Designer Diwali

At the outset, let me wish everyone a very Happy Diwali!

This is an old post I am re-posting for it talks of both the then and now of Diwali. There are many significant events that this pan-Indian festival celebrates. One of them commemorates the return of Ram, Sita and Lakshman to Ayodhya after their exile . The entire city was lit up with lamps which shone like so many stars on the ground from the Pushpak Viman bearing their beloved king. The other is the legend of Krishna vanquishing Narakasura. There are others too, but this post is not about them. Read on and you will know what it is all about….


There is this elderly couple in the building opposite ours whom we visited this morning with some sweets and namkeen made by me. We touched their feet and they blessed us most heartily. The happy lady plied us with the crunchy murukkus and badam barfi, laddoo and spicy mixture and gave a packet of the same when we left. It brought back memories of my childhood days when Diwali meant sweets, lamps, new clothes, rangoli and crackers; but most of all it meant the visits we made to our relatives and friends for their blessings and of course lots of eats!

I liked all the things except the crackers. The noisy things made me jittery all through the festival. I never burst a single cracker, and even the sparklers I chose were the silent ones, not the crackling ones! I was one scaredy cat where sounds were concerned. Remember my dread of the tiger dance drums? Old timers would remember the ‘cap’, those small red bindi like things that held a pinch of explosive stuff and popped when hit with something hard like a stone or a hammer. My elder brother rigged up a nut and bolt contraption for me to pop the caps. And know what? I would still stand on a chair and throw the nut down and stop my ears before it burst!

I lovingly lit dozens of lamps with my sister and stood to watch them from near and afar to glory in their flickering brightness. Mixing colours and making grand patterns outside one’s home was another aspect of the festival that I loved to bits. The entire street would be carpeted with the huge patterns made in front of every house.

Celebrations started long before Diwali, and went on for several days after too. One was Kojagiri, which is celebrated on Sharad Poornima,  the full moon day before Diwali. It is celebrated in some states including Maharashtra.  Goddess Laskhmi is supposed to visit the earth calling out ‘Ko jagrati?’ (Who is awake?) Lights used to be kept on and people would fast and keep awake singing bhajans, playing antakshari and even playing cards to welcome the goddess of wealth. It is believed that if she found a house without lights, she would pass it by. It is another matter that many played cards to keep awake. Talk of trivialising the intent behind a festival and then blaming religious rituals!

Every street also had a kila – elaborate construction of a fort that was built with bricks and mud, painted and decorated. Toy soldiers and people adorned them. Alas, today even these kilas are available readymade!

On Diwali day, I would be assigned the job of carrying plates laden with the assortment of goodies to our neighbours’ and get in return karnaje, anarse, chivda and besan laadoo, which were the staple of our Maharashtrian neighbours in Nagpur. Boy, do I miss those days!

Coming back to the present, as I light the lamps and arrange them in our balcony, I notice that ours is the only one in the vicinity sporting oil lamps. The rest have garlands of colourful blinking serial lights. No messy wicks and oil and matches for them. Just the flick of a switch and hey presto, you have light!

Just as I am writing this, the crackers are going off outside and the burglar alarms of the cars in the parking lot are setting up a racket.

I have always wondered what people get out of all the noise and bang of the firecrackers. I remember my class teacher dissuading us from wasting money on these by suggesting that we light lamps and then beat on drums to have both sound and lights instead of bursting firecrackers which give the same effects but burnt hard earned money in the bargain!

Well so much for firecrackers and the nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Even today we wear new clothes, light lamps, albeit electric ones, have store bought sweets and dry fruits for our visitors and when we visit people we carry ‘gifts’ and get ‘gifts’ in return. Nothing wrong in it, as most of us have no time to make sweets at home or have large spaces to make rangolis or even have the time to carry trays of sweets to neighbours. Rituals change and must change, and as long as it doesn’t make for a designer Diwali or turn into a status match, everything is fine. The fact however remains that the gifts of today are measured not by the love with which it is given but by its value.

