By AYESHA BABAR
Diwali has arrived and this time too, like every year, it brings with it a promise of bringing hope and light into our lives. Diwali, the main festival of the Hindu calendar and in many ways the ‘Christmas Day’ for Hindus around the world is a festival that has its roots in goodness and the victory of light over darkness. It spans over five days, starting from Dhanteras, followed by ‘Choti Diwali’, and then the main day of festivities, Diwali itself. For many families, the festival is much longer, with card parties and pujas (special prayers) starting a week in advance. New clothes are bought for adults and children alike, for Diwali calls for a no holds barred celebration of all that is precious in life.
Houses are cleaned the day before, with piles of homemade mithai (sweets) all set for guests in anticipation of Diwali. The day starts early as the morning is spent doing up the house with flowers and for the girls, especially, making rangoli designs – intricate, colourful patterns that are made at the entrance of the house to welcome guests and good vibes alike. Presents are exchanged and the younger ones also receive a token amount of cash as ‘kharchee’, much like the Muslims get ‘Eidi’ on the festival of Eid.
Focus is then shifted to the puja, for which a special thaal (prayer tray) is decorated with flowers, fruits and sweets. One of my friends often recalls how her father looks forward to this part of the day the most as he likes to take the responsibility of decorating the thaal. For him, it is the one thing about Diwali that has remained consistent since he as a child used to help his mother with the thaal.
The havan puja is one of the highlights of the day, as the Panditji leads the whole family to thank God for all that it has been blessed with and pray for continued blessings on the family and the household. The puja is followed by aarti to share the blessings with each individual in the family and spread the sweet smell in all corners of the house. Once the puja is complete, the main diya (oil-lamp) is lit up. One by one, all the diyas in the house are lit and placed around the house, in the gardens and on the balconies. Driving around on Diwali, the sight of thousands of little diyas lighting up the evening is one of the most beautiful sights you will see, almost as if the city has been sprinkled with sparkling star dust.
As the afternoon turns into evening, men and women dress up in all their finery and get ready to either visit their loved ones or receive them into their homes. Elaborate dinners are prepared and then possibly the crescendo of the evening arrives (for the younger ones at least!) as crackers are burst. There are phuljharis and anaars and little chakris – all signifying the celebratory mood of the festival. Sumptuous tables are laid out and once the feasting is over, the card games begin, mostly rounds of teen patti (an Indian version of poker) that continue into the night.
Diwali falls on the night of the ‘amawasya’ or ‘no moon’ which is the darkest night of the lunar month. This year Diwali comes at a time of great political strain in the subcontinent. Tensions between India and Pakistan are at a high with rhetoric being exchanged. It is in times like this, more than ever, that we need to understand the universality of love and goodness. Festivals like Diwali, which in essence, are an opportunity for all of us to look inwards for our own inner light, are beautiful reminders that there is still hope beyond the despair. May the darkness of these times be lit up with thoughtfulness and restraint from both sides too. The image of Indian and Pakistani soldiers exchanging sweets on Diwali has been one of the most endearing moments for me and I hope that this year, it is no different.
Festivals like Diwali, Eid and many others are an opportunity for the whole family to be together, laugh, show each other that they are valued through prayers and presents and even be competitive with card games. These are the moments that stay with us wherever we go to look back upon and cherish. Here’s wishing you and your loved one’s love, light and a celebration of a lifetime – Happy Diwali!