In culture, there is never a wrong moment to learn from others. This year on Deepawali, the United States of America has a thing or two to teach us on how to celebrate this beautiful festival of lights.
Fireworks for the public over a beautiful river -- not on one but for three consecutive days, supermarket shelves happily selling crackers and fireworks, and messaging that seems decisively welcoming towards the Hindu festival of Deepawali. The general joy of Deepawali seems to build well for the Hindus living in a nation, far, far away from the land of Ram and Ayodhya.
In India, where Ram and Ayodhya reside, a bucket of ice-cold water has been poured on the prospects of lighting crackers. Children are meant to pass on festivals and celebrations to the coming generations. Unfortunately, they are amid a carefully constructed narrative that presents a picture of Deepawali and celebrations quite different from what their parents grew up celebrating during the latter's childhood days.
There was worship, there were rituals, there was helping parents in cleaning and decoration, there were mithai (sweets) and crackers.
Now, those who argue against crackers may say that the other facets are in place even today. Well, it was for the anticipation and waiting for the evening fireworks that the other facets of Deepawali got the children's attention and added enthusiasm.
In such a scenario, many people on social media seem to ask how to make Deepawali more enjoyable for children in the absence of crackers and the absence of the freedom to light crackers -- the centre of attraction in the celebration.
So, even as crackers have been pushed away, it is time to start working on the rest, for children to know the treasures of Deepawali, as they exist in the celebration of dharma.
Joy and solid pride are two aspects that need to reinvent and "display" themselves into Deepawali celebrations for school-going children amid obfuscation that comes from peers, spooky plastic alien trends, and plastic, short-lived, versions of "fun".
This generation of children may want more than just making garlands of flowers, making rangoli, making decorations and helping parents. They deserve to see us vibrant, promising, and creative to be able to dig cultural riches from the treasures they have.
This author doesn’t take culture as a soft matter and doesn’t take it as a matter meant for outrage on Twitter. If even one of the points mentioned below clicks with you and your family, it will be a reason for added happiness for her, really.
The idea behind this article is to put together what many of us have known Deepawali to bring and bear, each year, and simply did not “need” to exclusively “show”. It’s time we did.
Let’s “show” children what Deepawali (moreover, what we, collectively, as one family) has got. Their outlook on crackers that has been affected by the narrative will reshape in the process.
Oh My Goddess! Lakshmi ji Left These Gifts Here!
A potlee or pack of gifts, or a humble envelope of token money, nicely decorated, kept near or under the pillow. A depiction of an owl as a member of the gift potlee or pack. A depiction of small feet on the floor next to the bed or mattress, in coming to the room and outgoing. Oh my Goddess! Lakshmi ji left these for you!
Children above six may begin to question. Welcome queries. They must get the right answers. One, for a good beginning, could be: Lakshmi ji sends her swaroopa for gift keeping! Who is her swaroopa? The mother, the sister, the granny, whoever the feminine force is in the family. The idea of the Goddess’s presence sets in.
There is a morning ritual in my family on Dusshera. The grahani, who is considered the roopa of Goddess Laxmi herself, carries a silver coin immersed in curd inside a silver bowl. She takes it around to each member of the family for darshan.
On one side of the coin is depicted the Sri Ram Parivar (also called as Sri Ram Darbar). The other side carries the depiction of Goddess Lakshmi and Ganesh. That’s supposed to be the first sight we wake up to. Now imagine the ritual playing out with an envelope of token money from an elder or a gift at the bedside or a heavy, heavy potlee of goodies straight from Goddess Lakshmi.
“Spooky” We Can Be
Around 10 years ago, a kid I know discovered that the girl at school who “dressed up as Surpanakha” during the Dusshera/Deepawali celebrations stood out in the entire junior section. Why? Simply because all the other girls came dressed up as Sita. Obviously. The first choice would be to “dress up as Sita”.
So, it turned out that the girl who dressed up as Surpanakha “even applied scary make up”. And? “We were all looking the same. She even told the story and looked different!” And it so happened that she also told the story of why Lakshman was angry at her. That’s some good risk taken when everyone’s celebrating Sita’s homecoming.
