Thursday, October 15, 2009

Memories of Deepavalis (Diwalis) Past

My brand new clothes that I will wear tomorrow sit neatly in a box in front of the altar (the mantapa) in the prayer room, as do my brother's and my parents'. The heady aroma of our favorite sweets that mom has made, Mysore Pak, Coconut Barfi, Besan Unde, has been taunting us all day long. The prayer room has been cleaned, the idols washed and the pooja (ritual) items readied for prayers tomorrow. Fresh flowers, coconuts and betel leaves are arranged neatly in two or three plates for the prayers and to give away to guests that will arrive all day long the next day.

The night before Deepavali is a culmination of days of preparations for one of my favorite festivals of the year, and if you grew up in India, I suspect yours too. The bathroom has been washed down, the stone floors scrubbed clean with a heavy brush and every single utensil cleaned to a shine. A massive brass vat encased in stone and cement sits in one corner of the bathroom, with a medium-sized hole taking up one half of one of the two cement walls that has been cleared of all ash residue, wood pieces and coal. The brass vat is now filled with fresh bathwater and fresh firewood is at the ready to be lit the next morning for boiling it.

My brother and I and any of the assorted uncles, aunts, cousins and friends have already been to one of the massive outdoor fields that has been converted into a firecraker market. We have braved the crowds, shouted at the top of our lungs to make ourselves heard to the man or woman running a particular stall, hurried from one stall to the next to get our hands on the most popular firecrackers and come away with bags full of goodies for the next day.

When at last the last of the relatives have gone back home to finish up their own preparations and every little thing is in order in our home, we reluctantly get into bed, with the very firm resolve of waking up at 3 a.m. The goal, every year, is to be the very first in your neighborhood to burst a firecracker. Tradition demands that firecrakers be set off before sunrise so their light can chase away the darkness. Three a.m. is the goal so we have ample time to be properly oiled down, to have a bath and for a small ritual, where those sweets are the first thing we eat, before we are allowed out on to the street to light the firecrackers. We most certainly do not want a repeat of last year when someone else's firecrakers woke us up. Oh, the horror and the ignominy!

Groggy but excited we - all three of us, including dad - line up in front of the prayer room as mom pats some oil onto our heads and hands us our new clothes. It's a race to the bathroom to see who gets in first. In a matter of minutes, we are ready. It's barely even four. We tear into the firecraker boxes, pick the one that has the reputation for the loudest sound (aspiringly called the atom bomb), and head out into the street. Not a peep from anywhere else yet. Dad and mom walk out behind us with a matchbox and a box of incense sticks. We each hold the fuse of the atom bomb between two fingers and carefully snip off about an inch of the paper encasing the thread of the fuse. This, so that the fuse doesn't light as fast and gives us time to get away after lighting it.

A ten-thousand firecracker round

It unspooled to this length. At the far end, another family well into their celebrations.

Dad hands each of us one incense stick, we light them and with the firecracker in one hand and the incense stick in the other, both held far apart so they don't accidentally come together in our hands (that would not be funny), we approach the middle of the street. We stand a few feet apart from one another and light our respective fuses and run back towards our gate. We stand there, all four of us with our palms covering our ears. (We know it's loud, we chose the loudest firecraker, we want it to be loud. Pray, why then do we cover our ears? I look at photographs of Deepavali and the most I have are of a whole lot of us with palms, sometimes forearms because the palms are holding lit incense sticks, over our ears.)

Two loud booms and Deepavali has well and truly begun!

A few more varieties of firecrakers - a string of the longer ones, flower pots, sparklers - and we head back in. A couple of other early risers are already up and we hear sounds popping up from the homes around us, but content at being the first, we are ready to climb into bed again. The day has arrived but it's a long way to go before we'll allow ourselves any rest, so we might as well catch up on sleep before the house and the streets get too noisy.

Flower pots

A couple of hours later, it's breakfast time and then family starts arriving in drips and dribbles. By lunchtime we have a full complement of everyone in town. The more the merrier, especially at Deepavali. There's good-natured ribbing of the less brave among us, someone makes a loud noise just as your incense stick approaches the fuse making you jump, bravado and machismo are on full display as one or the other consistently picks the largest, loudest firecracker.

