Diwali: this conjures up many memories. From helping mom with preparing the snacks and sweets for the festival from a few days before (well, I tasted!) to the pre-dawn Ganga-snanam (more on this below). From donning new clothes excitedly (the why answered below) to celebrating with the whole neighborhood; and so much more. As I went through this rich memory bank, I wondered if I and this festival have traveled too far away, not just the miles across the oceans, but from what it means itself. But as I gave some more thought to it, I realize that while the festival has surely changed over the years, the spirit remains the same. That essence of Diwali: then, now, and later too, I am sure, will remain unchanged.
For this festival is not just about religious observations or worshipping deities, it is about celebrating victories, families, friendships, and pure joy. We celebrate it on a moonless light (this festival falls on a new moon each year, and the date changes based on the lunar calendar, but always around mid-October to mid-November), and marvel at that simple yet beautiful fact that light dispels darkness when we light the clay lamp or diya. Incidentally, the deepa or diya lends its name to the festival itself, since Deepavali literally means a row of lights.
We celebrate the victory of good over evil, with various versions of this victory across India and other nations as well. And we celebrate it with how knowledge emerges victorious over ignorance as well.
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Days before Diwali, moms and grandmas everywhere would start preparations for Diwali. In my sleepy town, my mom would have conversations with other aunties to discuss what they were all making. While some favorite Diwali snacks were staples in every household, these discussions also helped ensure that each family prepared a few unique items each year so when we exchanged goodies during Diwali, we had a mega-variety of deliciousness to devour!! And thus, it was not just a family affair, but a whole colony-affair in my case.
But yes, I attempted to be mom’s helper in little ways (by handing her what she needed), and big ways too as I grew older (helped clean up). Plus, she needed a taster, so who was I to refuse?!
We cleaned every nook and corner of the house and decked it up as well the day before. Other little details included:
- Kolams outside the home
- new clothes for each family member kept in front of the puja area
- all the prepared snacks and sweets readied and kept aside for sharing and devouring
- clay lamps set in regular intervals on the balcony and other ledges – filled with oil and ready with a wick to be lit on the day of
The Day Of:
As I mentioned already, the festival is one that prompts a rush of memories. I wrote a whole post about it here, talking about the Simple, Sweet and Savory Joys of Deepavali,. I also touched upon the “now” aspect in the post.
But to summarize the “then” of the “day of” for you,
Did I mention pre-dawn?
My dad woke us up each year unfailingly by turning on all the lights at what felt like ridiculously early (but we didn’t mind despite the complaining we might have done then). We always woke up to M S Subbalakshmi (simply known as MS) crooning the Suprabatham while the early morning chill nipped the air. This reminds me of our faithful Philips cassette recorder.
We dutifully lined up to have our hair oiled by mom for the traditional Ganga-snanam. It was/is believed that taking that early morning bath was equivalent to taking a dip in the holy Ganga thus freeing us of our sins. Traditionally, we use shikakai powder (a herbal powder) to help wash off the oil massaged onto our hair and to strengthen it too. We also use a wonderfully scented herbal powder instead of a body wash or soap. We still use those herbal powders occasionally.
Celebrations, Come On!
Once that was done, we donned new clothes with great excitement. See, it was one of the few occasions we got new clothes during the year (unlike today where it is almost an year round affair based on need or sometimes plain impulse rather than occasion).
And before anything else, we rushed outside to make sure we were the first on the block to burst a firecracker – even if it was just the simple but totally joyous sparkler!
After that, it was a day filled with food – delicious and glorious in its varieties!! Read more in the post I linked above.. 🙂
Sometimes, families met together for after dinner games of cards, especially games like rummy or whist (yes, playing card games was all fine and dandy during Diwali, and still is!), and played into the wee hours of the morning. Some others would play card games like Bluff (have you played that before? It is loads of fun!) and yet others would have impromptu board game sessions or antakshari as well.
Diwali: Now and Later
Well, First the “Now”
Let Us Get-together…
Today, commercialism seems to mark this festival – with “Mega-Sale” or other hoardings everywhere. However, it still retains the spirit of joy and happiness it always has had. So while the festival invariably is the beginning of a bumper retail season all over India (kind of like an extended Black Friday), it is also the time when people begin planning their Diwali parties and get-togethers. And people make sure to carve out sometime to attend these events, to meet friends, family, and neighbors; to simply enjoy the spirit of happiness this festival brings with it.
While in the “then,” it was invariably an open invitation to homes in the neighborhood during the festival, and I ended up spending more time in other’s homes than my own, today, it certainly requires planning and scheduling and organizing! I am sure that is true for most people for most celebrations today anyways.
