Deepawali: Selective Shaming Of Hindu Festivals Must Stop
As a child, I would know Deepawali is around the corner when the bazaars would one day, magically, be full of make-shift stores with rows upon rows of twinkling, brightly lit Akash-Kandils - traditionally made paper lanterns that adorn every house in Goa and Maharashtra during Deepawali.
Deepawali meant the twinkling, diffused light of the Akash-Kandils, the appetising smell of sweets and savouries being made at home, shopping for new clothes, getting small but meaningful gifts like books and toys, the smell of a brand new Moti sandal soap, a gentle oil massage, a few fireworks and the amber-coloured, flickering flames of a hundred clay diyas!
Deepawali signifies dispelling the bleak darkness of winter with the warmth of light. The humble clay diya is a metaphor for the light of knowledge within that destroys the ignorance. It is a reminder of the importance of knowledge, self inquiry, and for getting rid of the evil in and around us. When we share gifts and sweets with our neighbours, friends and loved ones, we understand the joy of inclusiveness.
Deepawali is a festival that is not only special for the Hindus, but it is a festival that is celebrated by all Indic faiths with equal fervour.
Nowadays though, I know it is Deepawali when I start seeing obnoxious posts on social media about ‘how we should not light crackers during Deepawali because it is not kind to animals’ or how ‘Deepawali is full of cheap display of materialism’. The same people who gloat about how they love their ‘beef steak, juicy and dripping with blood’, are advising Hindus to not burst firecrackers because it is ’not kind to animals’. Self-proclaimed ‘liberals’ who routinely travel business class to attend international conferences and who work and live in an AC environment 24/7, want Hindus to ’not burst crackers, because it is oh-so-bad for the environment’.
This hypocrisy is not just displayed during Deepawali, it is a behaviour pattern repeated before every major Hindu festival.
#FestivalShaming of Hindus has become the new ‘liberal’ sport in India!
Sanctimonious Hindu-hating ‘elite’ have systematically tried to diss, dissect and disrespect Hindu traditions and festivals with a monotonous regularity in the last few years. When it is Holi, they get out of their Olympic sized swimming pools and tell us to save water. When it is Karwa Chauth or Vat Savitri, they tell us how the festival is a symbol of ‘patriarchal oppression’. When it is Ganesh Chaturthi, they give us lectures about not ‘polluting’ water, even as they open their bottles of Evian sparkling water. During Navaratri, as the average Hindu is getting ready to worship the manifestation of feminine strength in the form of the Devi, these people come up with articles about how to do an ‘alternative reading’ of Mahishasura.
Every single Hindu custom, belief and festival has come under a savage attack from the ‘opinion-makers’. They mock our festivals and deride our customs using the yardstick of ‘environment unfriendliness’.
Truth is, all Hindu festivals are about respecting nature. Our ancestors understood the changing cycle of seasons and devised a festival calendar that would understand, respect and celebrate nature. Holi marks the beginning of spring, hence the playing with colour. Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival to celebrate the harvest, and to remind us that just like the clay Ganesh Moorti, we too are born from the five elements, and must return to them some day. Deepawali marks the beginning of winter, hence the first symbolic oil bath and the spreading of warmth and light by lighting diyas.
Sanatana Dharma has been the most eco-friendly faith ever. Traditionally, we ate our meals on plantain leaves, our diyas were made by local potters, and we used locally grown fruits and vegetables as offerings to the Divine.
Of course, with time, people have changed their way of celebrating the festivals, and yes, some course correction is definitely needed. But the course correction has to come from within the faith.
We, the practising Hindus are the custodians of our faith, not some sanctimonious self-proclaimed ‘liberal’ for whom a Hindu festival means little more than an opportunity to #FestivalShame Hindus!
Hinduism has always been a dynamic faith, a faith that has always adapted to the changing demands of desh-kaal-paristhiti (place, time and situation). We are like the flowing waters of the great Ganga, ever flowing, eve-changing, and yet, eternal.
If there has to be any change in the way we Hindus celebrate our festivals, it has to come from within.
I am a proud practising Hindu. I respect and celebrate my traditions. I have adapted my festivals as per my sensibilities. My Deepawali is about spreading the light of joy. I buy and light locally made clay lamps during Deepawali. I buy firecrackers made in India. I help social organisations working for the underprivileged and my children spend their Deepawali holidays making a mud fort from scratch - an enchanting local tradition.
I know of several housing societies in my city, where people gather during Deepawali, pool their money and have a common fireworks show at designated times. They organise donation drives to include the underprivileged in their celebrations. This year, I have seen people asking for ‘made in India’ labels when they were buying the fireworks or electrical supplies.
As a practising Hindu, one has every right to wish to change the way a festival is being celebrated, but don’t let anyone disrespect your way of life.
Next time someone tries to #FestivalShame you, don’t accept the insult with a bowed head. Fight back against this ridicule, this subtle way of making you ashamed of your traditions. Let us reclaim our festivals!