India is a land of festivals that are a vital part of our culture and traditions. But of late, due to lack of time and interest along with financial constraints, people, especially in the cities do not celebrate them and if they do, it is more of a token gesture. During festival holidays, most people rest or watch TV programmes. Mithai (sweets) and eatables with health benefits, which were earlier prepared at home and savoured by the entire family, have been replaced with unhealthy readymade sweets. The beautiful festival of Deepavali—abbreviated as Diwali—has been reduced by many people to one that leads to air and noise pollution. Even though people celebrate this festival, many are unaware of the science behind these rituals and its significance as with most other festivals. The days before Diwali are preceded with people cleaning their homes and buying new clothes for the family or going shopping. For Diwali, people wear new clothes, decorate their entrances with creative colourful floor designs (Rangoli) along with small earthen oil lamps (diyas) and exchange sweets with neighbours, friends and relatives. After the puja, children light fireworks and later, families enjoy the sweets.
In joint families as opposed to nuclear families, grandparents played a vital role in patiently explaining the importance of these festivals to their grandchildren. After all, only when children know the background of each of these vibrant festivals, will they appreciate its true value. These mythological and historical stories with a value system could enrich the lives of the younger generation to live a fuller and healthier life. This is all the more pertinent in view of the current materialistic, meaningful and politically correct environment.
Ironically, communication modes (emails, Skype, etc.) have increased but communication among people and families has decreased. One such example is the ‘Phubbing’ syndrome wherein two friends, instead of speaking to each other, are furiously typing messages to someone else. This brings to mind a quote by Albert Einstein, which says, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
It is unfortunate that some people fail to realise the true value of festivals for the development of the mind and the body. Holidays that were meant to dispel the darkness spread by ignorance and break the monotony of a stressful daily life, are being casually frittered away. It is estimated that around Rs.5,000 crore worth of firecrackers are purchased during Diwali. Polluting materials emitted from them remain suspended in the air for a day. Crackers contain toxic substances that can affect people in different ways. Diwali should be associated with its traditional significance rather than pollution. People should celebrate festivals in their true spirit with respect towards one’s surroundings and the people around u .
Hope we can look forward to a Diwali that illuminates both homes as well as the lives of people.
Have a safe and happy Diwali! |SP
Plan for Diwali
• Feed the poor and distribute sweets amongst orphans.
• Distribute fireworks to poor children and give your old clothes to needy people
• The entire family should eat together. As the saying goes, ‘The family that eats together and prays together stays together.’
• Since Diwali is a festival of lights, people keep electric lanterns switched on throughout the n ight, leading to a huge load on the power supply. Sometimes, these lights are left on even during the day. It would be better to switch to oil lamps.
• Buy diyas from individual sellers rather than big shops as they will be affordable. You will be encouraging a handicraft and supporting a local artisan. Use your creative talent to decorate the undecorated diyas.
• Refrain from using expensive noisy crackers (Laxmi bombs etc.) that also lead to air and sound pollution along with unnerving the senior citizens , infants and animals.
It is said that diyas were lit as a celebration for Rama’s homecoming to the kingdom of Ayodhya after 14 years of exile and vanquishing the demon King, Ravana. Diyas represent the victory of good over evil. They also are a symbolic representation of the sun—the giver of light and life A possible reason for the traditional use of ireworks could be that their fumes kill a lot of insects and mosquitoes that emerge after the rains. For the Rangoli, earlier, rice paste was used so ants would feed on it and stay out of their homes. On this day, people wake up during the ‘Brahmamuhurta’ (around 4 am) which is supposed to be a healthy practice. In Tamil Nadu after the oil bath, a home-made concoction is consumed, which is supposed to prevent digestive problems hat may arise due to feasting later in the day.
Significance of the five days
DAY 1: Dhanteras or Dhanvantari Trayodasi is derived from ‘Dhan’ meaning wealth and ‘Teras’, which as per the Hin du calendar, implies the 13th lunar day of a particular month. Also on this day, Lord Dhanvantari is believed to have emerged from the ocean with Ayurveda for the benefit of mankind. This day marks thebeginning of Diwali celebrations.
DAY 2: Choti Diwali or Naraka Chaturdasi when Lord Krishna killed the demon Narakasura
DAY 3: The actual Diwali and Lakshmi Puja when the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi are sought.
DAY 4: Govardhan puja (Lord Krishna told people to perform the puja of Govardhan moun tain). This day is also dedicated as Padwa to the husband-wife relationship.
DAY 5: Bhau-beej for brother-sister bonding. It is said that Yamraj (Lord of death) gave his sister a boon that whoever visits his sister on this day will be freed from the cycle of rebirth. This day marks the end of Diwali celebrations.
Significance of other festivals
In the North during Chhath puja the sun is worshipped in other places in India and on other occasions. Apart from the thanksgiving to nature, it could also be considered as a form of getting our required intake of a form of vitamin D by exposing oneself to the beneficial rays of the early morning sun. For the home-bound, apart from bone problems, deficiency of the vitamin could lead to more serious health risks.
As per reports, Mumbaikars quite recently shared messages whereby they told people to burn camphor in the Holi bonfire to combat swine flu. Makar Sankranti is the day the sun enters the Tropic of Capricorn. The word ‘Makar’ means Capricorn and ‘Sankrant’ means transition. On this day, people make offerings to animals and birds, particularly the cow. Similarly in Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti is known as Pongal. On this day, the cows and bulls are venerated. They are given a wash and fed even before the family eats. Cows produce milk, its dung has antiseptic properties and is used as fuel for cooking. Cow urine is prescribed in Ayurveda as a medicine. Similarly, the bull is used to plough the field and does not kill earthworms etc. that cause soil aeration unlike mechanical methods. Similarly the worship of trees could be considered as a form of conservation, of animals as prevention of cruelty and of planets, as having a beneficial impact on our health such as the sun. Apart from these festivals, many others too are celebrated that signify the victory of good over evil.