I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I don't know that much about Hinduism. I don't remember learning about it when I was at school, and it's not something I've ever had to teach about during my 13 years as a classroom teacher.
However, I recently visited my first Hindu temples, one in Kuala Lumpur (where we stayed for a night at either end of our trip to Saigon) and one in Saigon. I found them fascinating - so open, welcoming and friendly... and so brightly coloured too!
The first thing you notice as you approach the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in KL are the rows of stalls where people are busily making and selling garlands. The smell of the jasmine blossom and the limes was incredible.
I quickly realised that there's a real focus on food in the temple! These beautifully presented bananas had - I think - been left as an offering.
Statues of many Hindu gods.
Here's one I recognised (thanks to Darren!) - Ganesh. Someone had left him an orange and some flowers.
There was a very relaxed atmosphere in the temple.
The building is topped with an amazingly colourful and detailed 75-foot-high tower. It is covered with depictions of Hindu gods and goddesses.
The women were wearing the most beautiful jewel-coloured saris.
As we were walking around, a ceremony was taking place. It was fascinating to watch. This is a very poor photo (I felt uncomfortable taking pictures during an act of worship), but I wanted to capture it so I could find out what it was all about... They were pouring buckets of what looked like juice over the statue of the god.
These people were busily juicing oranges to add to the buckets. The surrounding floor was also littered with other fruit and vegetables, so I don't think it was just oranges that were being used.
If anyone knows the background behind this ritual I would love to hear about it.
The Hindu temple in Saigon was equally beautiful and brightly coloured and people were leaving garlands and offerings of food and fruit. The fragrance of incense was also very noticeable as worshippers were lighting incense sticks, praying to the gods and leaving the sticks burning in urns such as this.
This little boy was very interested in me and my camera!
Lighting the incense sticks.
It was only on our journey back to Brunei, when we stopped off in KL once again, that we realised that Divali was approaching - Hindu New Year. We walked past many banners advertising the Divali celebrations in the city. We were also intrigued to see these gorgeous designs (Rangoli Patterns) being created around the city (we saw one in the airport, and several in shopping malls) - they were made of coloured rice.
I'm pleased to say that this week I am also teaching my class about Divali, focusing on the story of Rama and Sita. The message of Divali seems appropriate to us all - may good triumph over evil, and may our lives be full of light.