pb019 at csc.albany.edu pb019 at csc.albany.edu
Thu Oct 5 07:09:55 UTC 1995

Even though the following article is a rather good account of the festival
of Diwali, I think it only depicts one much-publicized side of it and
ignores an important although not-so-popular side.  Therefore, some
clarifications are probably in order. Please see my response to the various
segments of the article. Thanks.

-Partha Banerjee

Dept. of Biology
University at Albany
Albany, New York, USA

>Follwoing is an article from the book, "Our Festivals" by H.V.Seshadri.

My response: Just a small anecdote. Mr. Seshadri is the present chief of
the Hindu fundamentalist organization -- RSS or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh. A close look at the organization would not be totally irrelevant in
this context. However, I resist myself of the urge to going into the
details of it in this discussion. One might refer to some recent threads on
RSS in newsgroups such as soc.culture.indian, soc.culture.bengali,
soc.culture.indian.kerala, or soc.culture.indian.marathi.
>                             DIWALI
>The 14th Day of the dark half of Aashwayuja to the 2nd day of bright half of
>If there is one occasion which is all joy and all jubilation for one and all -
>the young and the old, men and women - for the entire Hindu world, it is
>Deepaavali - the Festival of Lights. Even the humblest of huts will be lighted
>by a row of earthern lamps. Crackers resound and light up the earth and the
>sky. The faces of boys and girls flow with a rare charm in their dazzling hues
>and colors. Illumination - Deepotsavas - in temples and all sacred places of
>worship and one the banks of rivers symbolize the scattering of spiritual
>radiance all round from these holy centres. The radiant sight of everybody
>adorned with new and bright clothes, especially ladies decorated with the best
>of ornaments, captures the social mood at its happiest.

My response:

This description of the festivities, however grandiose and utopian, is
rather one-sided and does not depict the way many poorer communities in
India spend the Diwali times. There are millions of families in India where
no lamps are lit, no crackers are cracked, and no ornaments are worn.
Diwali (and many other Indian festivities) has been synonymous with the
eclectic upper hierarchy of the Hindu religion for ages.  In most Hindu
temples, the so-called "untouchables" would not even be allowed to enter to
celebrate this or any other such eclectic festivities -- whether religious
or socio-cultural.
>And all this illumination and fireworks, joy and festivity, is to signify the
>victory of divine forces over those of wickedness.


My response:

Again, this is vague. Who is the divine and who is the wicked? The Hindu
religion (as practiced and imposed-upon by the Brahminical order)
deliberately confuses this important issue. The so-called elite of the
upper castes who have traditionally been ruling India and Hinduism: are
they divine? Are the so-called "Indo-European Aryas" divine? And the
"non-Aryas" (including the non-Hindus) wicked? That's the much-publicized
prevalent concept. In Ramayana, the "non-Arya" "demon" king Ravana, who to
me signifies nothing but human steadfastness and bravery, is killed by the
"Arya"-therefore-"divine" Lord Rama where the latter resorts to any
possible deceptive and deplorable tactics to conquer the land of Lanka (or
Srilanka as we know it now).

The celebration of Dussera, a parallel festival (the tenth day of the
ceremony to worship Goddess Durga) is in fact a relic of Lord Rama's
invocation of the Goddess which is also known as "Akal Bodhan" (i.e., an
untimely invocation) as traditionally in ancient India, the worship of
Durga would take place much later in the year. Rama, according to Hindu
scriptures, did this untimely supplication to earn the blessings of the
Goddess to conquer Ravana.

Lord Rama is glorified in Brahminical Hinduism and of course, Ravana is
ridiculed to death (as is manifested by the ritualistic blazing of Ravana's
kushaputtalika or straw icon).  The fundamentalist Hindu parties in India
champion the causes of Lord Rama (however vague they may be) to exploit the
unchallenging mindset of the Hindu electorate.

What do Indology scholars do in this intellectual paradox? Would be
interesting to see.
>In northern parts of Bharat, Deepaavali is associated with the return of Sri
>Rama to Ayodhya after vanquishing Raavana. The people of Ayodhya, overwhelmed
>with joy, welcomed Rama through jubilation and illumination of the entire
>capital. Well has it been said that while Sri Rama unified the north and south
>of our country, Sri Krishna unified the west and the east. Sri Rama and Sri
>Krishna together therefore symbolize the grand unity of our motherland.

My response:

See the problem here. Rama, according to Mr. Seshadri, unified the north
and south. In reality, he killed the mighty Ravana and extended the "Aryan"
Hindu invasion to the south.  All voices of dissent were silenced.  All
other ways to live in India were methodically discouraged.  Socio-religious
conformity was forcefully imposed.  And, regarding the "grand unity of our
motherland", welcome to the indoctrination of the celebrated RSS and its
daughter organizations BJP (the now-formidable Hindu right-wing political
party), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)--the religious wing, or the
Vivekananda Kendra--the social-work wing.
>The annual visit of Bali is celebrated in Kerala as Onam. It is the most
>popular festival for Kerala where every Hindu home receives him with floral
>decorations and lights and festoons adorn all public places. Onam, however,
>falls on the 16th day of Aavani (Sowramaana) in september.
>The pratipada is also the day for Govardhana Pooja and Anna Koota (heap of
>grains), the former signifying the Govardhana episode in Sri Krishna's life and
>the latter conveying affluence and prosperity.
>The fourth and final day is Yama Dwiteeya, also called Bahu beej. It is a most
>touching moment for the family members when even distant brothers reach their
>sisters to strengthen that holy tie. The sister applies tilak and waves aarati
>to her brother, and the brother offers loving presents to the sister.
>To the Jains, Deepaavali has an added significance to the great event of
>Mahaaveera attaining the Eternal Bliss of Nirvaana. The passing into Eternity
>on the same Amaavaasya of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, that leonine sanyasin who
>was one of the first to light the torch of Hindu Renaissance during the last
>century, and of Swami Ramatirtha who carried the fragrance of the spiritual
>message of Hindu Dharma to the western world, have brought the
>national-cum-spiritual tradition of Deepaavali right up to modern times.

My response:

See the incoherence (quite expectedly so) among the various Indian
festivities around Diwali.  In Bengal, for instance, Durga Puja is now the
most-celebrated customary festival, particularly in the cities where the
upper-caste affluent live (in villages, they have their own celebrations,
e.g., the Raas-Lila of Sri Chaitanya who through his socio-religious
movements broke down the barriers of the degenerate caste-system and
brought about interreligious faith).

However, Diwali, as we know it in Bengal, is the time when people worship
the Goddess Kali.  Kali is naked symbolizing disavowal of earthly objects
arguably also including the dogmas of orthodoxy. Kali is wild. Kali with
her "rakhshasi" companions dances in the "shmashan".  Kali breaks down all
the barriers.  The barriers imposed upon by the Hindu upper-caste

To me, that's Diwali.


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