If you find an Indian businessman talking during the evenings of the coming Fortune Global Forum in Delhi about vanishing to a gambling party, don’t automatically write him off as too high a risk for that great deal that you’ve been discussing. He and his friends will only be planning to do what many Indians do at this time of year – gambling at cards till the early hours.
This is a strong tradition across India, and especially in the north, because we are now between two big Hindu festivals: Dussehra, which was celebrated on Sunday (Oct 21), and Diwali, the festival of lights, on November 9. These have followed other Hindu festivities – all of which combine to demonstrate what a celebratory and fun-loving country India can be.
The story concernsKing Rama battling with Ravana (left), a rival king, who had abducted his wife Sita to what is now Sri Lanka. (Controversy over these events has caused a row about dredging a shipping channel between India and Sri Lanka .)
On the 10th day, there is a ceremonial burning of effigies celebrating Rama’s victory over Ravana, signifying victory over hubris and ego. So last Sunday, thousands of effigies of Ravana went up in flames at dusk, or soon after. In the smallish colony of Golf Links, where I live in central Delhi, a crowd of local residents, aged from two or three to over 80, watched this spectacle (right).
It sounded like a battleground as fireworks exploded around the city. In Old Delhi, at the biggest event, prime minister Manmohan Singh sat next to Sonia Gandhi, Italian-born leader of India’s parliamentary coalition, who watched with a grandchild on her knee.
In much of the rest of India, the days before Dussehra are marked by a festival for the Hindu goddess Durga, who is worshipped with different names around the country – such as Amba in Gujarat and Chamundeswari in Karnataka.
On Saturday night in central Delhi, Gujaratis were celebrating in the grounds of the Talkatora stadium with mass Garbha dancing, which is associated with worshipping the goddess. Hundreds of people dressed in festive gear danced in large circles to raucous music and (sometimes racy) songs for hours on end at an event sponsored by television and music companies – marking the commercialization of such events. India’s modern spirituality is rooted in a traditional respect for the material world – “arth” or material prosperity is one of the four aims of life.
Elsewhere that evening, Bengalis held Durga Pujas – staged in huge, often highly decorated, tents that had been erected near temples – for a mixture of a street festival, family holiday, and religious rites.
Food stalls and music events ran alongside shrines, where people worshipped clay statues of the goddess Durga marking, a Hindu woman friend tells me, “the primal strength and mystery of the feminine principle” – or, to put it another way, the triumph of good over evil, as in the Ramayana. (see these two pictures of the goddess Durga). On Sunday, the images were immersed in the River Yumuna and other rivers across the country, and in the sea.
But back to the gambling. Your business friend can claim that he is only following the scriptures which sanction a fortnight of gambling, following the example of the goddess Parvati who played dice during the Diwali festival with her husband Lord Shiva.
Parvati decreed that whoever gambles at this time prospers for the rest of the year, bringing the blessings of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.
So wish your friend well, and maybe go with him to his gambling party! That might set you in the right frame of mind for India’s roller coaster stock market!