Last Wednesday morning we were awoken at 4:30 AM by marching bands and fireworks. We got dressed, grabbed a camera, and went outside to join the festivities. It was the Hindu holiday of Ramanavami which commemorates the birthday of Rama, one of the heroes of the Ramayana, which is an epic Hindu poem like Homer’s Odyssey. .The holiday is celebrated by parades consisting of floats, marching bands (both organized with uniforms, and more impromptu) and lots fireworks. They favor the cherry bomb type, which require that you plug your ears when you see one of them being placed and lit in the middle of the street. We don’t know why the parade takes place in the middle of the night, but it may be the only time that the police will allow it, since otherwise the parade could totally disrupt the flow of traffic. We live in a five story building on a wider street (which is an arterial) so the floats were restricted to the smaller lanes through the poorer neighborhoods, which are only a few hundred feet from our residence. There is little effective zoning here, so although we live in a very expensive apartment, two blocks away are single story buildings without running water. There are lots of cows and goats in our neighborhood as well. Many of our neighbors along with their children were standing on the side of the streets watching the parade.
The floats are built on wooden wagons, which are hand pulled, and are decorated with millions of flowers (just like the Rose Bowl Parade). There are swarms of wasps and bees around each of the floats. In the middle of each float is an enclosed “pooja” or shrine. Worshippers carry a round metal tray with offerings such as coconuts, bananas and flowers. Inside the shrine a priest has some holy oil and candles, and each supplicant lights his or her candle from the priest’s candle. To enhance the visibility of the float each one is accompanied by a gas powered generator on wheels which powers the powerful halogen lights which are mounted on sticks which stick out a few feet from the edge of the float frame. The floats are about twenty feet tall, while all the electric and phone wires are from 16-22 feet tall. Men accompany each float carrying tall bamboo poles with a cross piece of bamboo on the top. They use these poles to lift the wires out of the way as the float passes underneath,
The bands play local instruments, although I did see a few tenor saxophones as well. As in New Orleans, a lot of the young men marchers drink alcohol and dance to the driving drum beat as they march in the parade. There also were several “fire eaters.” Young men walk around with plastic liter bottles filled with kerosene, and cigarette lighters. They take a swig of kerosene, flick the lighter as they spit out the kerosene, and you get a human flame thrower.