Soon this too gets tiring and it's on to a game of cards or carrom board. Bravado and machismo and teasing on full display here too. There is no space for everyone to sit down and eat together. But we've all been eating all day long and it continues well into the night when it's time for another session of firecrackers. This time around, the neighbors are also out in full force and somehow all the firecrackers get pooled and we're all into each other's stashes, laughing, running, hiding and covering our ears together.

Nighttime on Deepavali always has a different flavor. It's time for the more visually spectacular firecrakers to come out - the flower pots, the bhuchakras (they spin on the ground), the vishnu chakras (held in the hand), the rockets that shoot off into the sky (when they work as they're supposed to, or else they land on your neighbor's roof to be discovered months later). It's definitely time for the oohs and aaahs.

A rocket ready to be lit. It's in an empty bottle to coax it to shoot straight up.


The next two days of the festival are more religious, with the Lakshmi Puja (prayers to the goddess of prosperity) and Balipadyami. More visits from relatives and more visits to relatives' houses, but nothing compares to the pure fun of that one day.


My family and I wish you and your families a very happy Deepavali, and whether you celebrate it or not, no matter which corner of the world you live in, we wish you a very prosperous and healthy year ahead.


Anonymous said...

Thank you! Lovely post and yes, so reminiscent of my childhood Deepavalis! We do as much as we can here, but I sorely want my kids to experience one Deepawali in Bangalore!

Happy Deepawali to you and yours as well!


Choxbox said...

Lovely post as usual!

Happy Diwali Suj!

Sands said...

as always a lovely post that reminds me of the fun times growing up back home :) Happy diwali to you as well!

Laksh said...

Lovely post. Brought back tons of memories for me. A good way to start the festivities. Wishing you and yours a prosperous and happy deepavali.

Jinksy said...

Far, far nicer than our 'Bonfire Night' on 5th November, here in England... but maybe noisier, and definitely earlier in the day!

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

A very Happy Deepavali Suj !

I had written post last year

You didn't write about the careful distribution of crackers to last all 3 days ... that used to be a ritual in itself .. me, sister and dad having long debates and would carefully distribute the crackers. Also since those huge 10,000 wala patakis were expensive, either dad or mom were given the privilege to light them.

DotThoughts said...

Oh such nostalgia diwali brings on. loved that last image! A very happy diwali to you and yours, Suj!

Lavs said...

Happy Diwali to you Sujatha and to your entire family. My memories are little different. Some day i must pen them down at my space. Enjoyed reading yours!

Altoid said...

:-) I would fall amongst those that are the butt of a lot of ribbing cos I am sh*t scared of crackers- I always was and still am.

Though the Diwali morning ritual was the same....3am wake up, 4 am out to burst crackers. Crazy!!! Wouldnt wake up that early any other day, not even for 10th board exams!

Lovely writeup as always. Totally felt like reading my own story.

Happy Diwali to you too Suj, and to Mr Suj and to the kids.


mallikamt said...

Lovely(and very timely) post! The firecracker booth description was so accurate! I am told though that the festivities are not nearly the same in B'lore anymore, given that a lot of people are getting environmentally conscious. Also, people tend to celebrate in their own groups, within the walls of their homes..instead of a big gala celebration on the streets..

Anonymous said...

I wish you all much beauty and prosperity in the coming year! Lovely post!

shoba said...

I remember one more thing.
The next day, all of us kids used to gather the paper in the street and burn them. There will be a couple of unburnt firecrackers in the bunch, which used to burst. Thinking about it ,I wonder how such small things could bring a big grin on our faces.

Jo said...

A very nice write-up on the childhood memories of Deepavali. This is my first time outside India and here in New Zealand we already had our taste of sweets and fireworks last weekend in a city council arrangement!

I have to agree that nowadays there are less crackers in Blore, as people are getting more conscious of the pollution, like Mallika pointed out.
Happy Deepavali to you and everyone reading this post.....

dipali said...

A happy Diwali to you and yours!

♥ Braja said...

I love everything about it except the insane firecrackers....

Did you see this, Sujatha?

Unknown said...

As am writing this, the house is filled with the aroma of fresh fried savories - thengolu with fried peanuts and dried coconut. Its mixed with the sweet smell of fresh made mysore pak with cardamom.
This weekend is packed with parties and celebrations! :)

Praveen said...

Hi Sujatha,
Wishing you and ur family a Happy Diwali.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

Sounds like great fun. My mom once let off a string of 800 firecrackers in the middle of our street - well past midnight on the 4th of July. Illegal to have them in Minnesota. (And I wonder where I learned to break the rules.) Remembering that ruckus, I can't imagine a string of 10,000. What fun that might bring.

