How Divali has changed

Waning warmth and togetherness
Over the years, the ways in which we celebrate the Festival of Lights have changed. From extended families to nuclear units and from sprawling family homes to apartments, traditions have evolved, vanished or been modified
Pooja Dadwal

NEW DELHI: The Sabharwal family values shared festivities
NEW DELHI: The Sabharwal family values shared festivities

FOR a nation that is obsessed with festivity and cultural celebrations, no other festival warms the cockles of our hearts, as strongly and fervently, as Divali. The Festival of Lights or Deepawali, as it is also called, has long since stood for the leitmotif of warmth, celebration, and cheer. Over the generations, has the festival and festivity taken a different hue of meaning? Have the decades done justice to the rituals that essentially spin the charm around Divali or have they been relegated as perfunctory tasks, to be done on automation?

If one were to ask Chandrakanta Sabharwal, a captivating octogenarian, who has seen over 85 Divalis, both in India and Pakistan, she would say, "Hun o zamaana gaya jadd assan saare apne pind de sareyan lokaan de ghar udaan hi vadd jande si. Hun taan loki appointment leke vi driver nu hi bhej dinde ne Diwali te." (There were times when you could just enter anyoneís house in the village during festivities. Now, on Diwali even when people take an appointment, they send a driver ).

Recollecting Divali celebrations as a child, she says, "We used to go to each otherís houses and help decorate it for the festival. Days before Divali, my mother used to start cooking sweets and the aroma of those delicious treats used to fill the house." After Partition, when her husband moved to New Delhi from Lahore, her first Diwali was spent in a cramped and illegally rented flat on Lodhi Road, which housed 10 other families alongside them. "Though we didnít do much on our first Divali, post-Independence, I made it a point to go to a nearby temple and light a diya." But since then, Divali has been celebrated in a much grander style, what with all relatives flocking to her home every year.

"Since ours was a joint family, Divali time was full of fun and enjoyment," says Shikha, her grand-daughter. "My grand-father, Papaji, used to hold an hour-long puja and always asked for me to sit upfront with him. Being an only sister in a houseful of brothers, I felt decidedly special for this honour, though I was always itching to go out and burst crackers along with my brothers," she recalls with a fond smile. food, going to relativesí place for distributing gifts, decorating our home, all these things made my Divali," she adds.

Now that she is a mother of two and has spent over a decade in US, has the way she celebrates this festival changed in any way? "To be honest, I feel ki ab Divali ka asli mazaa hi chala gaya hai. It is all about money now. Almost two to three weeks before Divali, everybody starts playing cards. There are high-stakes table but itís not the kind of teen-patti that I enjoyed while growing up. "Whatís your stake? Up or down?" has replaced Divali wishes. The way diyas have given way to electric lights, the same way warmth has given place to this cold, impersonal feel."

Are there any customs she has held on to or started of her own? "When I went to US, I carried along with me a golden earthen diya and have, since then, used it in every Divali. I start my puja, the little bit that I do, with it and then head off to my motherís place where the main puja takes place. We have an old painting of Ram and Sita, which my grandmother carried from Lahore. Every year Divali puja is started with this. Like my mother, I ensure that I buy new clothes for all of us on this occasion." "My mother-in-law and I belong to those lucky generations that knew what festivity and warmth meant," concludes Neelam Sabharwal, Shikhaís mother.