Saturday, October 25, 2014

Deepavali Continues

25 October 2014

It's kind of fun being back in a place we know, where things are familiar.  Or at least certain areas are familiar.  We know some places to visit in our neighborhood, places to eat, even a spot for laundry.  All important things for living or travelling in any location.

We'll be in the KL area for a month, possibly longer.  Richard needs some dental work, so he's shopping around for dentists.  I'm shopping around for a hairdresser to deal with my unruly mop of hair, and have an appointment lines up for Monday.  Exciting things, I know.

Between these various life-maintenance things, we'll explore more of Malaysia.

Our first day, we visited Chinatown, with the market at Petaling Street and all the clamor and craziness of the open-air market and built-in shops.  Colorful, busy, and just crazy.

Then we had a dental consultation at the Kuala Lumpur Twin Towers, also called the Petronas Towers.  Not Patronus like a patronus charm, Petronas, the gas and petrol company here in Malaysia.  

The towers really are remarkable - I don't even know how to describe the shape, sort of alternating right angles and curves making a strangely faceted surface.  The whole thing, or rather the two buildings and the bridge inbetween, are constructed from metal and glass and not much else.  We need to get there and see them at night - we have a partial view from our hotel room, and the twin buildings really glitter and sparkle at night, with a light in every window and lighting along the stepped edges.

According to the Petronas website, the twin towers are based on simple Islamic geometric forms of two interlocking squares, creating a shape of eight-pointed stars.  They say these forms describe important Islamic principles of "unity within unity, harmony, stability, and rationality" in an architectural format.  This eight-pointed star is recessed five times as it tapers into the pinnacle on top of each tower.

"The Towers feature multi-faceted walls of 33,000 stainless steel and 55,000 glass panels. Vision Glass, specialised panels with light filtering and noise reduction properties, provide a comfortable inner environment. The glass is covered by stainless steel visors to further protect visitors from the tropical sun."

Their website: 

And a few facts and figures: Each building is 88 storeys tall, for a total of 452 meters (493 yards, or 1,480 feet) above street level.  The connecting skybridge is 170 meters above street level, and is 58.4 meters long.  (No, we did not walk across.)  


Then on to Bukit Bintang, a fun and rather posh part of town, with a variety of malls, places to shop and eat, and a multi-plex movie theatre.  Plus my favorite Malaysian shopping center and store, Parkson's at The Pavilion.  (This is where I met my nice personal shopper dude.)

Well, because this is a rather posh and upscale mall, they had an upscale (read: "over the top") decoration for Deepavali.  Seriously over the top!

They called it the "Walk of Splendour," which began near the sidewalk and went all the way into the front foyer.  Large round mandala-like decals, the gravel formed into decorations, hanging lights, a variety of small elephant statues made of different materials - it was gorgeous!  Bright, colorful, a wild rainbow celebration of this Festival of Light!!!

The whole things was gorgeous, and each part was beautiful all by itself.  
The info pamphlet the concierge desk was giving out (with a cardboard elephant to cut out and put together, also gorgeously decorated and a work of art I want to save) has this information about the Walk of Splendour:

"Join us as we welcome the Festival of Lights with a series of colourful kolams [the gravel designs], heart-thumping dance performances, and vibrant decorations from 15 till 26 October 2014.

"This Deepavali, witness spectacular kolam designs put together by the students from Raffles College of Higher Education.  The patterns narrate the story of Lord Rama, who after his 14 years of exile returned to the people and defeated evil.

Marvel at the intricate kolam designs that illustrate happiness and victory from the Pavilion Crystal Fountain to the Bukit Bintang Entrance." 

More information is included along the outside walk:  "Kolam is a form of traditional Hindu painting drawn on the ground, and is believes to bestow prosperity and success for homes.
"Walk and see the intricate 14 kolam designs as they tell the story of Lord Rama, one of the Gods of Hindu, and his journey of defeating Evil.

