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.


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