India’s the Andaman Islands and more specifically it’s capital, Port Blair provided us with several cultural insights – and isn’t that what travel is all about – seeing new, unexpected, or just real life experiences and events that provide insight to local people’s lives.
There were so many highlights and bonuses that we did not expect. Here is a selection of experiences that stuck with us!
And if you have not read about our Andaman Islands cruising story here.
Our first cultural insight was accidental. Wandering the streets adjacent to Aberdeen Market one of our troop noticed stores that looked like they hired out catering equipment – massive pots 3 and 4 feet across and gas burners to sit underneath. On asking our driver he explained these are used in preparing the catering for weddings held at halls just up the street. After some encouragement, he took us to one such hall where, coincidently for us, a wedding was in progress. Our troop tentatively entered the courtyard of the hall and found ourselves being welcomed and encouraged to enter to see what was happening. The males in our troop were ushered into the male eating area and plates of food thrust forward. People were happy to pose for photos and parents even offered their children, dressed in their finery, as subjects for more photos. What a colourful, happy, friendly and joyous place!
The annual Hindu festival in celebration of Goddess Devi Muthu Mariamman was happening during our second visit to Port Blair. Devotees, mainly Tamil speaking Hindu, participate in 10 days of devotion and get blessings. We were lucky to see the gathering and procession of devotees who had chosen to participate in the sacred Fire Walk – a culminating event of the festival. The Fire Walk is perhaps something devotees do in thanks to God after making a wish and receiving the desired outcome.
Devotees once they have decided to do the Fire Walk have to do fasting and this depends from person to person – it can be anytime between 10 to 48 days. During this time they will wear yellow dress and will not use any shoes but walk barefoot. They will sleep on the floor rather than their bed. They will also only eat vegetarian food during the fasting. Additionally, no alcohol, tobacco or other pleasures can be had during the fasting time. It is said that devotees who correctly follow the fasting and other rituals will not be hurt during the Fire Walk. The most significant (and confronting) sign of devotion of those on procession to the Fire Walk were individuals who had pierced their face (through the cheeks) with long rods of steel; or other who flogged themselves with thick rope whips as they moved along. Worship and devotion in the extreme sense!
Just before our final departure from Port Blair the Hindu spring festival of Holi arrived. Also known as the “festival of colours” or the “festival of love” it signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter, and for many a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships. It lasts for a night and a day, starting on the evening of the Full Moon.
We joined a local celebration the next morning where family, friends and neighbours gathered to ‘play Holi’ smearing paint on all who they came into contact with, and dancing to the music from massive speakers that had been set up for the occasion. Our presence was welcomed as we too were allowed to participate in ‘Holi’ play. What a fun and friendly day and so pleased to have had the opportunity to experience this.
For us, seeing cows most anywhere we went in the metropolis of Port Blair was both, funny and a little mystifying. There was something in our memories that told us they were sacred in India. But does that allow them to wander down streets in the middle of town in peak hour traffic; rifle through trash looking for food; or nonchalantly graze on the lawns of the Port Blair promenade? So doing a little more research when we came home helped put their status in a better perspective. We also had the opportunity of seeing cows working hard in farmers fields which seemed much more in keeping with our belief system.
Whilst visiting Munda Pahad beach on South Andaman Island we came across staff and their families from the Port Blair Coast Guard who appeared to be having a Picnic Day. Unlike Australia or other western countries we have visited, this Picnic was devoid of alcohol yet high on fun. Children were happily mustered together for ‘Egg & Spoon’ races and then the adults for ‘Three Legged’ races. So great to see a workplace hosting such a fun day for their employees and families.
We hope you have enjoyed our Andaman travels and some of the insights and cultural opportunities we were so lucky to experience. Feel free to ‘Share’ these posts to other who you feel may enjoy them. Please do leave your comments as we love to hear what you think.