Over the past few years, I’ve spent some of my American Independence Days in India. The last couple of years I have spent them in Boston, an experience I always enjoy. I like the fun of American Independence days. I like the pool parties, the all-American food, and fun with family and friends. Even though this is my third summer in India, this is the first time that I spent Indian Independence Day in India, and I was very excited.
I was expecting parades of some sort or maybe other patriotic programs. There were flag raisings at schools in the mornings, and cultural programs throughout the day. But at about 11 in the morning my host family told me that we were going on a picnic. But a picnic in India doesn’t mean going to a park and having a packed lunch. It’s an all-day affair.
My host family, the Ahires, had rented a car and we all went first to a Shankara (Shiva) temple in Bhuleshwar. This was an older temple built on a hill about an hour and a half journey by car outside of Pune. It was beautiful, although many of the carvings had been destroyed by Aurangzeb. Nonetheless it was incredible to see such an old temple amongst the hills of Maharashtra.
Then we headed to a Ganesh/Ganapati (the elephant-headed god) temple. The one we went to was one of the eight naturally created Ganesh images in Maharashtra, and it was amazing to see how much this natural, uncarved stone looked like Ganesh. Ganesh is very popular throughout Maharashtra and considered the remover of obstacles.
Upon reaching the temple the line to see the murti (image) was incredibly long, certainly an hour’s wait. So we decided just to look around the temple and not go in. Then as we circled around, we found the place where everyone was coming out of the temple. First the grandmother went in, and then the rest of us followed. No one said anything to any of us and we were able to see Ganapati without waiting in line. Ganapati certainly removed our obstacle that day!
We then went to a Rama temple on the outskirts of Pune and stopped at a famous Dhaba on the way home to have some Indian snacks. It was certainly not how I had expected to spend Indian Independence Day, but I was so glad to be included as part of the family. Even though I had my final exam that I should have been studying for, this experience was certainly much more steeped in Maharashtran culture and Marathi language. It was a great way to spend my first Indian Independence Day in India.