Diwali: The Festival of light; the festival of life

Jul 7, 2015, 16:25 PM
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Maharashtra, the sentinel of the Western Coast.  The custodian of the legacy of one of history’s most progressive and secular rulers—Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, home to Mumbai—the financial capital of India; and a veritable melting pot of a thousand different cultural influences. Cosmopolitan yet rooted. Timeless yet traditional. None of this is hyperbole. Merely the truth.

Little wonder then that Diwali—the most important festival of the Hindu way of life—is celebrated here in a manner that adds the unique flavor of the soil to the age-old, universal festivities.

Diwali starts from Vasubaras which is the 12th day of the 2nd half of the Hindu month of Ashwin. This day is celebrated by performing an aarti of the cow and its calf- a symbol of love between mother and child. It is also the day to underline the message of compassion towards animals, and their importance in the scheme of things.

The next day is Dhanatrayodashi (dhana=wealth, tra=3 dashi=10th i.e. 10+3=13th day) or Dhanteras. This day is of special importance for traders and business people. This is the day to buy a new piece of metal for one’s home or office—as a mark of obeisance to Kubera, the mythical Lord of wealth. The piece of metal could range from pots and pans and utensils to gold and silver jewellery. In fact, all major city jewelers do brisk business on Dhanteras.

The 14th day of Ashwin is Narakachaturdashi. Legend has it that on this day Lord Krishna slayed Narkasura, the evil Lord of the Netherworld, thereby marking the triumph of good over evil.

Traditionally, this day is marked by a bathing ritual, which entails rising before dawn and rubbing one’s bodies with scented oils and herbal scrubs (utna). Not only does this cleanse away all the dirt, but the ingredients used in the bath—almonds, poppy seeds and sesame—are a way of fortifying the body for the forthcoming winter months.

The cleansing ritual—a time for great banter and bonhomie—is followed by a bath. All of this is to be accomplished before sunlight. After this, people light lamps and firecrackers, and pray either at home or visit a temple. In the modern times, this is also the day for ‘Diwali pahaat’ programmes, that consist of classical music and traditional bhajans. These programmes usually feature top of the line artistes, and are much looked forward to events.

Now the family may feast on the traditional goodies (faraal) that are the choicest compliments of the season. So be it sweet and salty Shankarpalas (fried dumplings of dough),  crisp chaklis (made of assorted lentils), chiwda (flattened rice preparation),laddoos ( sweets made of gram-flour/semolina/wheat/assorted lentils and clarified butter, rolled up in a distinct round shape), karanjis (fried patties of wheatflour stuffed with a sweet coconut filling) and anarase (crispy sweet and sour preparations), the sweets and savouries usually follow a recipe dictated over time—and are a much-looked forward to affair. They are meant not only to be consumed by the family, but also exchanged with neighbours and relatives.
Then comes the most important day of Diwali—namely the Lakshmi- poojan or worship of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. It occurs on Amavasya i.e. no moon day. The dark night is illuminated by lamps and at dusk crackers are burst—all the better to welcome the Goddess into one’s home and life. In every household, cash, jewellery and an idol of the goddess Lakshmi is worshipped. The broom used to clean one's house is also worshipped as a symbol of the Goddess in some places .

It’s now time for Diwali Padwa—the first day of the new month - Kartik in the Hindu calendar. This day usually marks the celebration of the husband-wife relationship with the wife performing a traditional aarti for the husband, after which he gives her a gift, usually of money, clothing and jewellery.
Bhaubeej usually falls towards the end of Diwali– and marks the brother-sister bond. The sister usually prepares a traditional meal for her brother and performs the aarti, while he gives her presents.

Rooted in the soil

There are certain rituals that are typical only to Maharashtra. This includes the time-honoured tradition of bringing out the Diwali ankas (special, limited edition publications) to promote the values of reading and cultural pride amongst young and old. These Diwali editions could be general, or targeted to a specific audience only—particularly women and children. A great deal of time and planning is involved in making them a collectors’ item. From opinion pieces by academics and experts and artistes to features chronicling and commenting on the latest socio-political-economic trends, to recipes and nuggets on good housekeeping, there’s something for everyone.

Children build replica forts in memory of the founder of the Maratha empire, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, or look forward to buying the same from local markets. The making of the mud fort is a greatly enjoyable process which involves laying the foundation of the fort, and eventual building and painting it, bit by bit. Elders gamely participate in this fun ritual. Little flags adorn the finished product—as do images of assorted warriors and soldiers. Similarly, making your very own lanterns aka akashkandils is another ritual that challenges the imagination and creativity.  Across all age groups, young and old vie amongst themselves to come up with the prettiest lantern ever! From paper to cloth, wooden and steel frames, to tinsel and buntings—the sky is the limit to decorate your akashkandil. Of course, these days, eco-friendly lanterns are on everyone’s priority list.

Since Mahrashtra is home to the biggest film industry in the world—namely the Hindi film industry—movie moguls vie amongst themselves to release the big budget movies at this time of the year.

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