Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Diwali: the triumph of good over evil

Diwali or Deepavali—the festival of lights—is a very popular Hindu festival. It is celebrated in the autumnal months of October and November. The dates of the festival are decided by the Hindu Lunisolar calendar, or the new moon night known as Kartika, named after Kartikeya, the Hindu god of war and the supreme commander of the army of the devas, or the pantheon of Hindu gods. Sometimes I wonder if all the gods from the Hindu, Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, among others, aren't really one and the same with only different names and nationalities.

© Wikimedia Commons
This year Diwali will be celebrated across the country from November October 23 to 26 when most government and private offices, including mine, are closed. Schools and colleges have Diwali holidays for up to three weeks.

The festival is an auspicious period and is a harbinger of good tidings. Spiritually, Diwali signifies four triumphs—light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. It is also a period of joy, gaiety, and laughter.

“Diwa” or “Deep” means light. Thus, Diwali or Deepavali is traditionally marked by the lighting of earthen lamps, lit with cotton wicks dipped in oil, and putting up colourful lanterns and strings of small twinkling lights. The earthen lamps are usually placed outside the house, on either side of the main door, as well as in balconies and porches, and on window sills. These are lit after sundown. Some people draw beautiful rangoli on the floor of their living room or courtyard. Rangoli is an ancient folk art that is created by using coloured rice and sand or flower petals. 

Rangoli on the floor.
© www.pl.wikipedia.org
Days and weeks before Diwali, people clean up their homes and many renovate them with a fresh coat of paint and a new set of curtains. Families go shopping, for new clothes and jewellery, which is worn on the first day of the festival. Diwali starts with the worship of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity. At twilight, the main door is kept ajar so that the goddess enters the home and blesses its residents with an abundance of health and happiness. The shrine and doorways are decked with garlands of marigold, yellow and orange. Traders and businessmen worship their books of account. Diwali is also about feasting, particularly on traditional sweets like mithai and ladoos, exchanging gifts, firing crackers, and visiting relatives and friends.

My family rings in Diwali with prayers, lights, and sweets every year. I also have fond childhood memories of the festival. My grandparents used to wake us up just before sunrise and we used to apply loban on our hands and faces before bathing, wear new clothes, say our prayers, light earthen lamps, greet each other, and gorge on homemade sweets. Loban is a fragrant paste made from the gum benjamin tree, or styrax benzoin, as it is scientifically known. I can still smell the incense.


Diwali is a beautiful and colourful festival but over past several years its beauty and colour has degenerated into noise and pollution, thanks to the indiscriminate firing of crackers by insensitive people who couldn’t care less about pets and the elderly. Although awareness about green and noise-free Diwali is growing every year, Indians are still far away from understanding its true essence—that it is primarily a festival of lights and colour, and spreading joy.

For the next seven days, my pet dog, a cross between a stray and a Doberman, will be so terrified of the firecrackers that she will refuse to eat or come out from her secure place under the bed. I can imagine the plight of stray dogs on the streets. For this reason alone I no longer look forward to Diwali.

But that won’t stop me from wishing all my blog friends and visitors to this blog, a very Happy Diwali and Prosperous New Year!

14 comments:

  1. Happy Diwali Prashant - hope it's a really great year chum.

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    1. Sergio, thank you! The holidays more than the festival is what I look forward to.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your festival, Prashant. I wish you and your family a peaceful and prosperous time.

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    1. Col, you are welcome and thank you for your best wishes. I wish you and your family the same too.

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  3. I'm sorry that what should be a beautiful time for you is spoilt and that your beloved dog is so frightened. It's hard for our pets as they really don't understand. Happy Diwali Prashant.

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    1. Rebecca, stray firecrackers have already driven my pet into hiding. For the next three days there will be firecrackers from sundown until midnight though you can't officially light firecrackers after 10 pm. The crackers, especially bombs, are loud in spite of the decibel limits. Even during the day you hear a loud bang or two out of nowhere. The cops can do little.

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  4. I've heard of this celebration but have known very little about it. Thanks for the information. I'm sorry to hear that it's been taken over so much by noisemakers.

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    1. Charles, you are welcome. There are certain elements in Indian society who would rather make noise and pollute the environment than celebrate the festival with colour and gaiety. Diwali has been subdued over the past three years because of economic slowdown.

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  5. I'm sorry too that such a charming sounding family holiday has been spoilt by firecrackers and noise. Your poor dog. I know what it's like to have a frightened pet on one's hands. No fun. My last dog used to be deathly afraid of thunder. Oh the time I had trying to keep her calm.

    Well, I'll wish you and your family a very Happy Diwali and a peaceful one.

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    1. Yvette, thank you for the wishes. Dogs in India live in a perennial state of fright because of year-long festivals accompanied by musical processions, lightning and thunder during the monsoon months, and weddings from October through January which are almost always accompanied by loud music bands. We get a free show of all of this outside our house.

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  6. Thanks for the additional information about Diwali. There is something about the lighting of candles that brings a dimension of the sacred to a holiday. It's a tradition in our house to light the rooms with candles on Christmas Eve. Here in the Southwest, you may also see luminarias along the walks leading to people's front doors. Of course, if you know about jack-o-laterns for Halloween, that's a whole different tradition.

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    1. Ron, you are welcome. I agree, there is something about lighting candles and earthen lamps during festivals. We also light a small lamp, with oil and wick, every day (a religious tradition in many Hindu homes) as well as agarbattis, or incense sticks that give out a mild to strong fragrance. I have only seen Jack O'Lanterns in comic books and on television.

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  7. I love the idea of a festival of lights, just the name is enough to make it enticing. Thanks for telling us about it, and I hope you and your family enjoy the holiday. Btw, I wonder if you typed November rather than October in the 2nd para, as it sounds as if it is happening very soon....

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    1. Moira, you are welcome and thanks for your good wishes. Diwali is a beautiful festival if celebrated in true spirit. This year the firecrackers are fewer and that is a big relief to many people as well as pets who cannot tolerate loud noise. Diwali is being celebrated even as I write this, so thanks very much for bringing the error to my notice. I'll correct it right away, Moira.

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