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Very beautiful, don’t you think? And all this was done by an Indian girl who had landed in Mexico less than two months before the idea of organizing a small do for the Hindu New Year festival was proposed to her by her Mexican employer.

That’s right, I’m talking about me! This is the Diwali mandap (altar) which I had set up in the reception area of the corporate office where I was working in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2007.

To present India’s rich culture and traditions to the more than 400 office employees seemed like a challenging task. So I thought about organizing a Diwali mandap for the 9th of November, the day of ‘Lakshmi Pooja,’ which is the day during the Diwali festival when Hindus worship Goddess Lakshmi. I had planned to conduct a pooja (worship) ceremony at 9:30 am on that day.

Three weeks before the event, an e-invite was circulated within the office.

Information on the importance of the festival was uploaded on the company’s website to let people know about Indian customs and traditions. Still, there were many things to be done — the layout and designing of the mandap, sourcing idols of Lord Ganesh and Goddess Lakshmi, purchasing decorations, flowers, fruits, diyas (lamps), lighting, etc. I made arrangements with the company’s central kitchen to serve Indian vegetarian food on that day. For that, I had to translate the recipes of the starters, main dish and dessert into Spanish, and explain the requirements of the taste and flavour to the kitchen in-charge.

After a rough estimate of all the expenses, the company authorized me a budget of six thousand pesos. For the next three weeks, I visited the city’s commercial centres and shopping zones for stores selling Asian items. This helped me discover various hitherto unknown barrios (neighbourhoods) of the city. Finally, I found a shop which sold a few Indian goods. I managed to persuade the shop owner to rent me a few items for the day. I selected two beautiful bronze idols of the deities, four Pashmina shawls, a batik bed sheet, two decorative traditional hangings and a long metal necklace.

With Christmas just two months away, stores selling decorative goods had stocked various types of eye-catching items — I purchased sandalwood incense sticks (which are very popular in the city), a cascade-style decorative lighting, plain diyas, floating diyas, feng shui crystal hangings, a small bronze bell and a small beautifully carved bronze ashtray (with a diya and a few flowers, it looked perfect as a “pooja thali” to be placed before the gods), red chart paper, crêpe paper, red & golden decorative sticks, red chenille fabric and red satin fabric.

A day before the special day, I visited the wholesale markets at 7 am to shop for lovely colourful flowers and luscious fruits. Later in the afternoon, I started with the mandap design work. The guys from the office maintenance department worked on the structure as per my design and did a perfect job. Two tables were tied together while bamboos were placed at the four corners and on the top, to create the roof for the mandap. The tables were covered with red chart paper. Square blocks covered with red chart paper were used to create two levels. All this was then covered with red crêpe paper. The roof was covered with the red batik bed sheet, and the two sides with two Pashminas. The decorative lighting was tied around the roof and the sides. It was 6 pm by the time all this was completed and my efficient helpers had to leave for home.

I was left alone, with plenty of work to complete. I had made two-coloured decorations from the different shades of crêpe paper, which I hung inside the mandap along with the other decorative hangings. Two red Pashminas were spread on each level and the idols of the two deities were placed on the top level. I had taken coloured print-outs of the Indian map and some beautiful photos of India — snow-capped mountains, sandy desert, white beaches, wildlife, dance and yoga — I stuck these on the beautiful red satin cloth which was the background for the mandap. The Indian flag, two photo frames of deities and two traditional dupatta formed part of the decor.

Friends and colleagues helped me by lending a few items like a broad round glass stand to place the floating candles, a glass fruit bowl and vase for the long-stemmed, beautiful flowers. One colleague (a devotee of Shri Sathya Sai Baba) had a small jar of red ‘kumkum’ powder, which she had purchased on her trip to the famous god man’s ashram in India. She lent me the jar for the day so that I could adorn the foreheads of the two deities with kumkum. Another colleague lent me her incense stick holder for the sandalwood incense.

I made garlands of yellow and purple Aster flowers and arranged red Hibiscus flowers and yellow flowers neatly around the idols. Some red and yellow flowers and rose petals were laid out into the water-filled glass stand, along with the floating candles. With the white rangoli powder, I made the religious symbols of ‘AUM’, ‘swastika’ and some decorative designs on the red layout.

It was past midnight when I added the finishing touches to my mandap. It looked so breathtakingly beautiful that I myself couldn’t take my eyes off it! The illuminations glowed softly on the beautiful red mandap bedecked with flowers; the gods were seated amongst the loveliest flowers surrounded by luscious fruits; while the beautiful floral arrangement, colourful garlands, diyas and floating diyas added a picturesque touch to the ethereal scene.

The next morning, everybody including the company chairman stopped to admire my glowing mandap on their way into the office. I had made arrangements for background music to be played throughout the day. The soulful music and the powerful mantras of the Gayatri Mantra CD appealed to all.

A colleague had brought a few boxes of Mexican milk sweets (which taste just like the Indian pedas!) which I arranged in a glass dish to be placed in front of the deities as an offering. At 9:30 am, dressed in a red and gold sari, I started the pooja and recited a few aartis (prayers). All those present stood in solemn silence, patiently listening to my ten-minute aarti (prayer) recital, without understanding a word of it. Once the pooja ceremony was over, as is the custom, I let each of them lightly touch the flame of the diya in the pooja thali. The milk sweets were distributed and then everyone returned to their work.

Everything had gone off well including the special Indian lunch which got an excellent review. The starter was a delicious lasagne dish of corn and spinach, which was followed by ‘chole’ (chickpea) and ‘jeera rice’ (rice flavoured with cumin seeds), ending with ‘shahi tukra’ (a rich dessert of bread and nuts).

The next day was Saturday; I had to return the rented items. I felt terribly sad while undoing, one by one, all the hard work which I had done during the last two days. The photos and the video of the ceremony were the only reminders of the beautiful experience. The total cost for putting up the mandap was 3063 pesos (around 300US$ in those days), barely half the amount which the company had sanctioned to me. This was because I had got each item at a very good bargain!  I had spent the company money very carefully, resulting in the refund of almost half the amount allocated to me for the festival.

Well, that’s the story about my beautiful Diwali mandap in Mexico. I hope you enjoyed reading this post much as I enjoyed writing it.

Let me tell you that you can read about this and my Mexican experiences in my soon-to-be-published travel book ‘Discovering MEXICO’ which is part of a three-book series on Mexico.

Before I say ‘bye’ to you all, enjoy this lovely music : Toccata & Fugue 

See you soon…keep visiting 🙂