Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dispel the Darkness: "Deepavali"

There are many theories connected with the festival of Deepavali, the festival of lights, but the primary reason is the celebration of light of knowledge over ignorance.

The Sanskrit word "Deepavali" -- Deepa meaning light and Avali, meaning a row. Every home is awash with the orange glow of twinkling diyas (small earthen lamps) lit to welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity.

Have you ever thought why we celebrate Deepavali? In most cases, the general response is, "to celebrate Rama's return to Ayodhya after his exile". But there are many more legends behind the festival of lights. For few, the festival is connected to the amrit manthan or churning of the ocean. Legend has it that Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, appeared on the Kartik amavasya during the churning. Hence Lakshmi is worshipped during Deepavali, which falls on the Kartik amavasya. In south India, the primary reason for Deepavali is to celebrate Krishna's victory over the asura Narakasura. According to one version, Sathyabama, Krishna's wife, takes up arms against the demon to give her husband rest. A third story links it to the Mahabharat. The Pandavas, banished for 13 years after the game of dice, reappear on the Kartik amavasya. Another touches upon Vishnu's Vamanavatar. As Vaman, Vishnu pushes King Mahabali into the world of the dead. But because Bali's only fault was his pride, he was allowed to come to earth to light lamps and spread love and wisdom. In Kerala, it is said Bali is allowed to visit his former subjects, the celebration being Onam.

Fast forward to the present era of 21st century.

The new generation’s way of celebrating "Diwali". During Diwali, when markets are bullish, shopping is a necessity and is considered fortunate. Advertising and marketing gurus harness the festival season to the maximum to cash in on the 'buying' mood of the populace through innovative marketing. With so many malls and shopping complexes mushrooming in the Indian cities, these have become the melting pots for Diwali celebrations.

As Diwali approaches, markets are swarming with buyers splurging on anything under the sun in preparation for the festivities. However, over the years traditional markets selling utensils and clothes, have given way to swanky malls featuring cars, two-wheelers, ornaments and modern gadgets including TVs, refrigerator and cell phones. All these have changed the idea of "Diwali" and lighting of earthen diyas has been substituted with a new modern way of shopping pattern. Corporate giants, be it automobiles, consumer durables, IT, finance or apparels almost everything appeals to the instincts of the people and make a kill to post higher sales.

A number of Diwali fairs and carnivals are organised these days and in Bangalore recently the concept of shopping fest is soon becoming popular. This festival season, The Forum mall in Koramangala, is organising a true value shopping festival. The highpoints of Forum Shopping Festival (FSF) are the performances of artistes from Bulgaria, Hungary and Dubai who perform throughout the days in the mall. They showcase interesting items like juggling, stilt-walking, fire-throwing, Balevi performances, twirling dance and Hungarian cultural acts.

The small shopkeepers hawking earthen "diyas" and Lakshmi idols have now gone to the background but it’s worth noting that the number is still interesting if not phenomenal. The salespersons at up market outlet showcasing designer trousseau and traditional ethnic wear has been taken over by festive discount sales from Lee, Levis, Tommy Hilfiger,Marks and Spencer and many more. It is the time to keep the cash registers ringing. Traditional earthen diyas have been replaced by designer diyas and electric "lichi" lights. Consumers are saying good-bye to traditional sweets during this Diwali season and fast turning towards low calorie cookies and cakes. People now search for an alternative to sweets. People have gotten exhausted eating sweets especially during festivals and for a few dry fruits is a healthy choice. Decorated in beautiful trays and jars, dry fruits too make the best choice for health conscious and look sophisticated and refined as a gift.

We have forgotten the "galli wala" mithai shops specialties such as the jalebi, besan ke laddos, kaju barfi and the list is endless. Nowadays beer has somehow become the preferred drink on Diwali among youth. A considerable amount of booze is consumed in India during this time. I don't know or am I aware about the exact numbers, but judging from the crazy rush at local liquor stores, pubs and bars, the night before or on Diwali, it’s a lot. In the most of the offices (MNC’s, ITES’s and BPO’s), Diwali parties are common with load music, dance and local DJ’s humming the latest tracks such as "It’s the Time to Disco". For a few the long weekend (4 days leave including the Eid al-Fitr) is a long awaited opportunity to go on a hiking expedition, or to a hill station (Coorg, Otty, Munnar for Bangalore junta) or better to the hometown if someone is close to Bangalore.

