Now it is fun, frolic, revelry and pleasure, with the religious connotations pushed to the background.
The forefront is occupied by the ritual of consumption, entertainment, merry-making and life affirmation. The festival is a consumer’s delight and producer’s dream.
The innocence of the festival has been invaded by sophistication and scale in all its aspects. The earthen lamps are replaced by flickering strings of lights, neon and other innovations that make the flames gyrate to attract attention.
Fireworks are professional, high-sounding with burst of bombs that pierce through the ears, high decibel sounds and a long string of crackers in thousands.
Sparklers are feminine and used by children and women; loudness is masculine and thus handled by the daredevil men.
The art of pyrotechnics advances every year. The rockets soar higher; make kaleidoscopic patters after bursting, with loud sounds. The whole neighborhood is littered with remnants of scattered pieces.
Seeing is believing. And the remnants of the crackers lie around for a while, as it is not for workers to work and clean but collect tips from households.
The second aspect is the intensification of the practice of gift giving.
In most religions, there is at least one occasion when gifts are exchanged.
Hindus do so on Diwali day.
Diwali candles have largely taken over the twinkling from earthen diyas.
Nobody has the time nowadays to twist wicks out of raw cotton and to fill each individual diya with oil.
But crackers and fireworks have come into their own, vying with each other for range, variety and eye appeal, also sadly, noise and smoke.
It is possible to drape the night in stars without an almighty bang that also releases a pall of smoke.
Most of the money spent on a Diwali celebration only seeks to project an image. But in spite of this element of consumerism that has recently crept in, Diwali remains one of the liveliest of Indian festivals.
Till distemper and plastic emulsion appeared on the scene, every urban home was lime-washed for Diwali every year for cosmetic reasons and to lay on a befitting welcome to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, who likes homes to be clean. Diwali is also an occasion for throwing away old, unwanted stuff.
Diwali is an important economic event today.
The hidden persuaders work overtime to justify consumption and convincing people of spending money. This season of gifts is marked by advertisements that offer the gift giver a variety of options, especially to the business houses that can get their logos imprinted on the items a kind of PR exercise.
The Festival has now come to be associated with conspicuous consumption on the one hand and indulgence on the other. The expenditure on celebrations has gone up by geometric proportions.
Diwali sales beckon people to bargains. The atmosphere is sabbatical and raucousness is not despised. Record albums and new films are released; magazines issue special numbers; business ventures are launched.
Frenzied shopping accompanies the festivities. Shops are decorated with flowers, lights and tinsel and cater to large jostling crowds buying clothes, gold and silver ornaments, sweets and firecrackers. To celebrate the harvest, new utensils are bought. There is an air of extravagance and business is brisk with each shop vying with the other by offering better bargains.
Hence the proliferation of shops and kiosks dealing in gifts and special packaging of sweets, chocolates, fruits, dry fruit and other sundries like purses, pens, table-sets of cutlery and stationery, sarees, crockery items, ceramic decoration pieces, plastic stuff; table lamps, containers, hampers containing consumables like pickles, jams, sauces, condensed milk and much more.
Traces of tradition
Candles and electric lights may take the place of the traditional earthen lamps; but many families have retained the traditional values.
Throughout India, Diwali celebrations bring the luminosity of joyous spirit-visits to relations and friends, heart touching heart, mind and mind, soul and soul, warm greetings and exchange of sweets, crackers and fireworks-loud and thundering or sparkling Anar or a Phooljhari so appropriate to the sparkle of the heart and festive night.