Monday, November 4, 2013

Lamps of Cheer

Diwali has always been my favourite time of the year. The crisp air with a hint of winter, the twinkling flames of the clay lamps, lights all around, a little fog, sound of firecrackers, pretty fireworks in the sky, a smile on everyone's lips..all of it never fails to spread a warmth in my heart. The happiness and warmth I feel during Diwali, can hardly be expressed in words.

Originating from the Sanskrit word ‘Deepavali’, it literally means rows (Avali) of lights (Deepa). This festival of lights is celebrated on the darkest night (Amavasya) of the Kartik month in the Indian calendar, and it symbolizes the vanquishing of ignorance (darkness) by the knowledge (light). Diwali is celebrated for five days, each day having its own religious and mythological importance.

Logic behind lighting lamps and bursting firecrackers:
  • It is through the light that the beauty of this world is revealed or experienced. Most civilizations of the world recognize the importance of light as a gift of God. It has always been a symbol of whatever is positive in our world of experience. 
  • To Hindus, darkness represents ignorance, and light is a metaphor for knowledge. Therefore, lighting a lamp symbolizes the destruction, through knowledge, of all negative forces- wickedness, violence, lust, anger, envy, greed, bigotry, fear, injustice, oppression and suffering, etc.
  • On the onset of winter, many insects including flies and mosquitoes are increasingly found. So when lamps are lit, their flames attract these insects and kill them.
  • Firecrackers are bursted as the loud noise is believed to scare away the evil spirits.

But for me, Diwali's religious rites and rituals never fascinated me. It was always the lights, crackers, food and fun associated with it. My earliest Diwali memories and fondest memories are of Jorhat, where our family shifted when I was six years old. Deta (my father) served in an university there and we had called the university campus our home for twenty three years. There were around a dozen hostels for the students in the campus. And every year they would compete as to which hostel would be best decorated, primarily with lights. When each floor of the hostels up to the terraces would be illuminated with rows clay lamps after sunset, what a beautiful sight it used to be.

Each house too would be illuminated by its inhabitants starting from the entrance gate. In Assam, we would plant one or two banana trees at the entrance (main gate) and fix broad bamboo strips on its bark at different levels to hold clay lamps. It looks so pretty. After lighting the lamps on the trees, the gate, the veranda and the steps, I would insist on switching off the lights (the electric ones) of the house. I always feel when everything else is dark, the little lamps look the most mesmerizing.

In the campus, the outgoing batch of students would organize an event called the 'Central Diwali' in an open area. There would be food, games and prizes. My favourite would be the game of 'Housie' (Tambola). I have hardly won any rounds in housie ever, still I like to play this game.

My favourite part of this cheerful festival is lighting up the clay lamps and making rangoli. Back home, we used to get to work from afternoon itself. Washing the lamps, making them ready to be lit and drawing the rangoli. Plus the crackers would be left in the sun the whole day so that they perform well. As I started to live away from home, I started to celebrate Diwali on my own. Of course I missed my family, but the lamps of cheer refused to let my spirits dampen. Their flickering light never failed to spread warmth inside my heart. Last year, I could not celebrate properly as I was just a couple of days old bride. And this year I am in a new city and Diwali did not feel as it does back home. But this year, the lamps of cheer made me ache for home. This Diwali I longed to be home.