So that’s Diwali….

What I did in Diwali?

I am not in favor of bursting crackers on Deepavali for 2 obvious reasons.

1. People spend thousands of rupees on purchasing crackers and fireworks.These gets burnt out in a fraction of a second. Youngsters and elders know where to buy : crackers, chocolate bombs and other banned fireworks.Every child enjoys lighting crackers. But, we seldom give a thought to the people who make the crackers. They are children, who are forced to work for almost 22 hours a day to give us moments of joy. They can only make these crackers, they cannot burst them. The poisonous chemicals, which children have to handle or inhale, can cause life-long damage to their health.

2. Noise pollution is one of the most harmful effects of this festival. The smoke and the bi-products of crackers pollute the air and the ecology is hindered. The worst part is people burst crackers in the streets, in the apartment complexes and in the market localities but never ever think for a while to clean up the area after all the fun and enjoyment. The next day morning the area bears the picture of a war affected zone littered with papers, plastics and earthen lamps and containers.

The Friday evening,I spent some time with one of my friends, Ron. Other than that had been to meet lot of my school friends and other office colleagues. I was elated over the fact that all the people I know celebrated Diwali in simple way but with oodles of creativity. Ron, made a simple photo frame all by herself using some disposable waste components and presented it to one of her friends with an ever lasting memorable pic tucked in it. One of my school days friends Aurobindo along with Aparna took me for a long drive and then we had simple food and some lighting. The pics below I guess can speak about the creativity that has been involved.(Shutter work is my handiwork :-),creativity part is Auro+Aparna )

Finally the day ended with long hours of chat with all my friends at Barista over a cup of coffee, walking back to the childhood pranks and college days. Finally we were all back home by 1:00 AM.

I felt it this way. Perhaps more of us could take a leaf out of the books of other cultures, other traditions, other spiritual perspectives, and finding those things we can celebrate and remember together? Yes, that's a thoroughly postmodern way of doing things. Taking bits from many beliefs and creating your own set of perceptions about the world and the Powers that influence it, celebrating and honoring across culture and creed. Diwali has always been more a social than religious festival. It is a personal, people-oriented festival when enmities are forgotten, families and friends meet, enjoy themselves, and establish or renew a world of closeness.

A festival of light and beauty, Deepavali encourages artistic expression and builds a strong sense of community. The diverse cultures and customs of India mingle together in a wonderful celebration of joy, light and unity.

Keep reading and remain connected.


At 10:46 AM, Blogger Mantra35 said...

The last few days in Bangalore were real hell for me. It was a potent mix of air and noise pollution. The whole city was engulfed in smoke and noise and people blatantly disregarded directives by the police not to burst crackers in residential areas, near hospitals and on the main roads. There had been a death in my flat and the people staying there had not yet recovered from that. Yet people in the entire residential area were making merry, bursting crackers, even after 10 pm, the deadline set by the police.

Diwali is becoming a festival of noise, destroying the very sanctity of the festival in India. What is at display is ugly exhibition of money power and a pathetic demonstration of how a few people can make life hell for others.

At 10:33 AM, Blogger my quite place said...

i too share similar thoughts when it comes to diwali.. for me diwali is more about lights,sweets, spending quality time with your folks and friends..

At 7:31 PM, Blogger delphinium said...

Hey Tanay!
Thanks for mentioning my photo frame! Haha...
The best way to celebrate any festival is to be together with your people and live and let live...This is the reason why "civilization" has festivals to begin with.
But unfortunately, many of our fellow humans like to be obnoxious and noxious...It's sad to see this behaviour being encouraged by PARENTS with their children.
What are we teaching them?
Happy holidays.


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