This week marks the final week of the month long festival season here in FLL. As we’ve seen the pandals (temporary temple buildings) being built, torn down, and rebuilt; heard the sounds of Hindu songs blaring through loud speakers; and seen the idols paraded around town, I’ve (Will) had lots of time to reflect on all these sights, sounds, and smells and the deception behind them. Before commenting on the spiritual battles around, I thought I would share just a bit about the 2 biggest festivals here (Durga Puja and Diwali) in FLL…
Here in FLL, Durga Puja is by far the biggest Hindu festival of the year. It’s a 5 day long festival where different gods are worshipped, but Durga is the main deity to which all worship is devoted. “Ma Durga” as they call her is a very popular goddess as she was the victor over the evil buffalo demon. Huge makeshift pandals are built all over town with an idol of Ma Durga as the centerpiece. Just driving the 5 km to Maddie’s school each day, we would pass 4 pandals. I was told that just in the eastern part of our country, around $13 million was spent on the construction of these pandals. Really, a pandal is just like a homecoming parade float. There are competitions around town to see who has the best theme and most originality. You can see the pictures of the one that was just next to our house here.
Around the rest of the country, I would say that Diwali is the largest festival around. Diwali, or the festival of lights, is the celebration of the goddess Lakshmi; she is the goddess of wealth and fortune. Legend has it that her spirit will follow the path of lights to your home and bless your money so that it will increase. Fireworks are another huge part of Diwali and the people set them off all through the night and even in the daytime. Legend says that the firecrackers scare away the evil gods and demons, thus freeing the way for Lakshmi to find her way. Now here in FLL, we have a mix of cultures so there are some variances to Diwali. Especially here, the goddess Kali is worshipped. Kali is a mean looking goddess. She usually has a necklace of skulls, tongue sticking out, a knife in one of her hands, and a head hanging from one of the other hands. For her, more pandals are built with the idols of Kali and Shiva present. Here are some local Diwali pics. For more on Diwali, here’s Michael Scott’s review.
Humor aside, there really is something both capturing and deceiving about this month of festivals. First, the pandals are amazing creations. We were able to watch the Durga Puja one built from scratch to full temple. The amount of time and money that goes into making these detailed temples for just a few days was quite crazy. For Diwali, all the houses and buildings and streets are covered in Christmas lights. There are great sales in the stores and markets on clothes and electronics. Many people travel back home to visit and stay with family. Everyone is in a really celebrative-type mood and very friendly. It’s really like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years all squeezed into 2 main celebrations.
But you see, that’s just the problem. Looking at the surface from the outside, one might think these festivals are quite harmless. Just a lot of fun, food, and fireworks with pretty lights hanging everywhere. However, beneath all the festivities is a deep, dark battle waging in the spiritual world. The millions of Hindus have been deceived into thinking that the worship of these idols and deities will both protect them from evil as well as bring them whatever benefit they may be seeking. Need money? Show Lakshmi where your money is and she will bless it. Need business? Pay homage to Ganesh to make your business grow. Feeling scared? Bow down to Kali so you can feel safe. Yet, for most, their money doesn’t supernaturally increase; their business doesn’t supernaturally grow; and they continued to feel scared. You may ask why they don’t see this vicious cycle? Well, they believe that if their need is not met then they must have done something wrong; they must have not done enough puja or hung enough lights or given enough money. The gods could never be wrong. Right?
Wrong! Satan has totally bound these people up in this cycle which has no way out on it’s own. Yet, we know how to break this bondage. It’s actually quite simple. The great Light of the World has shown them the way to true freedom from this mess. The one who created all things (Col 1:16), who holds all things together (Col 1:17), who has power over the spiritual world (Mark 5), and who has equipped us to fight the battle (Eph 6)…He is the only way out of this vicious cycle. Pray with us and for us as we take this message to these millions who need to know the truth.