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Blame it on stressful jobs, the high cost of living or mere ignorance thanks to an urban upbringing, but a majority of people seem to have forgotten the significance of rituals followed during Diwali.
If you are wondering why India is considered the land of festivals, here’s proof: Barely two weeks ago, we celebrated the 10-day long Navratri festival and Bakri Eid. In September, we celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi, which also lasts 10 days. In the last week of August, we celebrated Janmashtami.
In the last couple of months, we have also celebrated Onam, Raksha Bandhan, Parsi New Year and Eid-Ul-Fitr.
Now, Diwali is here!
Sadly, the festival of lights seems to be sneaking up on us rather quietly this year. With just a few days to go, one is missing the frenzied excitement and activity that is part and parcel of this festival, which is considered the harbinger of happiness and good cheer.
Maybe it is our stressful jobs or the high cost of living; or perhaps the hectic lifestyle that accompanies the urban culture of modern India. Whatever the reason, people seem to have forgotten the significance of the many rituals that are followed during this wonderful festival.
Taking a nostalgic trip down the memory lane, 48-year-old Shanti Krishnan, a former teacher from Mylapore, Chennai, says, “I grew up in a large family where celebrating Diwali was the highlight of the year.
“We started preparations weeks in advance as the entire house had to spic and span. Every few years, the house would get a fresh coat of paint just before Diwali.
“All the sweets and savouries were made at home from scratch. We soaked, dried and pounded the rice into flour and used only pure homemade ghee made from the cream we collected daily.
“We had these huge tins to store the sweets in. The quantity prepared would put most sweet stalls to shame.
“On Diwali morning, we children would dress in our new clothes and spend the entire morning visiting every family and friend in the neighbourhood with a plateful of homemade goodies.
“Throughout the day, we also had guests who came over to share their Diwali preparations.
“Sadly, my children feel this tradition is silly; they rather gift their friends a box of the latest Cadbury chocolates.”
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Today, festivals only mean a much-awaited break from school or work. Television channels grab such opportunities to improve their TRP ratings. They gear up with special shows, the latest movies, star interviews, award functions and the promos for the latest Diwali releases.
In fact, we seem far more interested in watching our favourite cinema and television stars celebrate Diwali, rather than celebrate Diwali ourselves.
“After the customary prayers in the morning, we invariably spend the entire day in front of the television,” says Malliga Murugesan, 45, who sells exclusive imitation jewellery from her home in Thiruvalluvar Nagar, Chennai.
“Most of our friends have moved to other localities and I don’t know many of the new residents. Besides, the children have grown up now and are not interested in the festivities,” she laments.
Others say their busy work schedule prevents them from enjoying the festival. Sridevi, who runs a beauty salon in Adayar, Chennai, is extremely busy during this festive season.
“Things get pretty hectic at the parlour for a couple of weeks before Diwali,” she says. “The last few days, in particular, are very exhausting. I also purchase new clothes and sweets for all my employees. In the midst of all this, preparing sweets at home is just not possible. By the time Diwali is here, I am so very tired that I just prefer to be at home with my family.”
Gowri Sivasubramanian, 21, a B tech-Bioinformatics student from SRMUniversity, blames her semester exams for her lack of enthusiasm. “We are either in the midst of our semester exams or are busy preparing for it. It is difficult to get into the festive mood with the stress of exams and project deadlines hanging over our heads.
“Nevertheless, my mom makes sure we follow all the rituals. There is always the oil bath before sunrise, followed by the puja, after which we receive our clothes with her blessings. Though we are no longer interested in bursting firecrackers, we do light a few to keep the tradition alive.
“But my favourite part of the festival comes in the evening, when we decorate the entire house with dozens of beautiful oil lamps.”
New clothes are definitely a must during Diwali and it doesn’t matter whether you buy an original Kanchipuram silk sari worth thousands of rupees or an ordinary polyester one costing a few hundreds.
Gowri and her sister picked up their Diwali outfits from Pothys in T Nagar. “T Nagar is packed even on normal days. With Diwali next week, things are pretty crazy out there, but I still managed to buy a beautiful cream and pink anarkali suit,” she says happily.
T Nagar does seem to be the ultimate shopping destination for Chennaites. It is here that you finally sense the energy and excitement of Diwali in the air. Thousands throng the shops in T Nagar during this season, but there is complete and utter chaos the weekend before Diwali.
Newly-weds also celebrate their first Diwali in a grand manner. They are pampered and showered with gifts by the girl’s parents who usually gift the couple with a silk sari and a dhoti, along with a variety of sweets and firecrackers.
Ranjith Kumar, a 26-year-old bike mechanic who got married earlier this year, says, “All these years, I have been hanging around with my friends, usually bursting a few crackers and then watching one or sometimes even two new Diwali movie releases.
“This year, it is my Thalai Deepavali (the first Diwali shared by a married couple) and, as it is a tradition for the son-in-law to visit his wife’s family, I will be travelling to Pondicherry this weekend to be with them.”
Being away from your family is especially hard during festivals.
Though it very difficult to get a ticket during Diwali, many still try to make it home to their family.
22-year-old Aravind Sivakumar, who is undergoing process training at HCL Technologies in Chennai, has been trying desperately to get a ticket to his hometown in Tuticorin.
“I have been trying since almost a month, but all the train and bus tickets have already been booked. Besides, the fares almost double during Diwali,” he says.
Aravind now plans to take a bus to Tiruchi, from where he will take another bus to Madurai.
“From Madurai, I will be travelling with some of my friends in their car to Tuticorin,” he says.
The diehard fans of the festival are undoubtedly the children. Diwali is everything a child could hope for -- new clothes, loads of sweets and, of course, the innumerable variety of firecrackers.
For 16-year-old Aditya, Diwali is all about getting together with his cousins and having a blast. “Every year, I celebrate Diwali in my grandmother’s house. My aunts and cousins also visit and the fun we have is unbelievable. There are different varieties of mouthwatering sweets and crispy fried treats.
“The gulab jamuns my Athai makes are truly out of the world and you simply can’t stop eating them. My grandmother makes this amazing mutton curry that we have with idli, dosa or parotta.
“And bursting crackers is so much more fun when we are all together. Diwali will always be special to me.”
Not everyone, though, has as many reasons to smile. With the day-to-day cost of living spiralling out of control, and income barely managing to cover expenses, Diwali – with its attendant expenses -- may seem more like a burden.
Yet, don’t we need a reason to smile during these trying times? What could be better than our trusted festival of lights that is sure to drive away the gloom and darkness and brighten our lives?
Diwali may have lost its charm for many of us, but there are those who still understand the wonderful spirit of this festival. And their enthusiasm is hugely contagious!
For Jayalakshmi Rajamurugan, a 33-year-old homemaker, and her three daughters, Diwali has always been a time of magic. “I come from a big family and I am married into a big one too. We start preparing sweets more than a week in advance and the children love to come home to the aroma of a different treat every day.
“These days, along with the regular traditional sweets, we also attempt a variety of cakes and chocolates for the children.
“The evening before Diwali, we make a huge colourful rangoli at the entrance of our home and decorate the entire house with oil lamps. Diwali day is totally fun -- with new clothes, firecrackers, delicious sweets, visiting relatives and friends… We invite the people who are close to our hearts to our home.
“Though the day might be a long and exhausting one, I enjoy every minute of it. I have so many wonderful memories of Diwali. I want my daughters to love and cherish this joyful festival the way I do.”