Celebrate Diwali the Better Way

Photo by David Gil https://flic.kr/p/4xcuamCome autumn, people across all age groups in India gear up excitedly for the biggest celebration of the year. Diwali is to Indians what Christmas is to the western world. Almost an entire week in the month of October or November, depending on the lunisolar calendar is rightfully deemed a national holiday and the festive mood transmits across all state borders with food, lights, and new buys on everybody’s minds. Even the migrant Indian Diaspora celebrates in full gusto worldwide, often more religiously than urban-Indian families back home.

Mytholigical and Historical Background of Diwali

The “festival of lights” that beckons the New Year has an unusually varied mythological and historical background. Many believe that it celebrates the return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita, and brother Lakshman to the kingdom of Ayodhya after vanquishing Ravana in Lanka. The Lord’s return was marked with the decoration of the city with lighted earthen pots (diyas) and festive celebration in splendid grandeur. His life story was penned by the sage Valmiki in the Ramayana and is believed to be a record of the life of the “ideal” man.

The history of Diwali also traces back to another Hindu epic — the Mahabharata according to which the festival is celebrated to mark the occasion of the return of the Pandava’s to the kingdom of Hastinapur after 13 years of exile. Another mythological story reveals that the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi emerged from the ocean on the new moon day and married Lord Vishnu. Thus, Lakshmi-Puja religious prayer during Diwali is mandatory.

Whatever the historical background may be, the occasion is marked by extravagant festivity and celebration with firecrackers, food, and lights galore. Households purchase new clothing, home refurbishments, gifts, gold, and other large purchases. In the name of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, prosperity, and investment, spending and purchases are considered auspicious.

Who could possibly dislike this time of the year? The occasion on the whole is meant to represent the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, enlightenment over delusion, and right over wrong. At the heart of all festivals lies the sentiment of oneness of people and strengthened bonds of friendship and trust. But as constant as change is, it has permeated the realm of festivities too.

Photo by Kinshuk Kashyap https://flic.kr/p/dthTxe

The Dark Side of the Festival of Lights

With increased commercialization and an unabashed consumerist mentality, the build-up towards “D”-day has become all about “bling” — and this isn’t just about the bright lights. What used to be celebrated with love and light from the soul has unfortunately turned into a boisterous ruckus. Not only is it a waste of resources, but this evolved way of celebrating is hurting our precious environment too!

Earthen pots have turned electric, crackers have gotten louder and more toxic, and strays and birds are subjected to the worst kind of scares. The toxic substances used in the firecrackers release gases that are detrimental to the health of all living beings. The oncoming winter season is conducive for the smog to thrive in, consequently leading to respiratory diseases and reduced visibility on the road. The high level of noise generated by the crackers leads to hearing loss, high blood pressure, heart-attacks, and sleep disturbances. Many burn cases are reported during Diwali due to the improper use of crackers. Worst are the effects these crackers on animals, which have a greater sensitivity to sound than humans — they end up being most perturbed with a deep physical and mental impact.

McKay Savage https://flic.kr/p/5ApsYT

A similarly disturbing truth is where these firecrackers come from: factories full of young children. Child labor is often employed to produce these items due to the dexterity of their nimble fingers and because the substances being handled are extremely lethal, many of these children get sick and succumb to death. A big price to pay for a few moments of thrill isn’t it? Consequently, the “festival of lights” puts a heavy load on energy sources as the use of electric lights to adorn homes, office areas, buildings, monuments, and roads for long hours requires a huge amount of energy.

Celebrating a Green Diwali

The problem isn’t with the festival; it is with what has become of it and how it is celebrated. A conscious shift towards celebrating a greener Diwali, one step at a time, can eventually lead to a better tomorrow. On the occasion if we could:

  • Share food, sweets, and clothes with the lesser privileged;
  • Opt for traditional lightening of earthen lamps or diyas;
  • Opt for eco-friendly crackers;
  • Gift herbal and organic products;
  • Reduce the amount of things we use;
  • Reuse the things we have in different forms until we have absolutely no use for them;
  • Recycle items that are no longer functional;
  • Rethink the choices we make when deciding to buy something; and
  • Refuse things that we do not need at all

the spirit and true joy of celebration will re-ignite in our hearts. Awakening to this burning reality and working towards showing respect to one another and our environment will resonate the spirit of winning over evil — the evil that is within us.

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About the Author

A 23 year-old city girl who wants nothing more than being able to eat without getting fatter, world peace and a pet pig. She is now on a mission to explore the depth of food in its full potential.