Despite all the justification, I still can’t help saying wistfully that though we used to do the same things in the past, it had a personal touch to it, which is why the visit to our elderly neighbours this morning brought back all that nostalgia. In the commercialization of the festival, the spirit is somehow missing.

What do you feel about it?


  1. It was very amusing to see that after all that criticism of noise and pollution that when Diwali actually came, several ‘forward’thinking people actually complained that it was too quiet for a Diwali night! *sigh*
    I don’t like noise and smoke either and the child labor component basically seals the deal for me. I enjoyed my Diwali by inviting my neighbors and sharing food and laughter.
    Loved your post although I am visiting it so late!!


    1. Good to know you had a ‘traditional’ but customised Diwali. That is what all festivals are about, anyway 🙂 Missing the noise aspect is not the only thing that is happening today. Things we had fought against as being demeaning to women are being brought back through the back door, in the guise of ‘women empowerment’. Sigh.


  2. Yes, Zephyr… I cant say whether the general spirit is missing.. but for me, the spirit is missing. I as an adult , dont feel the same excitement that I used to as a child. Probably that’s understandable. For my son too, who has mostly given up crackers after knowing about child labor and the environment impacts, I am sure it cant have the same fun. I did love crackers as a child, but then I do wish there were environment friendly ones we could still give to our children today.


    1. That is exactly what I meant about the spirit being missing, Asha. And it is not just about the crackers. It is about a whole lot of other things. The commercialisation, the exhibitionism, the extravagance….all of it, have made it another shopping festival and not a cultural or religious festival.


  3. On the contrary, I think things are actually improving with every passing year with lesser noise every year. It was heartening to see my colony kids shout slogans ‘stop air pollution’ for a change! Speaking of Qilas, I did go to a Qila building competition near office, and the Qilas were so well made! While the electric lights are certainly bright, the oil diya has its special significance and I don’t think Indians have really let go of it during Diwali so far although the oil may have been replaced by wax candles! Food has always been a part of every festival, and while making traditional fare of karanjis, chiwda, chakli, anarse, besan and rava laddoos may be tedious, I think ordering from women who do it at home has atleast given a boost to some of their businesses and allows lazy people like me to enjoy the festival :D…Wish you a belated Diwali…and cheer up! This festival will always remain special and will see more commitment than all the others put together!


    1. I agree about less noise and all, and that every festival or cultural event changes form, but the fact remains that it has lost a lot of sheen and fervour of the past. I bet you yourself can see the changes. It is another matter that the sooner we accept change it is better, which is how we older people are incidentally surviving, no, thriving 😀


  4. I have always disliked crackers especially the noisy ones. I don’t mind sparklers, anaars and ground chakkars. We are perhaps the only house that hardly buys a couple of packets only because Gautam likes to burst a few. Besides my mom said that they are for shagun. So, we only burst a few on Diwali day after Lakshmi pooja. I hate this gifting culture. I actually wrote a couple of posts, one on gifts and the other on Diwali memories on the food blog. I still make the effort to make goodies for Diwali but not enough to give to all the neighbours. Miss not having anyone else at home to help. I miss the Diwalis of my childhood spent in my nana’s house with my mama’s family. They were so beautiful — all gone now.


    1. Oh lifestyles have changed so much that it would be considered gauche to send one’s kids with thalis of home-made or store-bought sweets to neighbours’ houses 🙂 I remember reading those posts on gifts and the latest one on your blogs. And oh yes, those days are gone forever now, but we should at least keep some traditions alive without calling them retrograde or blind faith, as the bursting of crackers for shagun 🙂


  5. ‘I am still old fashioned here! I light oil diyas and made sweets and namkeen at home…but offer to people who come home. Otherwise our homemade sweets are taken for granted.