One cannot put a finger on when exactly celebrating Halloween became fashionable in Indian metros. Its entry is not older than a decade – if one goes by the top trends in posh South Delhi localities. The growing popularity of the import from the West could be because people get a chance to perform their own mini gala of sorts and party. Kids figure in comfortably because there are ample trends and fancy dress sets to take up.
Does Naraka Chaturdashi stand a chance when it comes to retelling the story of good over evil – for children? Well, yes.
The story of victory can emerge from the defeat of evil – that’s what Naraka Chaturdashi tells us, Dusshera tells us. The window between Dussshera and Deepawali is long enough for ideas to run over the concept of “defeat of evil” and adharma.
The enormous spread of goodies made in India between Ahoi Ashtami and Deepawali can work charms for the Indic treat. You get the hint.
That One Cool Creation
The emotion behind Kolu dolls and their celebration during the Navratra, the arranging of hatree (the one from Nathdwara as for my clan), the sacred art of kolam, drawing rangoli, the meeting of the sacred and creative in these is complete in itself. This very emotion, now, could further help in generating a new sense of “doing and decorating” something that does resemble a cultural project. An ensemble.
Why does one need to do it? Decorating a tree or carving a vegetable has so much attraction for children in the West. In India, school education and peer interactions are creating that need to “talk about” “what we did”. The idea is to "show" and "display" even as we absorb in true devotion.
What are the five recurrent motifs associated with the rituals and pooja on Deepawali in your family, clan or region? Create a long-lasting series of symbols that are spiritual holders for you and your family in the form of an ensemble. Size of the ensemble depends on the material; age and comfort of the children involved.
The ensemble could be done even digitally if your children wish. However, the real deal is to create a tangible ensemble of simple and spiritually meaningful motifs. The ensemble could be in the form of a mobile (it’s a ceiling installation that is a collection of shapes or motifs); it could be a static collection of shapes and motifs.
Children do not overnight need to come up with a creation that stands a chance to impress Manav Gupta or Paresh Maity. They will shape themselves by creating each year. Deepawali can ignite creativity through the use of special motifs that remain in children’s visual and emotional memory year after year.
When I was a child, there would be two focal points for worship in the family beginning the day of Ahoi Ashtami (when mothers fast for the longevity and good health of children) – towards Deepawali. One – a visual one-dimensional traditional depiction associated with Maa Ahoi (some hand draw it on the wall). Two – the hatree which comes from Nathdwara. There is no parallel to their combined visual memory even today.
The Lotus trail
A trip to a pond where the lotus bloom, or a visit to the flower market to fetch lotus for Goddess Lakshmi. What would be a better picnic idea with a spiritual purpose? More importantly, this ritual will work as the first connection between children, the idea of fetching "her flower" for her worship and their understanding of Goddess Lakshmi.
“Eco Clubs” Won’t Think Of This
Imagine being wished for Deepawali with a “Say no to crackers” in bold. No one seems to question what’s wrong in wishing each other, especially children, Deepawali, this way. “Eco clubs” at many schools are supposedly driven by their “care” for the environment (which has to be round the year). Yet the celebration of the cow – an important facet of the environment that is celebrated in the extended Deepawali – remains elusive from their diaries and education.
Govardhan Pooja is a great occasion and day to directly involve children with the facets of the environment. Visits to Gaushalas, a day of care of the cow and family; knowing biofuel up close, the joy of cooking in milk and curds on a mitti ka chulha, story-telling on Krishna and the environmentalist in Krishna – all these can happen with your group of friends who are parents. It would be a superpower when it comes to the fun quotient. "Eco clubs" can be taught a thing or two about caring for the environment the Indic way.
Temple Ecosystem Connect
How about making children part of the temple ecosystem? Even when it comes to buying anything for Deepawali, one may ensure that a part of it is coming from the vendors who sell flowers, diyas, hatree, cheeni ke khilaune (in northern India), sweets, decorations etc around the temple in your vicinity/village/town/city. This will encourage them to interact with not only the vendors but also the temple ecosystem and related small economies. It will help them understand belonging.
OTT and entertainment channels always keep a window for the “festival special” – “festive season” special movies in December. One of such movies I came across last year, is based on a sweet, fancy fantasy, where the work on renewing the belief of children in gifts and gifting is undertaken by a team of elves against a tight deadline. They try and keep trying.
We are a lot, lot richer. Let's use the riches and wealth with Lakshmi ji's blessings to keep trying.
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