have had their fill.
Obviously they are hard to reproduce anywhere else in the world, but Indian communities outside the country try. As they do in Ho Chi Minh City.
For the last several years the Indian Business Chamber in Vietnam has been celebrating the Festival of Lights in HCMC with lots of color, music, dance, and food.
It will this year too, at the Sheraton Saigon Hotel on Saturday, November 9. There will be the usual fun and games and Indian food and lots of booze.
But the highlight undoubtedly will be a concert by Udit Narayan, an A list Hindi movie singer with that most cherished of Indian musical gifts an amazing voice.
Diwali used to be a fairly small community thing in HCMC with the odd foreigner coming for the curry until, suddenly, a few years ago every expat seemed to want a piece of the action. The Sheraton bursts at the seams these days when Diwali is celebrated.
So make sure you get your ticket well in advance.
For tickets contact Incham, (08) 38238132 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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