    Crackers…we have stopped buying them for a long time now. It is nice of your son to stop bursting them so young, Zephyr! I thought that since the teachers are advising students about the Sivakasi child labour, cracker noise would be less. My relative is a teacher and she advises them to stop bursting crackers or at least stop buying Chines crackers, which is good.

    Well analysed post, as usual, Zephyr! Enjoyed reading!’


    1. I am so sorry to know that you are finding it difficult to post comments on my blog. Hope it is a temporary thing. You know,this year the firecrackers were less in my neighbourhood at least. Hopefully it will reduce further in the coming years. Our colony is lit up like a fairy land! And that should drive home the fact that this is a festival of lights and not noise! Taking sweets to every home is the job of children and I just filled the plates as they came in from neighbours 🙂


  6. Thought-provoking post, as always!
    Wishing you a very happy Diwali, Zephyr! ☺️


    1. Hey Manju, where have you been? Missed you around! Happy Diwali belated though it may be 🙂


  7. […] How did Indian weddings get big and fat? For that matter, since when did calling it ‘big fat’ become a status symbol? Surely if one were to be called big and fat, it would be taken as an insult. But apparently it is different with weddings. I heard that invitations are going out asking the guests to attend ‘my big fat wedding.’ So it is now official that being loud and ostentatious is to be ‘with it.’ Come to think  of it, birthdays and even festivals have become big and fat. While there are other factors like the paraphernalia that go into celebrating these, the lavish menu, the  decorations and the venue, the common denominator in all this is the GIFT. (Read about Designer Diwali here.) […]


  8. hey, read up, as usual wonderful and I found it very touching, for myself. my views are very similar to yours viz crackers, oil lamps, etc and sometimes I think I am perhaps geting old. Oh, I remember the caps too, the smell of laddus and oh, yes the Kojagari Poonima night on the Lakshmi Puja day for majority of the hindu bengalis.

    I remember one of my aunts making small sail boats made from banana pith and making little sailors and sails out of various parts of the banana plants, and drawing little feet from the little puja sthal (puja place) all the way to the main door so that when Lakshmi comes visiting, she knows where to come and of course, keeping the lamps lit all night lest she goes away.
    the boat I believe were symbols of the olden prosperous days of Bengali when traders and merchants sailed all the way to srilanka and middle east to trade.

    the playing cards is essentially a north indian custom and I believe even there, some symbolism is involved though I am not totally aware of its significance.


    1. The sailboat ritual sounds so wonderful! We draw the feet too, but on Janmashtami and the steps lead from the front door to the shrine, to symbolise little Krishna walking into the house. There is some significance to most rituals but often we don’t know it and end up following the custom as a mere ritual.


  9. I know Zephyr 😀 .. That was just a cribber’s rant …. Seriously Man! … Man! .. During cribbing, gender comes second 😛


    1. Hey hey Mayank, no swear words on Cybernag’s blog 🙂 Remember? I am a benign old lady? 😀


  10. Seriously man! We lack commitment and we lack it big! The other day our envrnmnt minister talked about dwindling population of owls n blamed “potter struck childrens'” parents for that who dont think twice about sourcing owls illegally. Now, it may / maynt b true, but bottomline is that adults, despite knowin all about this stuff n thngs like how crackers are made, give into their child’s demands just to keep him/her happy. Thankfully, our gen…the 20 or so yr olds are realising this and shunning the crackers… Hope this feeling permeates everywhere in the spectrum… Cheers.


    1. It is good that your generation is becoming more aware and this can lead to you guys becoming better parents who make your children aware citizens. Commitment has to be inherent but can also be learnt. So let’s hope things change for the better! And Mayank, I am a middle-aged woman with a grandchild! Not ‘man’ and ‘brother’. 🙂


  11. Zephyr,
    Nice to know how big a celebration divali is in some parts of my country. For me Divali is not a big celebration,only for one day. The most important thing for us on that day is an oil bath and a sumptuous lunch. The belief is that if anybody stays without having an oil bath on that day would turn into a buffalo. 🙂

    But it is the onam that we celebrate with extra cookings, frying, making social visits and so on. But again fire cracking is not a part of it.

    happy divali to you and your family


    1. I forgot to mention the oil bath, did I? Yes that is one day when the ceremonial oil bath is mandatory. Crackers are somehow connected with Diwali alone, though the Ravan and Kumbahkarn effigies are stuffed with crackers and burnt on Dusshera, no one burst firecrackers during the festival itself. So also it must be with Onam. Wonder what the connection between crackers and Diwali?


