The modern avatar of Diwali has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with human avarice
Diwali, the festival of lights, has metamorphosed into an ostentatious display of financial worth with people ostensibly seeking mythical Hindu Goddess Laxmi’s benediction for even more of it
Much has been written about how the right wing troll army took on some celebrities who posted messages on social media calling for eschewing the use of firecrackers on Diwali for the sake of the environment, asserting that this was an inherent part of celebrations by Hindus. A report even claimed that people burst firecrackers in an upscale south Delhi locality while chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’, though it sounds highly improbable.
While abusive language directed towards anyone expressing concern about the massive spike in pollution levels following this way of ‘celebrating’ Diwali year after year, notwithstanding a judicial injunction against it, leading to health issues for thousands of people, is of course totally uncalled for, the real issue here has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with Homo Sapiens’ avarice.
Indeed, Diwali, the so-called festival of lights, has, over the years, metamorphosed into an ostentatious display of financial worth with people ostensibly seeking mythical Hindu Goddess Laxmi’s benediction for even more of it. Nothing more, nothing less. People have also forgotten that Dussehra, which marks the victory of good over evil, holds far more importance than Diwali in the scheme of things, which it continues to at least in our home.
This was not always the case. One recalls how Diwali used to actually be celebrated as a festival of lights with lighting of dozens and dozens of candles and small earthen pots and carefully planting them at all possible vantage points throughout the house in the evening preceding the prayer ritual. This elaborate exercise was the highlight of the festivity, not a sideshow as it has now turned out to be.
It’s worth noting that this tradition stems from how Lord Rama was given a rousing welcome at Ayodhya with the lighting of diyas as per the epic Ramayana, which is what this day is supposed to mark.
But nowadays, most people seem to have completely omitted this kind of celebration, going in for glitzy Chinese-made light emitting devices instead. Besides, of course, bursting loud firecrackers.
Yes, we did light firecrackers afterwards, but these would consist mainly of hand-held sparklers, conical anars (flower pots), chakris and the like, rather than loud ‘bombs’. Over the years, even this has dwindled to a point where this year, we bought a few Chinese lanterns to mark the day following the traditional lighting of the candles and diyas besides a few sparklers sold secretively by a vendor at the local market.
But then, it’s hardly, of course, a secret that people went berserk bursting firecrackers all night all across Delhi and elsewhere, which begs the question: If Delhi Police Commissioner Rakesh Asthana was out distributing sweets to police personnel manning barricades at India Gate and Pragati Maidan – both sites conveniently located within a stone’s throw distance from his Lutyens Delhi bungalow – as reported dutifully by the fawning godi media, couldn’t he or others of the dozens of senior officers in the top-heavy force do something about the blatant flouting of the Supreme Court’s orders banning firecrackers?
Indeed, when one happened to step outside on to the road late in the evening, the scene eerily resembled a war zone, with smoke all over the place and the unmistakable smell of cordite. And this was in an area a little far from civilisation, so to speak, in the middle of a literal forest.
Ironically, the self-important tin pot dictators holding the reins of the local RWA had been shooting WhatsApp messages in the days leading up to the festival warning residents that the area SDM – usually an IAS greenhorn learning the ropes for a few months before moving on to a far more staid posting – had issued strict orders to the local SHOs to book those who flouted the ban against firecrackers.
They even had the temerity to claim that security guards, whose salaries are collectively paid for by the residents, would keep an eye out for this and call up the cops! It all came to nothing, of course.
Incidentally, Hindutva proponents also seem to have forgotten that the genesis of modern-day firecrackers can be traced back to the Chinese, and that most of the gadgetry to mark Hindu festivals, down to the idols used by us, is imported from that country. This is even as the government, officially speaking, calls for a boycott of goods made by the Chinese, whose army, the PLA, has coolly transgressed into Indian territory at several points.
They would also never acknowledge heart-rending videos on social media showing poor residents of Ayodhya, ground zero for the right wing where over 9 lakh diyas were lit by the Yogi government in Uttar Pradesh to mark Diwali, scavenging for residual oil from them in the dark of the night.
This was in stark contrast to the shopping frenzy one happened to witness in the local market on Diwali, where people thronged around with nary a thought about COVID – it’s as if the pandemic, which reportedly killed over 50 lakh in India alone, never even happened, along the lines of ‘nobody killed Jessica’.
There were actually queues at the cash counter of a massive sweetmeat shop, and eager shoppers actually jostled with each other to get to the appropriately-attractive mithai counters as if they had set their eyes on such a concoction for the very first time in their life!
All in all, it was good while the festivities lasted, but it’s good to have them behind us too. Now, one has a nice winter ahead in which to soak the sun, enjoy hot, soapy baths and take long walks.
(The writer works as Senior Editor with National Herald. Views are personal)