The cacophony and ear-piercing sounds of firecrackers are almost integral to our conceptualization of Diwali. For years, propaganda around “say no to crackers” has been merely a primary school art activity, rather than a lifestyle philosophy. But with terrifying environmental degradation, shadows of child-labour in the hazardous fireworks industry and realization of the torment inflicted upon babies, animals, the elderly and people with respiratory illnesses, there has been a slow and gradual need to create a silent, smoke free and Green Diwali!
What then, is there for children, if not all of this noise, revelry and ‘patakha’ rivalry? How do they feel festive? Today we’re at a crucial juncture where we need to strike a balance between the glorious traditions of our culture, and a need to adapt to a rapidly changing world. We need to find a way to make our festivals better suited to the understanding of our children, while ensuring that we are also maintaining their link with their legacy.
There are many ways in which we can work to achieve this. First, is the mythological stories behind festivals. Diwali, for example, is wrapped in legends and there are as many of them from different part of the country, as there are types of crackers. In North India, it celebrates the return of Lord Rama to his city Ayodhya after fourteen years in exile, having killed Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. In other parts, the story celebrates the emergence of Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth), from the ocean of nectar as it was being churned by the ‘devas’ and ‘asuras’ (the Gods and the demons). In South India, it is celebrated as ‘Naraka Chaturdashi’, to mark the killing of the demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna. The story behind a festival acts as the first and most crucial hook to invest a child in the idea of the religion, and narrating these in the most exciting way possible can go a long way in making your child look forward to the festival year after year!
Second comes the practices, rituals and traditions. While some rituals are carried forward just by virtue of being tradition, it is important to adapt these practices to be more suited to contemporary times and belief systems. The practice of bursting crackers, for example was originally believed to destroy mosquitoes and other harmful elements – but is something that we definitely need to discredit in today’s scenario, with the air we breathe being reminiscent of the smoky brick kilns we sought to hold our breath around! The cleaning of homes, discarding all dirty and unnecessary things, celebrating with friends and family, celebrating the beautiful bond of love between brothers and sisters, are traditions that hold unique value in bringing together generations and fostering a spirit of family, brotherhood and love – feelings that are often lost in our daily battles for survival!
Third, festivals become excellent platforms for us to impart crucial life lessons to our children – the inevitability of the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and hope over despair. Foster the feelings of sharing, charity, spreading love and joy, working together to celebrate and pray. Cut down on the extravagance – think of creative, thoughtful and eco-friendly gifts like indoor plants; make ‘Rangoli’ with coloured rice and pulses, and so on. Don’t let any festival pass by without using it as an example to teach your child something new.
So go ahead and have fun – flaunt your style, revel with responsibility, opt for earthen hand-crafted oil ‘diyas’, indulge, share the festive spirit with those less fortunate than us, and celebrate Diwali with a feel-good spirit! Festivals stay the same across generations, across eras. What needs to change is our interaction with these festivals, and a crucial decision of what sort of festive legacy we want to imbibe in our children, for them to carry forward in the future!
Author: Rachna Mathur