With the advent of more nuclear families who are spread across the globe, meeting family for the festival is no longer an easy task. But no matter where we are, we invariably have a wonderful group of friends (and sometimes extended family) who we are able to celebrate this festival with. We have fun photo sessions, and everyone brings in some thing to add to the host’s elaborate menu!
Offices and businesses in India give Diwali bonuses to employees.In other countries where many employees celebrate the festival, like here in the US, quite a few companies organize events for the festival. I have taken part in a few myself and enjoyed being part of dances and other events for the same.
Love Me Some Tech!
As for loved ones elsewhere, technology makes it so very easy to be able to wish them at a moment’s notice, and over a video call too so we can show off those new clothes we got for the festival, and show the sweets we made (or bought) as well, along with any other details. Definitely beats trying to dial over the land line – which while reliable – was not available to all in that sleepy little town I grew up in.
For the rest of the extended family and friends, there is always WhatsApp or other similar medium to send a “Happy Diwali!”
Instead of playing the Suprabatham on the tape recorder, I stream it online. In fact, I have playlists for every festival and occasion!
Food, Fireworks, and Such
Given that we are all now conscious of the impact of burning fireworks, we make do with buying just a few eco-friendly sparklers and light them using the candles from Ikea. However, I do enjoy the simple beauty of the clay lamp and light it (not rows of them but just a few) even today. Even in India, the concept of bursting crackers is on a quieter, greener scale now, and many choose to simply light lamps (electric lights all around sometimes) to celebrate the festival.
Pinterest boards and posts on Facebook groups provide inspiration and ideas for delicious treats and beautiful decor for the festival. And I attempt to make at least a couple of sweet treats and savory snacks to share with friends and family. Definitely not on the scale my mom made but… I do love that that there are still many who celebrate with the same passion and energy, and that inspires me to try some more.
And the rest
On a side note, I discovered these Ganga-snanam kits available to buy now (in India) that include herbal bath powders for body and hair to help wash off the oil! Convenient indeed…. and love that the tradition stays on, even if sold in kits and sets like this, I am glad for them.
For kolams or rangolis, while I sometimes venture bravely to put chalk to the ground and draw a simple (sometimes more elaborate) pattern that might pass for a rangoli, I also love that I can use stencils that help me deck up the front of my home. For other areas of my home, there is the cool option of readymade rangoli sets! I am tempted by this one below 🙂
When I was younger, I heard the stories behind the festival itself and the reasoning for the various rituals from elders in the family (including my parents and grandparents). Today, while I relate some of these to my children, I do still have questions too. And this makes me glad for the internet. Search right, and you will get the answers you seek! Plus, there are so many books and resources out there too (in related reading).
Then the “Later”
What will the future be, I wonder? How much will these celebrations change in a few decades, or even a few years down the line? I am not sure. Given that things have changed since I was a child, I know future change is inevitable.
While I am guessing a Star-Trekky travel in minutes to other places is still a pipe-dream, maybe technology will allow us to celebrate it with loved ones across the globe in ways we cannot yet fathom. Fireworks might most certainly become a thing of the past given the noise and air pollution; or maybe there will be really green options that allow us to enjoy the display without polluting the atmosphere in anyway!
I do hope that I can continue to indulge my sweet tooth and my need for the snacks we make for Diwali in the same way; though hopefully technology once again enables us to make it just a bit more healthier while retaining the tastes and flavors; and of course, more easily!
Then Now and Later
Thinking back about what I have written, or rather rambled about so far, I think it is fair to say that the festival has evolved rather than changed. Times change, of course, and the change is here to stay, or rather change once again into something else.
As we celebrate with an effort to be more conscious of the environment and of eating better and healthy, as we celebrate by questioning about the meaning behind the rituals and discovering the history, don’t these festivals effectively connect the then, the now, and the later? Don’t they connect our future to our past, the growing branches to those strong roots? And more importantly, bring new meaning to those beautiful old memories by helping create wonderful ones for the future?
So let us remember to embrace the old and the new, and mesh them together in a beautiful blend of tradition and technology, or of innovations, trends, and traditions.
- Five For Friday: Fascinating Facts About Diwali & More
- 3 New(er) Festivals of Lights
- Ganga’s Journey From Sky to Sea
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, if you read all the way till here, thank you!! I know this was longer than normal posts, and way longer than I thought it would be when I started. But I do hope you enjoyed this post as I took a trip down memory lane and back again. Plus a zany look “back to the future!”
How have celebrations changed for you over the years? From when you were a little one to now? How do you think it will be in the future? For this festival (if you celebrate it) or any other? Do let me know your own thoughts on the ‘Then Now and Later’ aspect for your cherished festival.