Change is a law of Mother Nature.
Today, everything has the touch of change including the celebrations and rituals of festivals. Diwali (Deepavali) has also undergone a complete metamorphosis.
The name Diwali itself is supposed to be a transformed form of the more correct word ‘Dipavali’ or ‘Deepavali,’ the literal meaning of which in Sanskrit is a row of lamps. Filling little clay lamps with oil and wick and lighting them in rows all over the house, is a tradition that is popular in most regions of India.
Earlier, on the main day, the best part used to be the darkness approaching the night. The ritual of lamp burning used to take quite some time, even the dingiest slum hut used to acquire a glow of the earthen lamp and a traditional festive air of celebration. This was followed by a short prayer to Goddess Lakshmi, the Progenitor of wealth, with one rupee silver coin soaked in milk, few low-tone crackers, ordinary sparklers and rockets launched in empty soda water bottles.
To welcome Lakshmi into their home, people used to make floor designs of Lotus, the seat of Lakshmi at the entrance. Lights were kept on all night to ensure that she does not lose her way. In South India, celebrations began with an oil bath before sunrise. Goddess Lakshmi is said to reside in the oil on that day and Goddess Ganga in the water.
The scene today
Diwali is not what it used to be, a festival not seen as it is now and the reverence for the occasion is gone. Now it is fun, frolic, revelry and pleasure. The religious trappings are 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 thoroughly professional, high-sounded with a burst of bombs that pierce through the ears, high decibel sounds and a long string of crackers in thousands.
The art of pyrotechnics advances every year. The rockets soar higher; make kaleidoscopic patters after bursting, with loud sounds.
Gifts and Goodwill
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. To clean up the mess the following morning is another big problem. 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 perfectly possible to drape the night in stars without an almighty bang that also releases a pall of smoke.
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. Gambling is with very high stakes. Gone are the innocent coins; in are the high denomination notes in bundles.
But diyas are fickle and gusts of wind unpredictable. As sleep tugs at the eyelids of merrymakers, most of them taking advantage of the technical advances today, like to play safe by leaving an electric bulb on.