"Your walk will lead you to the kolam materpiece which illustrates victory, happiness, and contentment.  It takes the shape of a majestic elephant, which signifies the 'removal of obstacles' and fulfillment."

Deepavali, or Diwali, celebrations are continuing - apparently much of the celebrating takes place in the home, but we've seen and heard music in the streets, and firecrackers and fireworks after dark.  There's a Hindu temple just a bit down the road and around a corner, and some of the fireworks were coming from that area one evening.  Last night, larger fireworks were being shot off the top of a tall building several blocks away, but we could hear and see them from our hotel room (this is about 10 or 11 PM) so we had a little private fireworks show.  We've enjoyed the pyrotechnics, though we definitely could have done without the three sets of firecrackers going off about 4 AM this morning.  But, well, it's a local celebration and we like being part of that, or at least observing, so we aren't complaining.

This probably doesn't line up with the photo (I have trouble doing that when I enlarge the photos, but I think these beautiful designs should be seen in the larger size so you can see all the detail) - but check out the photo with the large yellow kolam, the one that looks like a giant flower, maybe a sunflower or marigold.  You can see how the design is the digitally-produced kolam decal, stuck on the tiles.  But then you can see the right side of the kolam, where the colored gravel has been added, so that it looks like the traditional kolam, hand-made.  I think this is what the two young men were talking about at our hotel, how some people use the digital design but at our hotel they design it and make it by hand. 

While I like the handmade aspect, I also can understand why the art students combined computer graphics to produce the more intricate designs and images.  And being an art teacher, I also understand that incorporating new technologies is an important aspect of education in today's world.

In either case, kolams are beautiful, and I've been enjoying this part of Deepavali the most!  Couldn't you see these designs in, oh, fabric?  Scarves maybe.  Or repeating on sarongs.  Or maybe embroidered on patches, I wouldn't mind a patch to sew on a jacket.  Or on ceramic tiles, to display or use as something functional.  I know, these are part of a religious and cultural celebration.  I just sort of hate to lose the beautiful designs, to see them be swept away.  But maybe the ephemeral quality of beauty, especially beauty in the natural world, is part of the point. 

The kolams represent different human attributes that Lord Rama used to defeat evil.  (Sorry, Evil with a capital E.)  Human attributes.  Inner qualities. 

So if this Festival of Lights symbolizes the triumph of Good over Evil, and refers to an Inner Light, perhaps represented by these various attributes or maybe even virtues - well, those are underlying and eternal values, but they're intangibles.  We can't see or touch them, we can only feel them internally, not physically.  These virtues/attributes don't exist in a physical sense.  And even though they are, in many ways, universal virtues, they die each time an individual with those virtues dies.  They have to be reborn again in another individual in order to exist.  Kind of an on-going education of individuals and reincarnation of the virtues.

So if the kolam is a physical representation of an intangible, maybe it's important that the kolam NOT be permanent.  The disappearance of the design reminds us that we, too, will disappear; and the virtues represented by the kolams will disappear with us.  Thus it becomes essential that we continue the existence of these virtues by teaching our children, or showing others by example.  By continuing the example of goodwill, and friendship, and hope, and each of our Inner Light.

I don't know, I'm just speculating.  And trying to understand.  Often, as a visitor, an outsider to a culture, one doesn't really understand the intricacies and symbolism of various rituals and practices.  But I find it all fascinating.  Especially when the rituals come wrapped in such incredibly beautiful packages.

We continue to enjoy Malaysia, which is a good thing because we may be in KL for a month or so.  

And yes, it's monsoon season.  But that doesn't mean it rains all day, or even every day.  There are frequent rain showers, but usually in the afternoon or evening.  They're often accompanied by thunder and lightening, and Richard and I both enjoy a good storm.  Especially from the dry warmth of our comfy hotel room.

So yes, we're enjoying monsoon season thus far.  And right now, a great storm is beginning, with loud crashes and rumblings, dark grey skies, and bright flashes of lightening.  It's almost 6 PM, sunset is in about an hour, and we'll enjoy this evening's storm while we decide what to do with the evening.


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