Invited into the Light of Diwali

“When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed.” (Joseph Campbell)

Sharing the Light

It all began with the strike of a match in the midst of total darkness. People were waiting anxiously and the excitement was building for that one moment…that moment of “ahhhhhhhhh” when one could breathe out the stress of the past and open to the sheer wonder of the present…the freeing that comes with a new year.

Standing In The Glow

I was thrilled to be asked to photograph Diwali, the Hindu festival of Lights this past Thursday night. It is celebrated every year here in the northern hemisphere between late October and early November, depending upon when the 15th day of the Hindu month, Kartik falls. The festivities go on for typically 4 or 5 days with each day rooted in its own legends and myths and serving to illuminate one’s spirit with the brilliance of joy. At the center of each legend is the victory of good over evil, wisdom over ignorance, light over darkness and hope over despair.

Living With Light Through The Years

Holding Onto The Light

Aartis or devotional hymns are sung eulogizing Goddess Lakshmi with sweets and fruits offered to her. Homes and businesses are illuminated and new clothes are worn as a sign of respect and thanks to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity.

Passing the Torch from Parent to Child

Families, young and old all gathered around outside the Bharatiya Temple At 7:30, the night sky was totally lit up with brilliant colors surging high into the air, released from their pent up containers. Fireworks ignite that spirit of wonder no matter how many times we see them! According to one belief, the loud explosive sound is the way to let the gods know of the people’s thanks and joy from the earth.

Diwali Festival of Light

While the fireworks were going off overhead, people were passing around sparklers, sharing that dancing, popping light from family to family. It was all such a spirited celebration. Everyone was smiling, hugging and sending along well wishes. This was the first time I had the privilege of attending a Diwali festival and the brilliant joy that each spark gave off was totally enveloping. I loved photographing on this night, even though the exposure and color were challenging, it led to interesting blur, lighting so blown out and brilliant that I just went with it to capture the mood and the essence.

Light and Movement

As Joseph Campbell said,”…then comes the new life and all that is needed.” It is believed that, “Diwali is an opportunity to cultivate and connect with eternal bliss.” On Thursday night, I did!

Buddhist Monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery, India

Buddhist Monks and the Mandala of Impermanence from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

The Sacred Arts Tour is traveling throughout the US this year and it was very powerful experience to take in. Buddhist Monks came to Bucks County Community College for one week to share their art and wisdom.

Chanting with bells, cymbals ringing out and the steady rhythm of the drum beat served to consecrate the space and call forth the forces of Peace and Wellbeing. A puja table was set up by the window. Puja comes from Sanskrit and means reverence and homage. Items of offerings and devotion were placed on the table in front of a picture of the Dalai Lama. Bowls of water symbolized hospitality. Flowers symbolized samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Candles served to stir a desire for enlightenment while incense purified the air and symbolized that the teachings may flow out to all the world. Apples were placed on the table reminding all of our interconnectedness and the impermanence of life with the hope of cultivating gratitude throughout each day.

A blue square board was laid on the ground and the monks took out rulers, compasses and pens to design the sacred sand mandala that would occupy their total concentration over the next 5 days. This is incredibly exacting and can take up to three hours. Pots of millions of grains of brilliantly colored sand were laid out beside chakpurs which are narrow funnel tubes that when scraped together will cause sufficient vibration for the grains to trickle out. Being used together, they represent the union of wisdom and compassion.

The term mandala is an ancient sanskrit word meaning, “World in Harmony”. This ideal, multi- dimensional world where colors, lines and forms all have meaning, each is significant to fostering a heightened awareness of compassion. An intention for blessings is set as each grain is dropped into the design.

By day, monks sat crossed legged, huddled over the rasping sound of the chakpurs for hours. ( My knees and back would have been screaming out after the first 5 minutes!) White face masks prevented both breath or a stray cough from upsetting the meticulous design. Slowly, a lotus emerged in the very center of the sand mandala. Working outwards, white, yellow, red, green and blue petals took shape to represent faith, effort, memory, meditation and wisdom. Deities, walls, doorways, flames all slowly emerged throughout the week.

Just as the week began, it ended with a formal consecration session with the sounds of deep, masculine chanting. The ending was signaled by a simple ringing of a bell. Slowly, brushes began to move over the mandala. The colorful grains were swept into a mound of gray. Buddhism declares that in this world there is nothing that is fixed and permanent. Every thing is subject to change and alteration. As a photographer who tries to capture moments so they will live forever, it was so hard for me to see this beautiful work simply be destroyed knowing how much went into it. I think I have a lot to learn! They believe that suffering stems from trying to hold on to that which is impermanent and it is only through understanding and moving with impermanence that great changes can emerge. The end of life is usually accompanied by a burial, a return to the earth. The grains were placed into an urn and carried to the river. There they were poured out with the belief that the blessings placed in each grain would now flow out to the earth. So much to take away from this one moment in time. “Thanks to impermanence,everything is possible.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Holi at the Bharatiya Temple

Holi Festival

Holi Festival

 

 

Holi Video Link  <iframe src=”//player.vimeo.com/video/89756373″ width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

 

Rather than being in the midst of falling white snow, I was thrilled to be in the midst of multi-colored powders falling over a thoroughly joyous crowd! Holi is the Hindu Festival marking the coming of Spring, light and hope and after this winter, it was so appreciated!  This exuberant festival also commemorates the immortal love of Krishna and Radha and is spread over 16 days in Vrindavan, India, at the temple of Lord Krishna. It is one long colorful love fest! Who would not want to photograph this?! When I was there a few years ago and happened to mention that I definitely wanted to come back for Holi, they all just laughed at me and told me I must not like my camera very much!  This year, I so wanted to travel with a friend, Tewfic El-Sawy, The Travel Photographer,  as he lead a photographic expedition and workshop to this sacred site (click on the link to see amazing photographs!) It was not to be but as fate would have it,  I received an special invitation through a student (Thank you so much Anika!) to come and celebrate with the local Hindu community in Chalfont, Pa. From the moment Conrad Louis- Charles and I walked in, we were taken right into the midst of the celebration.  We were offered delicious food from Bombay Spice – II (just looking at their website could make you hungry!) We were then escorted into a tent and instantaneously felt the spirit of community and just sheer fun!  Winter was finally over… and now it is time to CELEBRATE and that we all did!  As the day went into night, a bonfire was lit to chase away evil.  This was now a time for the Hindu people to reflect and offer gifts of thanks to the gods. Roses, oils, rice and coconuts which are considered the perfect food having the drink, meat and bowl together were the gifts given from their hearts.  While the people were offering their appreciation, I was offering my sincere gratitude for the welcome and the care people took when painting my face and not my camera! I am not sure my friends were as lucky! Finally, I was able to celebrate and photograph Holi!  Life is so good!