Days of Diwali – Tihar Festival


Ramayana

***
Ramayana: Ancient text written by Valmiki that explains the mythology behind Diwali.
Aama: Nepoli word for mother.
Bhai: Nepoli word for little brother.
Pallas Cat: Cat native to Nepol.
Lord Yamaraj: Hindu God of death.
Sharabha: Part-lion and part-bird beast in Hindu mythology.
Buwa: Nepoli word for father.
Lord Ram: Prince of Adhoia with powers given to him by the Gods Shiva, Bhrama, and Vishnu.
Demon Ravan: Demon who ruled Earth.
Banyan Tree: Sacred, indestructible, fig tree in Hindu mythology.

Aama used to sit Bhai and me down,
Her eyes, the eyes of the Pallas Cat and lips  
Dressed in stray tea droplets that giggled and leapt,
Forwards to tackle Bhai’s face when she spoke,
Within an instant he would be on the floor,
Writhing and moaning as if Aama had spewed stomach bile
“Hush, you scoundrel!” She would scold him,
“I swear to Lord Yamaraj, you bleach my hair faster than he!”
She would yank him up by the throat of his shirt,
Make her nails mine the skin of his cheeks, and hiss like
Sharabha until we both had strangled our laughter for
Terror of her vengeance, and for the sake of Buwa,
Who knew all too well that Aama’s temper would
Corrupt the cooking of the night’s supper.

Once we had expelled the ants from our bones,
Aama would tell us the story of Lord Ram who
Had defeated the Demon Ravan and liberated our
World from the suffering that Ravan had pressed upon us
With his palm, sweltering hot as a branding iron, yet this mortal Lord,
Unimaginably blessed by the Gods, had severed Ravan’s reign,
Then returned home to the gleaming hearts of his people
Who dedicated one week of celebrations to Lord Ram’s triumph,
One week of worship, gratitude, and prayer

The tears that sprung forth from Aama’s eyes
As these ancient whispers cascaded down her lips
Were always my favorite mortal blessing, the slight mirrors
Framing a portrait of Aama’s soul, the reflection reminding Bhai and I
That we are her favorite moral blessings,
Buwa, our mighty banyan tree, sauntered over
To kiss Aama’s tears from her cheeks then stoop low
Towards Bhai and I, the great bark of his spine groaned
With age and weathering, his robust branches blew
Around our tiny frames with affection until mischief
Overtook him and Buwa allowed his leaves to dance across the
Napes of our necks to rupture a spring of laughter
From our gullets.

This Tihar, Buwa’s leaves are rusted, his bark is molding
Aama’s soul pours down to Buwa’s roots but the rains poison him
Bhai sits in the living room in solidarity, whispering the tale of Ramayana
To himself and the floor boards.

Kagg Puja – First Day

***
Kagg Puja: Hindu day of worship for the crow which symbolizes sadness and grief.
Swarga: Hindu Heaven.

Hush and groan no longer gentle home,
Groan no more from the wind that blasts its palm
Into your face, the hand that used to catch in Aama’s
Hair before it ever harmed you, but her hair
Is long since gone, mined and uprooted by her fingernails
Just as her hoe gnaws at our garden, but today
Kagg shall come if we worship well and I pray
Aama doesn’t confuse the crops of her scalp with those
Of our fertile soil so that the great Kagg finds
Our furnished harvest fit of his inked feathers and
Merciful blessings, and I pray that his beak shall
Part, tongue un-rolling to line the path and entice
Aama’s demons to secrete from below her fingernails
And skip ignorantly into Kagg’s clutches, his shrill
Caw will make them weep into their hands, clutch
A lake, and drown in it before they have time to regret
Drifting from Aama’s aging heart, but then Aama will
Be free for a little while so she can smile at my picture
Instead of wailing in misery.

Aama and Buwa part a window as they cook,
Preparing Kagg’s offering and embracing each other’s
Hands for the first time in a long while, the smoke chases
Me through the house, roaring in anger that I still yet remain
To plague this home, it licks at my ears and chews the
Tips of my hair that catch on the breeze but I am smarter than
It, I choose to lead that dark cloud, Aama’s depression and Buwa’s rage,
Towards the window of my bedroom and as it saw fit to
Lunge, I scream in silence until the window flees to the outside,
Hurling that fog out with it and releasing it to Kagg’s song above,
It offered a faint snarl at Buwa as he made his
Way up the ladder with the fruits of his and Aama’s
Labor balanced on the work-tattered scabs of
His palm but Swarga has it now, the cloud
Powerless in the presence of Buwa and only able
To offer a pathetic hiss as it ascends to Kagg’s
Mercy above, our thanks immeasurable by the delicacies
That Aama and Buwa set upon the roof.

