It was the first day of the 10-day festival for Lord Ganesh the night that we arrived at our new home. Our family took Song and I to the Ganesh Temple, which is literally about 50 feet from our apartment complex so we walked through the busy road. As I entered the walkway entrance into the temple, I rang one of the temple bells that hung above my head, got up close enough to the platform to see the huge Lord Ganesh (an elephant) completely decked out in costume and mehndi. It was surrounded by many small and huge sweet dessert-like treats called ladoos. A lot of the ladoos were either given as offerings to Lord Ganesh or prepared by the temple owners for the community and people who visited the temple. Parts of the large ladoos were distributed and shared with the community midway through the festival.
Later that week, I looked more closely at the pictures of all the lords/goddesses throughout our house and noticed that Lord Ganesh was the only animal/non-human lord out of the bunch. I asked my host-mom/sister why that was and told me an incredibly neat story of how Lord Ganesh came to be. The story they told me can be found here: http://www.amritapuri.org/3714/ganesha.aum (I don’t want to miss anything in the story so this is an online story version that is closest to the story they told me).
In celebration of Lord Ganesh and our first time being in India, our host-sister Akshara, put mehndi (henna) on our hands. Mehndi is typically applied to female hands and feet during Hindu weddings, festivals and/or happy occasions. After a good 3-hour period of slowly and carefully applying mehndi to our hands, we were finally finished. These beautiful intricate designs on our hands ranged from flowers to swirls to something that looked similar to a peacock (national bird of India). After the mehndi dried, we peeled off the remaining dried ink that didn’t fall off and applied almond oil afterwards. The designs were initially reddish-orange and would eventually get darker overnight/time.
The next morning during breakfast, my mama-ji asked to look at our hands and when she saw them she expressed, “wha, bahut khoobsurat hai! Very dark & red!” (Wow, it’s so beautiful). Our papa-ji was also there at time and noticed how dark the designs had gotten. He cheerfully said, “ariwhar, so dark! According to Indian beliefs, the darker/redder the henna is, the more your life partner will love you or you will find a very loving life partner if you don’t have one yet.” It was the first time I had ever gotten full mendhi so I never knew this before. I was thought to myself, “it’s probably darker because I have lighter melanin in my skin tone but…I sure hope you’re right papa-ji!” I laughed and thanked my host-parents and left for school afterwards.
Thanks to Lord Ganesh’s birthday, I learned a couple of fun stories/beliefs. Looking forward to more stories and adventures this weekend as I’m off to Agra to see the great Taj Mahal- Happy Friday 🙂