Less sheen, but Diwali still brings on the festive mood

October 27th, 2008 - 5:09 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 27 (IANS) India lit up Monday ahead of Diwali, the festival of lights that celebrates the victory of good over evil, but the glow seemed to have dimmed a little with fewer firecrackers and fewer shoppers. The mood in the Indian capital, for instance, was distinctly sober with the usual cacophony of firecrackers missing and markets that are usually swarming with enthusiastic shoppers at this time of the year reporting thin crowds.

While economy blues dampened spirits, for many, the recent blasts also cast a long shadow.

“There is a lurking fear that something untoward may happen whenever and wherever there is a crowd. Popular market areas like Connaught Place and Sarojini Nagar which are thronged by shoppers, especially before the festivals, are therefore avoided by a lot of people this time,” said Rajiv Mehra, a shopkeeper in Janpath, a buzzing street market near Connaught Place.

On Sep 13 last month, 26 people were killed in a series of bombings targeting the busy market areas of Connaught Place, Karol Bagh and Greater Kailash M block. Three years ago, on Oct 29, 2005, just three days before Diwali enthusiastic shoppers were caught unawares when powerful blasts rocked the capital killing 61 people, including 34 at the Sarojini Nagar market.

Some of that fear still lingers.

Kavita Das, a homemaker, observed that the usual excitement in the neighbourhood was also missing.

“Generally the neighbourhood resounds with sound of crackers on the days before Diwali. But this time, even the kids seem to have lost their excitement in our neighbourhood. There’s a dent in the festive mood,” Das told IANS.

At homes, however, the festival that transcends boundaries of religion and is celebrated across the country still retained its charm and spirit. Preparations for the festival were on in most homes.

“We generally give a fresh coat of paint to our house before Diwali and this year is no different. The days preceding the festival are very busy. There’s so much of cleaning to be done, savouries to be prepared and the family puja to be organised,” said Rakhi Misra, a school teacher in Chanakyapuri.

Ashmita Singh, a student, added: “Decorating the floor with colourful rangoli patterns is something I look forward to the most on Diwali. My sisters and I start preparing the rangoli early in the day amid a lot of merry making”.

Celebrated with the lighting of diyas (earthern lamps) which signify the victory of good over evil, Diwali is a celebration of the homecoming of the Hindu god Rama to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. It is observed on the first day of the lunar month of Kartika.

While most north Indians are celebrating Diwali Tuesday, for those from the south Monday was the day for the festival which is in the Tamil month of Aipasi.

Diwali in south India commemorates the conquering of the Asura Naraka, a powerful demon king who imprioned thousands of people. Lord Krishna subdued Naraka and freed the prisoners. A victorious Krishna returned home early in the morning, which is why it is celebrated at dawn.

To symbolise the events, people wake up at sunrise and prepare the symbolic blood by mixing kumkum in oil and break a bitter fruit in it symbolising the head of the demon which was smashed by Krishna, and apply the mixture on their foreheads.

They then have an oil bath using sandalwood paste.

For Kantimathi Venkataraman, the day began early for her with preparations for the traditional oil bath, preparation of delicacies and the Diwali Lehyam.

“Diwali Lehyam is a concoction of different spices, ginger, jaggery and dry fruits. It’s specially prepared during this time of the year because the weather generally changes now and people tend to fall ill.

“This concoction helps one boost immunity,” she said.

From north to south, the celebrations change as does the story behind the festival. What does not is the spirit behind Diwali, the pan India festival celebrated by all.

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