Kukur Puja – Second Day

***
Kukur Puja: Hindu day of worship for the dog which is thought to be the messenger of Lord Yamaraj.
Narak: Hindu Hell.

I can feel you wondering, Buwa,
If the spilt bucket of water on the lawn
Trickles all the way down to Narak, I can
Hear you whispering under your breath
Prayers and pleas that if even one drop
Makes it to the fires below, that some poor
Soul would have the chance to quench a tiny
Fragment of their thirst, and if they do manage to
Snatch that drop up in their sawdust mouths
You pray it would be my mouth yet you would
Weep and curse if I were cast down instead of
Lifted, but don’t curse your last black strand into
Grey with worry, Buwa, Lord Yamaraj has treated
Me with all the graciousness I deserve, and
Though I can no longer bounce on your lap,
Tug at the life-weary sags of your face, or
Press my lips to your ear, Lord Yamaraj sends
You and Aama his condolences.

He sends you every messenger that he may
Spare, unleashes Kukur to your doorstep,
Pay heed, Buwa, grab another pail of suds and water,
Make sure you cleanse Kukur’s snout, because when it
Wrinkles, and he snaps in mania, the dust from our bones
Catches within each crevasse, and be sure to wash each paw,
Lathered in mud from digging our souls from their graves,
Turn around, Buwa, Aama is ready,
She sat for hours, intertwining her dreams and lullabies
Within the crooked stem of each flower,
Locked with such gentle care that no blossom could
Dare keep a secret from one another, Aama
Drapes these earthly splendors about Kukur’s neck,
Thanks him for his sympathy, for his
Guidance when he caught my last breath beneath
His eyelids and brought me home to Lord Yamaraj,
With Bhai’s supple hands, we gift Kukur with
What we can; rice, yogurt, and red dye
Coalesce, becoming one in intimacy not known
To this mortal world, and as Bhai dips his finger
Into our holy tribute, runs it gently down the middle
Of Kukur’s scalp, Aama will shed the first happy
Tear in years, and Buwa will beam proudly.

Laxmi Puja – Third Day

***
Laxmi Puja: Hindu day of worship for the cow, and the Goddess Laxmi who brings prosperity and wealth.
Sayapatri: Nepoli word for marigold.
Makhamali: Nepoli word for chrysanthemum.
Gai: Nepoli word for cow.
Diyo: Nepoli word for oil lamps.

Rise to sayapatri and makhamali pedals digging
Their claws into the sunrise, drawing it up like the lazy
Bedroom curtains so that the sunlight may
Crawl into your window and drape itself over your
Resting body, whispering luscious promises into your
Ear, the day has come to move onwards,
Rise, Aama, Buwa, Bhai, there is much to do,
Pick up the broom and shave the floor of its filth,
Set the altar in immaculate order and light every candle
With the passion that burns within Aama’s stomach, make
This home welcome for Laxmi so that she may set your
Strife to ease at last, the wax of the burning candles will
Race down towards its golden stand then bubble up,
Reaching a hand outwards, grow and pulsate into a vibrant
Being with nothing but assurance to give, she will make me
Warm with her undying essence and melt me away into a candle
Brighter than the crowning of life, my breath, bursting from my
Lungs in the form of a skipping spark, drifting between our
Worlds and igniting inside of Aama’s womb.

The light of every one of Laxmi’s candles
Will lick the soil and conceive yields greater than
Buwa has ever witnessed, grass greener than any
Emerald ever to hiss to life inside of the land’s boiling veins,
Children, lead Laxmi’s gai from their mangers to the
Stunning feast laid before them, adorn them with garland and
Tender brushes from the plump cheeks of the youthful, once the
Sayapatri and makhamali begin to wane, they shall bite the sun at
Its heels and encumber it back down towards the molten lava of
Narak, the flowers will expel one last gasp before their
People become blind, they will heave the diyo from their stigma,
Shining like the golden explosion of a song that preaches,
Promises the rebirth of faith and hope, the children will sing along,
Voices morphing into purple sapphire circe butterflies that sway and
Flit with the bare feet and brilliant eyes of the land’s future,
They will travel from home to home, cradle every heart
With the new beginning, laugh heartily, Aama and Buwa,
You may give my share of the melody’s tips to the
Seed within, have Bhai take her by the hand and whisper
To her feet how to move across the dirt,
Let him mentor her heart and fill her eyes with wonder
Until they swell with joyous tears.

