Friday, November 12, 2004

deepavali greetings


Thursday, November 11, 2004

deepavali and kali puja

Celebrated in the moonless night, Deepavali (or Divali) is basically a festival of lights. There is no community Pujas as such. It involves the worshipping of Godess Lakshmi, who symbolizes prosperity and its intention is to spread a feeling of goodness all around. Each and every house is decorated with garlands of flowers as well as strings of tiny colored bulbs. In the olden days, there used to be tiny clay lamps in which oil would be poured and wicks made of cloth would be lit. Today there are ready made candles coming in all shapes and sizes to replace the clay varieties.

On the occasion of Deepavali, people purchase new clothes, exchange gifts and sweets and, occasionally, sit down to gamble throughout the night – of course, for low stakes. The lights are kept on all night and the family members are also expected to remain awake – hence, a little bit of gambling does not hurt!! A must in practically everyone’s list is gold and silver – even a token purchase of one gram will do. There is a belief that the ability to purchase even a tiny amount of such precious metals is a sign of prosperity.

Apart from lights, fireworks play a major role in these celebrations. From sparklers and crackers to bombs, rockets and ‘anar’s (flower pots) – the smoke and noise increase all types of pollution levels. In some places, public display of fireworks is conducted. Majority of these fireworks are manufactured in a place called Sivakasi which keeps coming into the news regularly since this industry makes extensive use of child labor. These children fall sick due to continuous exposure to and inhalation of chemicals like sulphur, magnesium salts, carbon dust, and iron and magnesium chips. Sometimes, fires break out in these factories claiming innocent lives. But, still, the show goes on. Fireworks are in demand not only for Deepavali but all throughout the year because, whenever we want to celebrate an event, we love to make enough noise to let the whole world know about our achievement!!

Fire hazards are present in cities also and messages are continuously flashed on TVs as to the precautions to be taken during the celebrations. No one wants to be responsible for bringing sorrow on an evening of happiness!

In Bengal, the Kali Puja is held on this occasion.

Godess Kali is symbolic of Shakti. Her Pujas are performed only after midnight. Originally a deity who the dacoits used to worship prior to setting out on a mission, Kali Puja is also performed by Tantriks. (Tantriks are persons who are supposed to possess super natural powers acquired after years of sadhana – to come to that level, one has to perform innumerable rituals, one of them being sitting astride a dead body of a virgin in the cremation ground.)
In ancient Bengal, long before the arrival of Job Charnok on the scene, people used to travel on foot, those well off would use the palanquin and the bullock carts. Since the paths would be through jungles, body guards would accompany the cavalcade. The dacoits would waylay them and rob them of all valuables. Sometimes, the dacoits would land up in the zamindar’s house – for looting. All these characters worshipped Godess Kali – the name of one ‘Raghu’-dakat stands out prominently.

In some parts of Kolkata, this Puja is celebrated with much more pomp and show as compared to the Durga Puja. It is interesting to note that most of the high profile Kali Pujas are the brain children of persons who resemble present day ‘Raghu’-dakat!

One aspect of Kali Puja is gradually on the way out.

That is the ‘tubri’ competition.

‘Tubri’s are also known as ‘anar’s or flower pots. Once lit, the spray could rise as high as 25 to 30 feet or go bust immediately it was ignited. How high its peak would reach or how wide its ‘flowers’ would spread depended on the ratio of the ingredients, how well they were mixed and who had stuffed the material into the shell. The usual ingredients would be sulphur, charcoal and potassium chloride – all in superfine powder forms – and chips of iron. The shell would be of clay. The contestants would keep experimenting to arrive at a set of correct proportions that might help them win the competitions.

Such competitions have become things of the past – the youth of today do not have any interest whatsoever in pursuing such activities.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

musings on the eve of divali

Yes, with the cost of everything sky rocketing it is worthwhile to ponder whether it is really necessary to squander away hundreds of rupees just to prove our one-upmanship? Divali, like any other Indian festival, expects people to do something for a change – a change of clothes, a change of residence, a change of taste. We love to quote the scriptures, draw parallels from our holy books and justify the extravaganza that we plan. Of course, the ones who want to dispose off their inventories try to win over our hearts and purses by offering items at ‘rock bottom prices’ – but, the hidden catch is revealed only after the damage is done!! Innovativeness rules the day – you may have observed that to light up our houses, we now buy garlands of tiny colored bulbs that twinkle at the press of a button. These are made in China and sell like hot cakes. No guarantee, the shopkeepers warn – but, who cares? They come dirt cheap. One can get three sets for the price of one set of the Indigenous version.
One more item on the MUST list is clothes – fashions are dictated by trends one observes on the TVs. Gone are the days of Doordarshan when clothes appropriate to the occasion would be shown on the small screen – today, whatever be the occasion depicted, the heroines always look gorgeous, dressed up in all its fineries, weighed down by loads of ornaments, showing off their figures with the help of tight fitting clothes with jazzy colors. She could be a doctor in a hospital or a school teacher or a shy student, it was immaterial. What was important was the designer who designed the dress and the number of orders he was likely to get. Today’s world is selfish – it cares only for itself.
Next on the list is the best method to tickle your taste buds.
Right from dry fruits in attractive packaging to boxes of assorted sweets you can order off the shelf – the choice is yours. Most of the sweets are made such that they can be stored for a few days. Home made preparations are practically non existant – for those who relish such stuff, selected outlets do exist where these can be had at a premium. Women of today have little or no time to devote so much time in the kitchen – this is the day of ready made goods. The popularity of packaged foodstuffs is on the rise – in order to hard-sell these products, we invariably bring in the ‘mother’ syndrome – like the ads we see on TV pertaining to spices. This phenomenon is not restricted to only Kolkata or Mumbai – it is all over the country. When in Kolkata, I have seen it during the Bijoya celebrations – the various sweets that our Mothers and grandmothers used to prepare are available in shops at a price. Now, in Nasik, I find similar situations during Divali. Whilst a majority of shops lay out their offerings in brightly lit counters, there are some shops tucked away in some remote corner of the city where you can get the traditional fares – at a premium.
Hats off to such of those who bring back fond memories.