Diwali The Festival Of Lights
An ancient celebration with deeply spiritual roots, this Festival of Lights is technically a tradition with a religious foundation, but all that are willing to share in the season of abundance are welcome. Thousands of oil lamps, fireworks, lavish feasts, fragrant flowers and colored sand in the form of lotus blossoms adorn India in this annual homecoming that is Diwali. The festival has its roots in ancient Indian texts and it stands for victory of good over evil. India is a secular state and recognizes all religions equally. This makes India the land of festivals but Diwali is the one festival in India that brings the whole country together like no other. The practice of exchanging gifts, especially sweets, is an integral part of the Diwali celebrations. The community comes together to help the less fortunate in society. In many cities, families come together to prepare special food for the kids of a local orphanage. This is their way of sharing the joy of Diwali with the whole community. In essence Diwali is about celebrating the human spirit.
It is believed that on this day Lord Rama, along with his consort Sita and loyal brother Lakshman were returning to their hometown Ayodhya after 14 long years of exile in the forest. He had just finished battling and overcoming the fierce demon king of Ceylon, Ravana, who had abducted Sita. In this battle he was ably helped by Lord Hanuman and his army of monkeys as well as an army of courageous bears. The people of Ayodhya lit lamps in every home to welcome their true King as well as celebrate his victory over Ravana and also the safe return of their Queen Sita. They danced and made merry and lit firecrackers to express their joy over his return. And as a mark of respect and worship the festivities continue every year till this today Over the long history of Diwali, fireworks have become an essential part of the celebrations. Today, fireworks are the most eagerly awaited part of the festival, especially for kids, who spend days leading up to the festival writing wish lists of the fireworks they would like to buy to make Diwali special. Stories of extravagant fireworks or bravery with loud fireworks give kids bragging rights in the schoolyard after Diwali. When I was younger, preparations for Diwali started days before the festival.
As a kid it meant buying firecrackers every single day leading up to the festival. The best thing was that I could buy them in small quantities instead of having to buy big packets. The small daily allowance that I used to get made buying large quantities impossible anyway. I also looked forward to the day when all the family members would come to our house, as they would bring me gifts. My grand dad would always bring me lots of fireworks – I was the first grandchild he had after all. I would collect all the fireworks I received as presents and carefully sort them out into small and large ones. The small ones were expendable and could be used on days leading up to Diwali but the big ones were reserved for the big day itself. Diwali started early in my house and I would go shopping with my parents early in the morning to avoid the mad rush later in the day. Also when I say early, I mean 7am. So you see it actually was really early. Shops open early to cater for people like my family and I. I would go with my parents to buy all the necessities for the day ahead. Fireworks, sweets, maybe new clothes (if I had been good) and of course lots of candles and earthen lamps.
Usually the shopping trip ended with the purchase of a hot breakfast (to be brought home – Diwali is all about family and thus the whole family would sit down together to have breakfast at home) so my parents and my granny and I could have it together. The rest of the day went in cleaning the house and getting it ready for Diwali. Usually a lot of people would come and visit our family on Diwali day. There would be huge parties kept at our house during nighttime for all our relatives and dear friends. I would usually spend the day playing outdoor games with my cousins or making colorful rangoli’s outside the house (the best part was being commended of making such attractive rangoli’s) But it always felt that the clocks had slowed down on the day. I waited eagerly for darkness to descend so I could take out all my fireworks and set them off.
As darkness descended, all of us would go to the local Hindu temple to light a candle in front all the deities to ask for their blessing and to pray for the year ahead (Diwali traditionally marks new beginnings). A simple trip to the temple was made special because there wasn’t just my family but all the families in our area would go to the temple together – which mean that all the kids were exchanging noted on what fireworks they had bought for later that evening. I used to love this part of the day but everything was just a supporting act to the fireworks later. At home, we would setup a makeshift temple in one of the rooms and pray in our own home. I was allowed to lead the prayers or Pooja and I loved every second of it. Mind you, every fiber of my being was keeping an ear out to hear all the fireworks and the cheering that had started outside. I used my dinner so quickly after the Pooja (never have I eaten quicker in my life) because fireworks lay there in their shiny packaging waiting for me to rip them open and light them. I would reserve the loudest and brightest ones till later in the night because they were to be savored – I had a system to be followed religiously. Oh and being the eldest child I was allowed to stick to my system and even control the fireworks to my liking