  12. With Delhi and NCR covered in a permanent haze other than the monsoons crackers should be banned. And I agree that schools have done a good job in creating awareness but commitment is lacking. I have recently moved in Gurgaon from Blore. Blore is blessed cause it rains often, even on Diwali… and it is a windy city. The haze and smog get lifted easily.


    1. I just came back from your blog and like you say, the chalta hai attitude rules in the matter of firecrackers too. So what if the environment goes for a toss and if the elderly and sick can’t have a moment of peace? HAVe money will burn it, is the attitude.

      While Bangalore might be free from smog, it is still a city that gives rise to a whole lot of allergies and other breathing disorders. But one thing is certain — nowhere in the country do people spend so much on firecrackers.


  13. Ohh.. i so missed cybernag..!!!
    Great post as usual. I will tell you other side of the story. I was an avid cracker fanatic till i was 18..! I declared Diwali season in school atleast 2 months before Diwali which continued 1 month after Diwali! The sound of one lone ‘Hanuman Bomb’ (loudest) amidst the silent school and sleepy kids was mind-blowing! And then started the search for ‘banned’ material in classrooms…
    Before i deviate more, i must say most of my exploits were because nobody in those days told us about the harms of pollution or how it affects poor people. Parents tried but children often tend to dislike what they say. The day I realised my sins, was the last day i ever touched one. Was wondering if you could upload the video so that future generation of kids would not indulge in senseless pleasures like my generation did.



    1. Nice to see you back here, Azad. You sure sound like one mischievous and noisy teen! Declaring Diwali indeed 🙂 Back in my childhood, boys used to burst the crackers inside earthen pots for the extra effect.

      As for the video upload, I have not yet learnt how to do it 😦 Hope to do it soon, though.


  14. Oh I remember the cap…phit phit phit… would spend entire afternoons bursting bombs and their sundry cousins.

    The Kila is something I haven’t heard of but sounds interesting. Stopped bursting crackers aeons back, my daughter doesn’t either. Our small contribution to the environment 🙂

    Is this spirit missing? I dunnow. I guess it has evolved with changing times. But nowadays Diwali is more about getting stuck in scary traffic jams , rushing to the jeweler on Dhanteras abd all night card sessions.

    We were one of the few, who stubbornly stuck to diyas and candles. But ever since we shifted to Gurgaon to a high rise complex, we have no choice but opt for electrical lighting.


    1. Kilas are a Maharashtrian tradition and we kids used to spend days planning and building one. The link I provided had some info. Oh, I forgot to mention one thing. We used to blow it up on the last day — it used to stay for 10 days or more and the good ones attracted a lot of visitors. We used to guard it too, lest someone damaged it!

      When I mentioned the spirit, I meant that it has become more and more commercial and ostentatious. But I guess you are right that it has also changed with the changing times…

      The card games used to take place then too, ostensibly to keep awake and the lights burning. wait, I will add this bit in the post itself. Do read it again! 😀


  15. hi zephyr,
    even I hate crackers and I am really glad that your 7 year old child showed the empathy and responsibility and why not he is a son of mother of great values.we just need to generate awareness and I think this is the reason you blog.great post and you know even diyas are very inspirational to me.Happy Diwali its late i know.


    1. Thanks for the comment Pratibha. There is awareness but not enough commitment, that’s all.

      And even belated Diwalli wishes are great, thanks for that. Wish you a very happy Bhaiyya Dooj.


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