Goru Puja – Fourth Day

***
Goru Puja: Hindu day of worship of the oxen and the Gobardhan Mountain.

Set the children loose like sunlight that
Bellows through the clouds above, have them
Search for rather peculiar gifts left from the day before,
Bundles dropped from the goru, tribute to us from the
Gobardhan Mountain, he sends us nutrients and compost able
To make our crops fuller and riper than ever before thought,
Toddlers wrinkle their noses and giggle, pointing at the
Lump of dung left by the goru, but in time, they will come to
Understand just what this donation is worth, chide them
To collect many spirited flowers with sturdy stems, so that
They may prick the offering and dress it in a beauty
That it already possesses in the form of its use, laugh, Buwa,
As Bhai squeals and moans in displeasure while
Pricking Gobardhan’s favor with a colorful hat and a
Lovely coat that mirrors the allure of our sari.

Mha Puja – Night of the Fourth Day

***
Mha Puja: Hindu day of worship of the self.
Sari: More formal clothing.
Didi: Nepoli word for older sister.

Buwa’s eyes when he sees Aama embraced
By her best sari are like the smog wheezed out by the
Fireworks in the sky, they are over crowded with affection,
Vexed and shimmering with the gleam of absolute
Love, and if the vapor in his eyes could drift past
The lens of his glasses, seemingly too small for his face,
It would envelop Aama and stroke her multiplying, comely
Stretch-marks, settle glittering pieces of soot on her gentle
Flesh so that she twinkled in the candlelight like a being
Of evanescence and strength of mind, Aama has always been
Buwa’s rock, and Buwa has been Aama’s cradle, sometimes
Her coffin, or even the rut of clay in her garden, but tonight
They kiss each other’s foreheads, press them together, and whisper
Honeyed gratefulness against each other’s lips, the brim
Of their full and fatigued bouquets smelling like one another,
Bhai is ready for the feast as a warrior is ready for battle, his face
Not unlike that of a confident barbarian, he gallops around Aama and
Buwa, pulling at the audacious red cloth consuming their
Forms, his hand brushing against the shred of my soul that
Is kindled inside of Aama’s stomach, feed your void,
Your desires tonight, cultivate Buwa’s seed and sing to my heart,
The empty cushion next to Bhai would have been mine, and he would
Have leaned over to whisper to me, “Didi, Aama looks like she could lift
Gobardhan with her pinky toe, and Buwa could blow every grain away with his eyelash!”

Kija Puja – Fifth Day

***
Kija Puja: Hindu day of sibling worship.
Tika: Hindu spiritual red marking placed on the forehead as blessing.
Bahini: Nepoli word for younger sister.

Jealousy’s rotten seed is growing a weed inside your stomach,
Bhai, constricting last night’s feast and churning it with spite,
‘I am so sorry…’ but the blankets over your head could only allow
My voice to journey so far, it was said that on this day,
Lord Yamaraj received a tika on his forehead from his sister,
Yamuna, she fed him until his stomach groaned as loud as the
Dead in his home, garlanded him until he looked like a walking
Chandelier, and as the story was told, on the day a
Sister places a tika on her brother’s forehead, he would be
Immortal until the dawn of the next day, you were robbed,
Terribly wronged, my Bhai, denied a sister for this year’s Tihar,
Your right to one day of immortality was ransacked, a
Punishment almost as dreadful as having to rise from your
Sheets and face the other little boys of the village, those with
Proud sneers, those with rice, yogurt, and red dye smeared between
Their eyes, the ones that would become demigods for precisely one day
While you sit aside on a bolder and fight back your bitter saliva.

Aama and Buwa come to sit by you,
Their hands resting on your thigh and your shoulder, as you
Feel your eyes boil in their sockets, you hear Aama and Buwa’s
Deep inhales, the ones that I once said, “Could suck in a sailing ship
If the coast were closer, that’s how you know when they’re troubled,
That’s how you know you better finish your chores, before they suck you
In and spit you out with a lecture speared in your throat!”
Glowing sisters simper and giggle as they decorate their
Brothers, finding it funny how the brothers were reduced to
Dolls at their mercy, the long-living blossoms digging
Fangs into the brothers’ necks to pump their nectar of
Invulnerability into the boys’ veins, oil drools down from a copper
Pitcher around the seated boys, slithers up to their hair and seeps
Into their skull, cradling their brains and rasping nails against their
Juvenility, because today they are men, honored for protecting their dear,
Dear sisters… their sisters that are made of flesh and not maggots,
Their sisters that tease them with a stuck-out tongue instead of
Worms, their sisters that are warm as Aama’s tears and not
Rigid as tree bark… their sisters that have rasping hearts to listen to
When their brothers hug them, the brothers that protected them…
Aama and Buwa offer a glance to one another, Buwa bends down to
Whisper in your ear, “You will have a Bahini next Tihar… before that even.”
Aama smiles bashfully as your orb-like eyes jut in her direction, then down,
She pulls up her sari, as you sob and paint a special seven-colored tika
On your new Bahini.

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