Thanks for writing about this celebration. I had no idea and always appreciate learning. Happy Deepawali to your family.

Gauri said...

Lovely post Suj :). Carried me down memory lane .... and a long lane at that :).

Here's wishing you and your family a very Happy Deepavali and may the coming year be filled with peace, love, happiness, good health and prosperity.


G :)

Ugich Konitari said...


Almost a generation before you, but so many of the vignettes you draw remind me of my childhood divalis....

Here's wishing you and your family a safe, healthy and happy divali, and special blessings to your two stars, C and Dot....

Sujatha said...

Happy Diwali, Sujatha!

( I don't know why, but even though correct, Happy Deepavali doesn't ring quite as euphoniously as the other.)

Kavi said...

Thanks for the wishes ! And we wish you a lovely Deepavali too !

That 10000 wala was a special nostalgia kindler !

What a time. What a noise. What smell. And how much paper indeed !!

Lovely piece !

Hilary said...

That last image almost looks as if the candles are flickering. All the very best to you and yours. Happy Diwali.

Unknown said...

Beautiful post, Sujatha. Happy Deepawali.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

What an absolutely lovely set of memories!! Thank you for sharing your beautiful traditions with us!!! You inspire us continually with your word images!! Such joy and happiness in this post...Happy Deepavalis to you, my dear friend!! ~Janine XO

Sniffles and Smiles said...

My dear Sujatha, You are so kind and good to me...Thank you for asking how I am...I am still rather bleary. I am on two types of narcotics for pain. This surgery was a real humdinger! But it is getting a little better each day...and I am so grateful. AND soooo, I had to visit my dear friend, and see what she was up to...and as always, it was a wonderful delight!!! Love to you and yours!!! Love, Janine XO

Unknown said...

Happy Deepavali, Sujatha

VillageBoy said...

I used to wonder where all the street dogs went during diwali?

Certainly took me back in time. That was really good thank you!

Paddy said...

Lovely post, lovely pics! I'm in the middle of what my kids will probably remember as one of the first Deepavali they lit crackers in, and am having a whale of a time. This is something I really, really, missed in the US - and a great reason that underscores our move back!

sujata sengupta said...

What a lovely post!! No wonder I love your down the memory lane posts so much, on this we are totally alike!! I wish you and your family all the joy and peace in the world Sujata. Stay well and happy!!

Sujatha Bagal said...

Thank you all for your wonderful wishes. So glad this post brought on good memories.

And a lovely celebration it was too at home - oil baths for the kids, new clothes, jamoons, good friends, good food, a swim meet (where C got great times) and just hanging out at home. Next time around, we'll figure out a way to have firecrackers at the ready for the kids!

CA, will check out that post. Thanks for leaving a link to it.

Lavs, look forward to it!

Shoba, I can remember that! yes, I agree it was not too complicated - all the things that made us so happy. :)

Mallika and Mindspeak, hmmm. Those pics were from a couple of years ago. It was big all right, in our neck of the woods.

Mindspeak and Praveen, welcome to Blogpourri!

ASk, argh! Keep such comments to yourself! :)

Braja, thanks for the link. Loved watching it!

Julie, what fun! What a lovely way to break rules! :)

Janine, I'm just so glad you're doing well enough at least to go blog surfing. Here's wishing you mend fast and go snow surfing asap.

VillageBoy, yeah, the poor dogs on the street and babies at home. Both cowering. The one bad thing about Deepavali.

Paddy, good for you!

Priyanka Rajkhowa said...

A very happy Diwali and prosperous new year to you and your family (sorry for being a wee bit late with my wishes)...hope you had fun !!

Sujatha Bagal said...

Thanks Priyanka. Such lovely wishes are always welcome. :) I hope you had a good celebration too.

visajet said...

Belated Deepavali wishes to you and your family, Sujatha - for a bright and meaningful year ahead.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Visajet, thank you!

snoring mouthpiece said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

This is an absolutely lovely post.

I don't mean to be rude, but does it never cross your (by which I mean, people who light firecrackers) minds that people just might be bothered by the noise? That there are old people, children, babies and even just regular people to whom the racket from those godawful 'ten-thousand-firecracker' sets sounds just like machine gun fire?

I really wish people would think of the air and noise pollution that make India a hellish place to be during Diwali.