Once again we experience the annual lustre and bluster of The Festival of Lights.
As a child, Diwali was an exciting festival in my calendar. I remember saving up my pocket money to buy fireworks to be burst amidst great anticipation and excitement in the company of my grandmother, our domestic assistants and the few children in my neighbourhood. I loved the sputtering, shimmering fountains, the crackling, whirling wheel and most of all the hissing, soaring rockets. I loathed the blustering bombs and never personally ventured beyond lighting innocuous sparklers.
As I entered my teens, I surrendered to the suggestion that fireworks are childish. It was only after I moved to Delhi as a student with a Punjabi family as my local guardians that I really comprehended other aspects of this festival- Diwali parties & melas, the exchange of gifts, sweet and dryfruit boxes, a glitzy festive wardrobe and the like.
Before I knew it, I was a parent. Childish glee at taking in the passing dazzle of fireworks was an experience to definitely relive with my own children. Health conscious eating is bypassed as rich festive meals are rustled up to be served on traditional thalis. Muhurat trading on the stock market is an auspicious practice followed to ensure continued success on the bourses . Happily married into a Gujarati business family, I have warmly embraced its traditions as my own, enriched by my understanding of their symbolic meaning. One of the more interesting and personally relevant ones for a woman is surely the purchase of jewellery on Dhanteras, the first day of the business year and the adornment of the jewellery chest with the Swastik as an auspicious emblem to ensure continuing accumulation of the bright and beautiful.
However, of late environmental awareness restrains my indulgence in fireworks as polluting of ground and atmosphere. I am also overwhelmed by the perception that fireworks distress animals, and those with a higher reach must be positively hazardous to birds and their habitats. I feel my evolved approach is in consonance with the true spirit of Diwali- the lighting up of inner wisdom to do the right thing.I also feel that Diwali is a time to take a reverse pledge- to lessen our lights’ usage and power consumption throughout the year, so that the floods, draughts’ etc from global warming which adversely affect humankind’s prosperity are reduced.
The Diwali mela has travelled countrywide from North Indian tradition and animates the social bonhomie of clubs and neighbourhoods everywhere. Like the Christmas ball, the Diwali mela is an event which attracts a widespread following, enthused at the idea of gorging on traditional fare, decking out in ethnic attire and enjoyably working out with the frolicsome moves of dandiya.
THE FESTIVAL’S ORIGINS
The mythological origin of the Indian festival of lights probably lies in reliving the pious illumination of Ayodhya to welcome the returning Lord Rama. I understand that one legend associates Laxmi Puja with the emergence of the goddess in Kshira Sagar, the ocean of milk from the celestial churning of the oceans. According to another legend , the return of Lord Vishnu to his abode Vaikunta after vanquishing the demon Bali is supposed to signify a day of special blessing from his consort, which underlies the Laxmi Puja.
For Sikhs, Diwali commemorates the release of their sixth Guru Hargobind from captivity under Emperor Aurangzeb. For Jains, it marks Lord Mahavira’s attainment of Moksha. Buddhists relate it to the Emperor Ashoka’s acceptance of Buddhism.
The general development of the festival suggests roots in the agrarian cycle- thanksgiving for the harvest and an invocation for continuing bounties in the coming seasons. For businessmen rooted in this farming economy as grain merchants and financiers, it was a time of annual accounting and profit taking that would diffuse into a general sentiment to all classes and sections of society that invites the blessings of prosperity.
ECONOMIC IMPORT OF FESTIVALS
While Diwali is an invocation for prosperity , the festival contains its own inbuilt logic for wealth creation and economic stimulation. ( This is equally true of the economic import of all festivals). Even as they deplete consumers in terms of expenditures, undoubtedly the demands for new clothes, jewels, specialized eating requirements, gift exchange and social festivities sustain or furnish a stimulus to many an associated livelihood. The economy as a whole gets the boost which translates at some level into positive individual outcomes. India with its multiple festivals spread across the year and a mosaic of different faiths perhaps has that secret hidden armour against the true rigours of recession. My off-the- cuff theory is based on practical observation of retail with its year- round festival based promotions.
There is something universal about Diwali because very few would deny the entry of prosperity into their lives. Diwali is wonderfully upfront about the true tenor of human aspirations and strivings. The purpose of Diwali, I have discovered, is not just about the acquisition of wealth but equally about the virtues that come with abundance. The Lakshmi- panchayatan which belief holds to enter the universe on the auspicious occasion of Diwali contains a symbolic assemblage of forces to achieve happiness, satisfaction and generosity. Prosperity should lead to the ” good life” in a holistic sense, where personal comfort and benevolence fruitfully co-exist.
So here’s wishing everyone a festival of lights that is safe, enjoyable, thoughtful, socially cohesive and personally meaningful. HAPPY DIWALI!